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Because of a feature article on him in the Advocate, Albany based Donald Strachey has gained some notoriety as a gay private detective. His latest client, Paul Hale, a scared young man, provides Donald with a $5,000 retainer to find "someone", that person unspecified before Paul is scared off. Soon thereafter, Paul is found dead. The official cause of death is deemed suicide by the coroner's office, but Donald wants to do right by Paul by finding who killed him as the police unofficially believe he was murdered. Another person who believes Paul was murdered is his mother, Phyllis Hale. Donald learns that homophobic Mrs. Hale sent Paul to the Phoenix Foundation, run by Dr. Trevor Cornell and his wife Lynn Cornell and for which Paul was the poster child. The Foundation's raison d'etre is repairative therapy i.e. to help people turn from gay to straight. Donald believes Paul's death has something to do with the Foundation, whether it be a connection to one of the Cornells or one of the ... Written by
A young gay man affiliated with a so-called "gay no more" program seeks help in finding someone, from gay PI Donald Strachey (well played by Chad Allen), in this second in a series of gay detective stories, from Director Ron Oliver. Before Strachey can pursue the investigation, the young man turns up dead.
My impression is that the filmmakers here want the audience to focus on the dubious nature of the "gay therapy" pushed by political conservatives. However, I chose to watch this film as I would any other murder mystery.
The killer was a person who was not high on my suspect list; so I enjoyed the surprise ending. However, Ron Oliver's apparent objective to spotlight the hideous agenda of social conservatives seemed to override the need for intricate plotting, necessary for a truly effective whodunit puzzle. Still, the mystery element was sufficiently credible, and I did spend quite a bit of time with it. The mystery's outcome has some clever irony.
The visuals have a noir, retro look and feel, especially in Strachey's office, with those window blinds, the table fan, and the light and shadows. The opening credits sequence features some great B&W schematics and a terrific jazz score. In the second half, light and shadows, together with eerie music, and the image of a hooded figure running down a dark corridor combine to create some excellent suspense.
Film direction is unobtrusive and simple, probably by design. I could have wished for fewer close-up shots. At times, the pace grinds almost to a halt in scenes with lengthy dialogue; however, this is not a problem if your attention is on the murder mystery.
To watch this film as a social commentary on those dreadful "gay no more" programs can be enlightening and informative. But I enjoyed the murder mystery element. "Shock To The System" wasn't quite as good as "Third Man Out", in my opinion. But it was as good or better than countless other whodunit films I have seen.
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