"Continue watching", the voice on the phone repeatedly tells the main character Parker in Observance. It's a demand that no doubt director Joseph Sims-Dennett wants his audience to listen to as well, and for the most part Observance is just about odd and interesting enough to get you to obey. Whether the ending will satisfy all those who continue watching is another story.
After the death of his son and subsequent disintegration of his marriage, Parker (Lindsay Harris) accepts a surveillance job where he gets to play Rear Window as he watches a woman in her apartment from his own dingy hiding place across the street. Like James Stewart's broken-legged busy body in Hitch's best exploration of voyeurism, Parker soon starts to suspect the woman he is observing is in danger, particularly as her encounters with a man become increasingly violent-looking. Never leaving the apartment and haunted by nightmares of his dead child, Parker's mind starts to unravel with hallucinations and physical sickness starting to set in.
Over seven days, Sims-Dennett sticks closely to Parker's experience in the grimy, dark apartment. Parker is focussed on what is happening across the road, but the real horrors are in his head and manifested in the walls around him. With a keen sense of the surreal, the nightmarish visions and bodily decay that occur are what works best in Observance. With touches of both Davids Lynch and Cronenberg, and even one overly obvious nod to Un Chien Andalou, Sims-Dennett has studied his masters but never fully manages to capture the sensations of those he emulates.
In many ways, Observance is also more straightforward than surreal in places. Its dips into really odd moments of dream-like curiosity are punctured amongst more conventional thriller scenes. It’s a mix that never quite gels as well as it could, and some will find the weirder parts indulgent, while the suspense never builds to a truly chilling or edge-of-the-seat climax. There's plenty of nightmarish imagery, but nothing for your fingernails to really worry about.
Still, Sims-Bennett nails the atmosphere, the sound design being impressively eerie. As Parker tries to listen in on his prey, the static and distorted volume from the icrophones across the street offer some tense audio surprises, particularly in one scene as Parker hears a voice speaking directly to him. There's some decent jumps too, even if it takes a while to pick up momentum.
Lindsay Harris is solid as the gradually deteriorating protagonist, with some decent makeup and effects to help him really get churned through the wringer. He's barely off screen until a last minute jarring shift of point-of-view for some of the final scenes, and is a watchable presence throughout whether spewing up litres of black goo or simply just observing as he's supposed to do.
The result is a decent if not dazzling surreal horror thriller. Observance implores you to continue watching, but doesn't quite fully reward its audience for doing so.
OBSERVANCE / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: JOSEPH SIMS-DENNETT / SCREENPLAY: JOSEPH SIMS-DENNETT, JOSH ZAMMIT / STARRING: LINDSAY FARRIS, STEPHANIE KING, BRENDAN COWELL, JOHN JARRATT / RELEASE DATE: TBC
Expected Rating: 5 out of 10