Ingredients

By Hannah Michielsen | Drama
A mysterious woman inspires a writer. But her ideas turn into a dangerous reality.

Sam is a young writer in Toronto facing a case of severe writer's block, who can't seem to come up with an idea for his fiction. He is also frustrated when he compares his life with his successful, smooth roommate Justin.

But one weekend, Justin goes on a romantic getaway to propose to his girlfriend, allowing his cousin Fred to stay. Fred is another writer, in the midst of a different sort of crisis. But together, the pair connect -- and soon find themselves in a situation that blurs the line between fact and fiction.

Directed by Hannah Michielsen from a script by Paul Carere, this cerebral mystery-thriller short is a slow burn, taking its time to build character, atmosphere and intrigue. Through a coolly dispassionate eye, it patiently constructs a deep look at two creative but frustrated souls and then steps back to watch as their chemistry plays out in a slow-motion implosion.

The storytelling is resolutely focused on building Sam's character. He's smart and a discerning cinephile, and he's hungry to make great work and become a success. But through all the pressure he places on himself, he can't quite get a viable idea on the page. The excellent writing also pays close attention to Sam's relationships, playing out his scenes with his roommate Justin, who is amiable, easygoing and confident. Justin is also a clear contrast to Sam, and while the pair have the ease of long-time friends, their different trajectories also make Sam feel inadequate.

But the momentum begins to move when Justin's cousin Fred enters the picture. Fred is a strange presence: dark, sardonic and depressed. But Fred and Sam have an affinity: both are writers, and highly imaginative and intelligent. Their dialogue has a slight stylization, an archness that happens when two people who are too much in their heads find one another -- and discover they are on the same wavelength.

Something between them clicks, and they share long, wide-ranging conversations as well as meals. Actors Daniel Maslany and Eileen Li have a palpable connection even through their neuroses, almost like two people trapped in their bubbles finally looking up to discover the other. They can reveal aspects of their selves to one another that they hide in other parts of their lives. For awhile, the film even feels like it could veer into a romantic, albeit left-of-center, direction. But the cool-toned, almost antiseptic visuals and the moody atmosphere indicate there's more to the film -- and Fred -- than meets the eye. And as Fred's deeper character comes to the fore, it also draws something out in Sam.

It's fitting that Sam talks about the films of Alfred Hitchcock so much in "Ingredients," because the spirit of the classic master of psychological suspense animates the film, whether it's in the disciplined, restrained camera or the penetration into the murkiness under people's facades, where obsession and poisonous resentments teem. As the film heads into its final movement, it veers into a direction that's truly Hitchcockian, in its masterful suspense and its ice-cold appraisal of people's inner motives. Finding a compelling story requires digging deep into the self -- but what Sam discovers could be harder and darker to face.




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