A Night at Robert Mc Alistair's is a film perched on a high-wire. It performs the rare feet of being subtle and harrowing.
Without breaking the reviewer's sacred rule, it manages to depict two realities in parallel, one inside the mind of its protagonist Robert Mc Alistair, a young musician on the verge of making it , and the external world during an evening his friends and fellow band members spend at his house.
It is subtle, because it is filmed in the style of a fly on the wall documentary, with good production values, which conceals the plot, without being distractingly or unfairly clever.
It is harrowing, because right from the moment Mc Alistair's voice over monologue begins, animated by the arresting juxtaposition of the placid normality, excitement, and optimism of his life, and his tormented inner world, we have a sense, not only that something is going to emerge from that dark hidden away place inside Robert, but that this reality, as dark and frightening as we see it depicted in front of us, is inside all of us, just waiting for a door to open, that will unleash the demon, for the moment it needs to create a little piece of Hell in our world.
As the impressive soundtrack builds, we become more and more convinced that something horrific is going to happen, but the actual events have yet to occur, and we don't know why we have this frayed sense of impending terror. While we wait, we of course hope that whatever we fear is going to happen, will be averted somehow, because Robert, portrayed by the excellent Dean Jagger , is another impressive balancing act.
He is simultaneously terrifying and sympathetic. He is a descent person put in an indecent situation, that destroys him and everything he could have been, and ultimately, this vulnerability, not the horror of the denouncement, is the terrifying point of the film. We all have a key, that certain people, probably those nearest and dearest to us, are trusted with, that has the power to turn our lives upside down.
For a short film to maintain tension is not particularly difficult, but for one to do so, encompassing pathos and terror, is an achievement, that anyone, not just first time independent film makers working on a shoestring budget, should be immensely proud.
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