Co-directors Powell Robinson and Patrick Robert Young’s Threshold is at its best when it focuses on its two siblings simply trying to reconnect. Despite the painfully rushed ending, this drama shows moments of beauty and allows the viewer to enjoy the overall journey.
When a phone call from out of the blue brings Leo (Joey Millin) back into contact with his sister, Virginia (Madison West), long estranged from her family due to years of drug abuse, he arrives to find her alone in a bare apartment amid an apparent overdose. After the convulsions and nausea subside, Virginia insists to Leo that she has been clean for 8 months due to the help of a mysterious group. She confides to her cynical brother that her edginess and paranoia actually stem from a sinister ritual conducted by the group that took her in at her lowest and eventually revealed themselves to be a cult. This curse bound her emotions and physical sensations to a man she has never met before. Virginia persuades Leo to go on a journey to find the man to free her of her torment.
What makes Threshold work and it does is the drama between the two siblings trying to reconnect on this journey. By building back up this broken relationship (culminating in a wonderful phone call towards the end of the film), we are suckered into this story of an older brother trying to protect and help his troubled younger sister. The small moments that make Threshold shine. Be it pumpkin carving and having Leo not fully trust Virginia with a knife, despite their jovial dialogue or scenes at a bar, Joey Millin and Madison West do their best to make you connect with their characters.
When the sense of threat has to come into the film, it comes a little late considering the runtime, but it is still very effective in letting us and the characters know that not all road trips will go smoothly. Thus the tone of the film begins to turn as the scary realisation hits our characters that their confrontation is coming soon, and other than the odd breather, the sense of threat never truly leaves the movie.
Both Millin and West do great work here, especially considering the improvised nature of the film. Both of them utilising that long term fractured relationship well with the strain evident from the outset. By having most of the film become a character study on strained sibling relationships, it is here where Threshold shines. As their bond starts to regrow, we almost forget the purpose of the journey, and it feels that that has to be brought up occasionally to remind us of that fact. Focussing on the central characters is always key to the success of a film like this, and when that is not done right like we see in some films (sorry, The Darkness), it derails the entire picture. Here we believe these engaging people and showcase that following the journey makes a film the most rewarding aspect for an audience.
There is the belief that perhaps Virginia is making the whole thing up, and Leo, for the most part, is on that side of the fence as he first thinks that this is just something his troubled sister needs to help herself, and if he is the one to help her, then so be it. Until they get to their destination, you could easily think that he doesn’t believe his sister, though enough hints are spread throughout the film to have us believe her so that small subplot does get slightly tossed.
Good slow-burners know when to kick in, and Threshold struggles with that as it leaves the finale to become far too short as if there was no more road in the script. It is a shame as at the hour mark, despite not too much occurring you are in with these characters and their situation, you are almost excited to see where it goes, and with a well-placed score that accentuates the atmosphere and dances in when needed from Nick Chuba, you become expectant.
This is where Threshold fails; it has such a quick finale that you feel short-changed with what should be a final flurry of something, anything coming in at 4 minutes. Everything up to that finale worked tremendously, and it is was just disappointing to see it flounder the way it does quickly and cheaply that wasn’t nearly as frightening as the lead up had us yearning for.
This also then brings in the obvious issues with the script that a lot of the dialogue between Leo and Virginia was improvised. In one telling scene, this is all too clear as Leo tries to reveal he is going through a divorce with none of it sticking as well it should. Thresholds brisk 78 minutes is its blessing and its enemy. It allows the audience to feel for these two siblings and notch of the days without too much worry, but it truly struggles when it comes to that final act. It hurts the film more than you would want it to.
One of the other talking points of the picture is that it was filmed on two iPhones, clear to see from the start. However, by working on such a small budget and production team and this being a road trip style film, we are presented with the backs of our characters heads all too often that it does lose us a little. Clever tricks such as having Virginia’s sun visor down in the passenger seat with the mirror open so we can see her face work well, yet, it doesn’t always work as intended.
Much will be made of the micro-style filmmaking used here, and as well it should, it is a feat of accomplishment, but what the film actually is about is what should be spoken about. Despite those last minutes that just do not work as well as hoped, this is a great estranged family movie with two actors that work tremendously well off one another. You buy into the film and its intentions quickly, and for all the talk of this being a horror film, it should be categorised as a drama with some supernatural leanings.
Overall this is a film that you should still catch, and perhaps you may connect more with the ending; it doesn’t really matter, though, as the film still very much succeeds with its intentions, resulting in a sibling drama to care about.
Threshold is on Arrow Video Player now.
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