Keri O’Shea reviews Adam Mason’s to-date unreleased next film…
These days, film and TV are all about ‘the journey’. Executives love it; in fact, they’ll demand that it’s crowbarred into almost anything, because that emotional process of self-discovery makes for good viewing. To know oneself is to love oneself. Or is it? Luster, directed by Adam Mason, takes a compelling, darkly-humorous look at what happens when that journey is warped and ruinous rather than life-affirming. This is Jekyll and Hyde for the self-help generation.
Thomas Luster – played by the inimitable Mason regular Andrew Howard – is just a regular guy, doing his best to keep a handle on all the things regular guys have to contend with. He has a beautiful wife, a nice home, a successful business – and he’s exhausted, utterly exhausted, to the point that one day just bleeds into the next. His mind has even started to play tricks on him; he can’t remember where he parked the night before, can’t find his keys… Jennifer, his wife, suggests it might be time for him to ‘get some help’. The help he opts for takes the form of a trip to a friendly sleeping pill supplier living out of his car near Thomas’s place of work. A restful night should make a good start to getting everything back on track, he figures.
Someone disagrees: notes start to arrive offering commentary on how he has been behaving lately. Whoever it is knows about his trip to see Les, the dealer, too. Who is watching him? Thomas has his suspicions, and decides to set up a CCTV network at home to catch the culprit. What he discovers, however, jeopardises everything he values.
Luster in some ways marks a change in style from Mason’s earlier work: not only is this a psychological thriller above being a straightforward horror, there is also deliberate humour here in a way I haven’t seen in his films before. From the array of grotesque characters, like Travis (played by Ian Duncan, who also starred in Blood River) and Halo (also acted by a Mason frequent flier, Pollyanna Rose) to the genuinely funny lines which occur throughout the film, Luster feels at ease with its ability to repel on one hand and amuse on the other. It’s a self-aware piece of film about someone struggling with self-awareness, and as such it isn’t afraid to play with audience expectations, even having fun with them. There’s mischief here, and it works. Alongside the black comedy aspects – and perhaps brought into sharper relief by them – are more characteristic Mason themes and handling, albeit played out in a less grisly fashion than usual. At the heart of Luster, the isolation of a previously blasé suburbanite leads to mania and murder, and where we’re shown this process happening, the atmosphere is nicely sinister. The idea of the ‘split self’, or the alter ego, is one of the most effectively creepy ideas in horror and it’s given a neat spin here. Together with the background radio spouting anti-nice guy platitudes and the use of the home security cameras as a conduit for Thomas’s communication with himself, it feels very much an up-to-date spin, too. You could draw some comparison to other films: The Machinist sprang to mind, and I could mention Fight Club, although Luster is rather more raw and definitely less self-congratulatory.
Andrew Howard is given a lot to play with in this leading role. He maintains his usual high standards of balancing madness and charisma in all the right places, but also he takes the opportunity to do something a little different here. As Luster, at least at the outset, Howard gets to play someone weak, confused and frightened: at least in the roles Mason offers to him, Howard doesn’t play the lesser man all that often. Here, Howard develops upon the psychosis he brought to The Devil’s Chair and manages, even when his character is behaving at his very worst, to make him oddly sympathetic. Notable mentions also go to the talented Tommy Flanagan as Les – currently on our screens in Sons of Anarchy – and Tess Panzer, Mrs. Luster, for striking the tone just right in their supporting roles.
So, Luster points out the downside of people knowing everything about yourself, and as a viewer you will be dragged between feeling unnerved and feeling amused during this film – like it or not. The ending will not work for everyone, but bear in mind that the moral of Luster is that nice guys finish last, and as such you can forget about a happy resolution. To go back to one of the opening lines in the film, ‘What good is doing the right thing?’
Frustratingly, despite being completed last year, Luster is currently – still – waiting for a release from Epic Pictures. Fingers crossed, this situation will be rectified very soon…