Expectations are frequently a killer when it comes to enjoying a film. Maybe it’s the fault of marketing in the way it frames a film. Maybe it’s what the audience brings to the experience. But however audiences approach a film frequently dictates how well the film itself is received. It’s an unfair notion, yet it’s something with which every film must contend. After several ill-received DC Comics films, Aquaman and Shazam! seem like revelations. Similarly, after coming off of the award-winning darling La La Land, director Damien Chazelle’s First Man was all but shunned. Filmmakers can’t predict how their material will be received. They can only put their best forward and wait to see what happens. In this regard, writer/director Erik Bloomquist (The Cobblestone Corridor) appears to be going full-tilt in his new film Long Lost, a thriller in which the creepiness plays on multiple-levels and requires an audience willing to join in on the game.
After the death of his father, introverted, academic, and down-on-his-luck Seth (Adam Weppler) receives an invitation to spend the weekend with his previously unknown and extremely wealthy half-brother, Richard (Nicholas Tucci). Both men see the weekend as an opportunity to connect and are equally eager to grow closer. However, as their time together goes on, Richard’s overly aggressive and competitive nature makes Seth uncomfortable. Compounding matters is Richard’s girlfriend Abby (Catherine Corcoran), a woman who’s clearly devoted to Richard yet piles layers of innuendo into every conversation she has with Seth. What should be a weekend of family bonding turns treacherous as Seth begins to realize how hard and how far Richard is willing to go to get closer to his brother.
There’s a lot about Long Lost to enjoy. For one, the story developed by Bloomquist, Weppler, and Carson Bloomquist is designed as a series of small escalations which are tinged with social and interpersonal conflicts. At the core of the film, Long Lost is about two brothers, one who knew about the other while the other remained in the dark, with a desire to get to know each other. The initial awkwardness of their meeting, and continual misalignments in values, can largely be attributed to their disparate ideologies. Inklings of each are slowly revealed as the film continues either through performance or dialogue. Next to that, however, is a strong theme of personal identity. All through the film, whether through the radio show which begins and ends the film or the conversations between the brothers, a question continually arises about how we see ourselves, what we’re ok with doing, and how we see ourselves within society. From the mood of the direction, scoring, and lighting, Long Lost is going for a thriller vibe and the continual prodding from Richard on Seth, something which could easily just be construed as either over-eagerness on Richard’s part or a deep desire to reclaim a family, creates constant tension that fuels a perpetual eeriness. Pulled all together – the questions of identity, an anchoring of narrative in familial desire, and the upturning of brotherly expectations – the pieces equate more toward a strange and frequently silly family drama than a thriller. However, things really turn up a notch through the delicate rising arc Abby goes through throughout the film. Through her, Long Lost takes on a delightfully creepy psycho-sexual aura, making the audience question everything they see and hear just as much as Seth does.
Whether the audience buys-in or not comes as much from the performances as it does from the world the narrative builds. It’s clear from their initial meeting that Weppler and Tucci have a strong rapport in as the brothers. On paper, they are an antithesis and their respective performances convey this. Weppler’s characterization has Seth as slightly unkempt, bearded, under-nourished, and less than likely to imbibe alcohol, suggestive of a troubled past. Some of this is clear from looking at Weppler’s costume design, but others are all tied to performance. The way Weppler conveys Seth’s shock at Richard estate via slack-jawed awe or how he devours food without sitting down, as though he’s not used to relaxing through a meal. These responses subtly create a backstory around Seth’s dialogue. Similarly, Tucci conveys Richard’s intensity beautifully in the way he continuously penetrates Seth’s physical space, his somewhat unblinking gaze, and the manner in which he moves about the property. Seth almost cowers through the halls, unsure of what to touch or where to be; a man uncomfortable in his own skin. Conversely, Richard stands tall, believing himself to be in constant control no matter what the conditions. Much of how Weppler reacts to Tucci’s delivery is what creates the unsettling undercurrent of Long Lost. The component which drives it over the edge is Corcoran’s performance as Abby. She’s neither enigma nor open-book, but Corcoran’s delivery always seems to contain another layer. Whether she’s offering support to Seth after Richard’s accidently insulted him or just engaging in casual conversation over breakfast, her mere presence adds tension. It’s the way her line delivery always seems to hit the pleasure center of Seth’s brain or her too-intimate physical contact, which is more welcoming than when Richard does it. In support of maintaining the integrity of Corcoran’s performance, Bloomquist ensures that scenes of a more mature nature are never treated as salacious, certainly not in a Cinemax After Dark way, though there is an air of Penthouse Letters to some of the narrative which can’t be ignored, though Seth certainly tries.
How well audiences react to Long Lost truly comes down to expectations. There’s no main stream writer, cast, or director. The film begins with zero set-up or breakdown, relying instead on context clues to fill in the gaps. Plus, as with any good thriller, there’s a shift which, when it hits, either is the greatest thing ever or doesn’t land the way you need. In this case, given all the clues Bloomquist bread crumbs throughout the film, it’s a shift which not only works but sends the audience in the same tailspin as the characters. It’s a bold, stand-out choice, offering a fresh take within the genre. If nothing else, big swings should be rewarded, even if the reward is just to acknowledge the attempt. Thankfully, for all the slow build-up to the crescendo, Long Lost delivers on the thrills it promises in a way which cannot be predicted and that alone makes it worth the watch.
In select theaters beginning March 29th, 2019 for a 30-city limited theatrical run.
Amazon-exclusive release beginning April 10th, 2019.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.