SXSW 2017: Inflame
Ceylan Ozgun Ozcelik’s Inflame is a well-shot and admirably performed paranoia-laced thriller that, unfortunately, often veers into style over substance. It’s a particular shame since Ozcelik’s film should ring more topical than it does given our current 24/7 barrage of news about government surveillance.
Hasret, played by a wonderfully subdued then manic Algi Eke, works as a news documentary editor in Istanbul. Frustrated with the increasingly censor-happy editorial team at her station, Hasret retreats to her home set in a decrepit historic district in line for restoration and demolition. But, as the story progresses, Hasret grows more and more paranoid, claiming that “the walls are too hot” – a not so subtle double entendre for the creeping sense of government surveillance – and flashbacks to fonder times with her now deceased parents.
All of this should provide for a wonderfully topical Polanski-esque thriller a la Repulsion or Rosemary’s Baby. But, alas, Ozcelik fails to truly establish the principal characters before whisking us off to successively more abstract set-pieces and scenes. Had Ozcelik stretched the runtime out a bit and let the characters breathe instead of strangulating them in the minimal space between scenes, we would be able to actually build robust empathy for what should be a character and a story ripe for it.
As the story grows more and more abstract, weaving fractured memories on into and out of the present-day narrative, the film begins to really lose steam. The experimentation is welcome – and in many ways called for in face of a story pregnant with so much terror, but when the characters are so poorly drawn that even the cast’s stellar acting can’t invest us in the proceedings, the abstraction of the last third crushes the film instead of letting it blossom. It makes the final, ambiguous moment feel like a weak, exasperated wheeze instead of a full, final breath. There’s a better film hiding in the diminutive skeleton of Inflame somewhere. But, it’s just a shame that that film, and not this film, is the one that made it through to the final cut.