Expiration (January 3/04)
In an era when so many up-and-coming filmmakers are playing it safe, Gavin Heffernan should be applauded. Though his debut film, Expiration, is far from flawless, Heffernan imbues the movie with a distinct sense of style it takes most directors several years to establish. Accompanied by Jon Day's score and Sebastian Grobys' and Ben Dally's cinematography, Heffernan turns Expiration into a memorable and undeniably captivating visceral experience.
Set over one long night in Montreal, Expiration follows several characters as they attempt to navigate some particularly rocky situations. Sam (Heffernan) is planning to propose to Niki (Erin Simkin), who, as he recently discovered, is carrying his baby. But the two get separated after a convenience store robbery, with Sam attempting to track down the thief (who made off with a priceless diamond ring). He hooks up with Rachel (Janet Lane), a drug runner who just happened to be carrying a large cache of heroin at the time of the heist. Meanwhile, Niki gets caught up with a prostitute named Julia (Denise DePass) and her daughter, Naomi (Yetide Badaki).
Expiration was shot for around $50,000 Canadian, and though the film never quite manages to hide that fact, Heffernan does a nice job of making the most out of his limited budget. Through some interesting directorial choices, he takes this relatively simple story and turns it into something far more brooding and dark. Clearly inspired by directors like Fellini, Polanski, and Paul Thomas Anderson, Heffernan (who also edited the film) plays around with our perception of time by inserting seemingly random images that don't mean much until the movie's run its course. It's a little jarring at first, but eventually becomes accepted and gives the film a real sense of moodiness.
But as impressive as Expiration's visuals are, Heffernan falters in the script (which he wrote, of course). There are a number of elements that appear throughout the film that are either too inexplicable or too coincidental. Though Sam is a fairly compelling character, it doesn't seem entirely plausible that he'd leave his pregnant girlfriend waiting in a car to go investigate the theft of his ring. As the night progresses, and Sam and Rachel delve further into the dark side of Montreal, it becomes increasingly difficult to believe that this straight-laced guy would participate in such unsavory activities. On the coincidental side, lazy plotting on Heffernan's part leads to sequences in which pivotal information seemingly falls right into the laps of certain characters. A good example of this would be when Sam and Rachel need to get into a club that requires a password, and there just happens to be a homeless guy that repeats everything he hears sitting around the corner. Generally speaking, though, these are isolated incidents and Expiration's storyline often stays on the side of simplicity.
The acting is essentially what you'd expect from such a low budget film, though there are a few standouts. Heffernan proves to be an affable enough leading man, creating a character that it's hard not to root for. Lane, perhaps saddled with the most difficult role, excels in portraying this initially mysterious and somewhat unlikable woman who is eventually revealed to be far more complex. But the real star of Expiration is Heffernan's direction, which is remarkably steady and assured - especially when you take the film's budget and his inexperience into consideration. It's an impressive debut, and there's no doubt that Heffernan is on his way to bigger and better things.