Screwdriver (2023)

Rating: B

Dir: Cairo Smith
Star: AnnaClare Hicks, Charlie Farrell, Milly Sanders, Matt Munroe

There’s a sense here that this might be a film adaptation of a play. I don’t believe it is:  I think it’s just writer-director Smith’s way of working within the limited resources available. But with four speaking parts (one of which only has a single scene), and the entire movie taking place in one location, you certainly could stage it theatrically, without too much trouble. I think the way it is quite dialogue heavy might be a factor. The old adage, “Show, don’t tell” has not been applied here; I suspect, entirely deliberately. For one of the themes here (and there are likely a number) is how abusive relationships don’t necessarily involve physical violence.

Emily (Hicks) has just left her husband Sean (Munroe), and gets an offer from old school friend Robert (Farrell), to move in with him and his wife Melissa (Sanders) in their Californian home, while Emily figures her life out. But almost as soon as she arrives, things seem off, in a variety of ways – some big, some little. Robert and Melissa certainly have issues, not the least of which is the childless nature of their relationship. Though these are hidden behind a facade of almost creepy normality, with his job as a therapist and hers working as a pharmacologist for a medical research company. Robert invites (although there’s not much choice) Emily to take part in sessions, but as things unfold, it becomes clear Emily’s situation is less about her needs, and more about theirs.

What we have here, is a case study in how two, determined, focused and skilled individuals, can manipulate a third. They break Emily down with the relentless application of psychological pressure, in order to re-form her in the desired image. Precisely what that is, and why they go this route, rather than less confrontational methods, will not be explicitly laid out, so don’t expect simple answers. I’ve a fairly good idea: it’s not as if this is completely opaque, and there are certainly a number of more or less obvious clues as to the motivations and goals of Robert and Melissa. But this is one of those movies, where the destination is probably of less importance than the journey.

It’s also one whose impact may not necessarily be immediate. At the end, my initial reaction was, “Well, that was odd.” But it has stuck in my mind considerably more than I would have expected at the time. This is likely due to performances which deliver, Farrell and Sanders establishing a baseline against which we measure the collapse of Hicks’s character. Things proceed with an almost glacial inevitability. You start off thinking, “Hmm, maybe best is she went somewhere else,” and suddenly you find yourself watching… Well, I’ll be looking at the titular tool in a different way going forward – even if my very worst fears of its use were, fortunately, not manifested.

The film is available on VOD now, including through Amazon Prime and Vudu.