Adam Engel’s film Mouse grips you with a tale of the damage a guilty conscience can do to a person. A film that showcases a filmmaker who you need to keep an eye on.
After a double-murder hits the neighbourhood, Michael begins to experience a decline of his own, believing the two events are connected. With an active investigation and a suspicious detective taking on the case, Michael begins to withdraw and develop his paranoia as he harbours the truth. Finally, with a growing guilty conscience and no one to confide in, Michael feels that he must take necessary steps to protect an innocence he never truly lost.
Guilt and paranoia is a hell of a thing. But, in Mouse, we get to see the utter helpless descent into those two things with a character who, for all that we can see, is just a good guy who just didn’t say what he saw soon enough—causing the good-natured, if slightly off centre Michael, brilliantly played by Joel Bernard to become unglued around anyone and everyone in the most tragic of ways.
Jase Egan’s script is tremendous, as he shows us how one simple act and the reluctance to come forward about it can damage a wide range of people. The first act sets the stage very well by having us follow his day-to-day activities; at times, we are never sure who is stranger, Michael or this eclectic group of people within the neighbourhood. Yet, the more we are presented with Iris, the more we become concerned. As the first act begins to settle in and that understated but unnerving score from Tasos Eliopoulos comes in, we begin to see the more complex and almost sinister side to the story. Iris’s paranoia and manic nature should ring all of the alarm bells for Michael. However, his reluctance to share his concerns over her actions even before the fateful day is eventually his undoing.
As the second act kicks in, the guilt resides deep within Michael about not coming clean about what he thinks happened take over him. Unknowingly positioned in the most awkward situations, his refusal or belief that he will be incriminated by not saying anything sooner has him spiral and spiral quickly. The sequences with the lawn team epitomise this. He knows one of the men saw him at the house that afternoon and is petrified if he is implicated. Yet, he cannot let go of the fact that this innocent man may speak to the police, so he relentlessly and foolishly tries to talk to him.
What doesn’t help Michael is his already awkward demeanour. He is seemingly a loner and not overly personable unless you are Iris, so any interactions are immediately going to become as cringe-worthy as possible. Each interaction becomes almost unbearable, not only for those he is talking to but also for the audience. We can see Michael, desperate to tell someone of what he saw, he needs guidance, yet every action he takes sends him further away from that goal.
If there is a complaint about Mouse, how drastic and sudden Michael’s spiral becomes and why he does not just share his information with the police sooner. Yet, in truth, there is not much to complain about when watching this excellent thriller. Bernards performance as the troubled Michael is fabulous. His stoic nature clashes when his reckless actions get away from him. He, like the story, grips you and becomes a perfect foil for us to follow.
Engel and cinematographer Derek Mindler provide some fantastically inventive shots in Mouse, helping it stand out from the usual crime thriller crowd. Simple shots such as Michael waking up and checking the time while his phone rings surprise you with how alert the film is. By bringing in new ideas to how the shot is framed, we as the audience are kept on our toes.
These are simple techniques utilised, yet they come across as very fresh. Such an example is when Michael is walking down the street after doing something he should not have. Instead of the shot of what he notices from a nearby house being front and centre, it is off to the side, almost as if it is trying to catch us out. We have to focus our attention all over the screen as if we are part of the film, and by not having us spoon-fed visually, we become all the more engaged.
Engel’s editing is also on point with, at times, comedic cuts when presenting Michael’s downturn. Either by staying on him for far longer than needed, only to then show us how fraught the tenants are with his actions or the quick cuts when Bill has a talk with Michael about his recent actions, to only flash us to a time when he was losing the plot. As mentioned previously, Engel does not want his audience to find a rhythm with the film, and by continually giving us something unexpected, it does reel us into Mouse.
Mouse is a great thriller that showcases when some inventiveness with shot choices and some wonderful cinematography can do many good things for the picture. With strong all-around performances and a solid script, Mouse will surprise you and will not disappoint.
Mouse is showing at the Queen’s World Film Festival until the 26th June, watch it here
For more information about the festival click here
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