Performance artist and short film writer-director Camille Thoman veers into feature production with Never Here, a viscerally absorbing exercise in cinematic disturbia. An arch descendant of Hitchcock, the film, which is often unbearable to watch, demands the unwavering attention of audiences. If Thoman’s drifting approach frustrates, it does so with relish.
An installation aesthetic is tangible in the, often mobile, frames of the film, Much of which unfolds within the space of a gallery. Here, this is a realm often blurred with that of the contextual reality. Indeed, with increasing frequency it becomes hard to determine what can and cannot be believed. Thoman sites The Lady Vanishes as an inspiration for Never Here – a clip of Hitchcock’s classic thriller features in the film and one character is called Margaret Lockwood – but there are beats too of Vertigo and Rear Window in her thematically dense structural landscape.
Likewise, voyeurism – that pivotal concern of Hitchcock – is a keystone here. Mireille Enos is hugely convincing as Miranda, a contemporary artist who makes a living from invading the privacy of others, stalking and photographing them in the day to day lives. The film opens with her staging an exhibition comprised of paraphernalia taken from a phone she found on the street: ‘I began to see the phone as a prism through which I might see the man’ she says. Its non-consenting owner (David Greenspan’s Arthur Anderton) finds his life plastered on the white cube walls of Miranda’s installation, supplemented with contributions from his family, and is duly horrified: ‘You’ve done a bad thing’.
Whether the resultant twists and turns cascade directly from this encounter is at the viewer’s discretion. On the exhibition’s opening night, Miranda’s agent (Paul – a final screen appearance for Sam Shepard) witnesses an assault from the widow of her red-lit bedroom. He alone sees the attack but refuses to testify. The problem? Miranda and Paul are having an affair and he’s got no reasonable excuse for being with her so late at night. Perhaps out of morality, or perhaps for the thrill, Miranda steps into Paul’s shoes, recording and then mimicking word-for-word his account of the incident to the police. It’s as unsettling as it sounds.
As Miranda intwines herself within the case, Thoman draws compelling parallels between her artistic methodology and that of a police investigation – both, for instance, capture unwilling subjects. When she is forced to question the morality of her own actions, Miranda finds her contained existence exposed; she develops a heightened sense of paranoia and begins to lose her grasp of reality. Having wandered the world in the footsteps of flâneurs, she is both stricken and galvanised to become herself a stalker’s prey. Only, is this so? Perhaps her predator is the construct of her own imagination, perhaps it was she all along?
Pushing for an experimental visuality, Thoman infuses her film with a textual quality, her cinematographer Sebastian Winterø achieving a suitably musty atmosphere. James Lavino’s score evokes the intense synthetic tones of Angelo Badalamenti and neon, Tracey Emin lettering is well used to tell a story of its own. Not all of it works – Thoman’s shaking camera often feels amateurish – but this is admirably bold filmmaking.