★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
An oblique mystery thriller with supernatural horror elements, Exit 0 boasts strong performances and plenty of riddles for patient viewers.
Directed by E.B. Hughes
Mystery chiller Exit 0 puts its main character Billy Curtis (Gabe Fazio) through the ringer as he visits a place he last went to as a child, with real-world and possibly supernatural forces seeming to conspire against him. Chances are, in the tradition of David Lynch’s Lost Highway, Alan Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad, and similar puzzler films, some viewers might be just as confused as Billy throughout this effort.
Billy and his girlfriend Lisa (Augie Duke, who was terrific in last year’s Burning Kentucky and who also played in last year’s Wild Boar) take a weekend break from their home in New York City to the Doctor’s Inn, an older hotel that Billy stayed at with his family 30 years earlier, when he was 6 years old. It’s clear from the opening moments of the film that these two people are not in the strongest of relationships. Billy continually finds and complains about the smallest faults with Lisa, who is addicted to her smartphone and may or may not actually be constantly contacting her mother as often as she says she is. After a confrontational act by a stranger in a public restroom, Billy’s life starts getting stranger by the hour, including a dresser drawer seemingly opening and closing on its own repeatedly, and a loss-of-time experience that he refuses to buy into because he feels his Rolex watch can never be wrong.
Billy’s paranoia grows ever stronger after he finds a videotape under the hotel bed. He plays it only to find that it seemingly shows a real murder of a couple and the rape of the woman on the tape. Not wanting to frighten Lisa, he consults a detective (Federico Castelluccio of Midday Demons and The Orphan Killer in a fine turn as Mueller), and things continue going downhill.
Exit 0 is Fazio’s to carry, and it isn’t an easy task because his troubled character initially comes off as hard-headed and insensitive, making it difficult to emotionally invest in Billy. There’s no doubt, however, that Fazio throws his all into his role, nailing subtler moments as well as manic swings to the fences, with all of the shades in between, equally well. Duke, who has been building a highly impressive genre-fare resume and for good reason, does an admirable job, too, in a difficult role that requires her to convey a delicate balancing act as to just how romantically and emotionally engaged she actually is with Billy. I am easily turned off by unlikeable characters in bickering relationships — the recent efforts Harpoon and This Is Our Home spring to mind — but Billy and Lisa ultimately pass my test for characters who don’t cross that line, thanks to the efforts of the film’s two strong leads. The supporting cast members do a solid job with their roles, as well, including Peter Greene (Pulp Fiction; The Mask) giving a Lynchian-style performance as a hard-drinking writer, Daniel O’Shea (The Rocketeer; Last Exit to Brooklyn) as a kindly lighthouse guide, and hotel employees Frederick (Kenneth McGregor of Prom Night IV: Deliver Us from Evil and The Church) and Viktor (Boomer Tibbs of Frankenstein vs. the Mummy and Child Eater).
Writer/director E.B. Hughes lays out many tantalizing clues that often left me with more questions than answers, but if a film is well done in this manner and is ultimately enjoyable and entertaining, I am usually happy with the result. Though the conclusion was a bit of a head scratcher for reasons other than being outright baffling, Exit 0 worked for me. Opinions will vary depending on how neatly wrapped at the final credits viewers like their films. Hughes eschews blood and gore — though the attack on the young couple mentioned earlier is highly disturbing — for an unsettling atmosphere of paranoia and growing dread, pacing the proceedings well.
Recommended for those who welcome the challenges of enigmatic chillers, Exit O is currently available on DVD from Breaking Glass Pictures.