Romanek understands that the greatest threats to our safety and lives often come from the gray, nondescript people who surround us unnoticed, the `nobodies' whose benign faces and vacuous smiles reveal no trace of the insanity, evil and potential for doing us harm that may be lurking right there under the surface. And nobody is `grayer' than Si Parrish, an innocuous, socially undeveloped milquetoast who spends his days working as a photo developer in one of those sterile five-and-dime drug stores (just like the one in `The Good Girl') - and his nights sitting all alone in his drab apartment brooding over a massive family-photo shrine he has erected to the Yorkins, a seemingly happy family of three whose pictures Si has been developing, copying and obsessing over for more than seven years now. The film centers around Si's growing fixation with this one family and his delusional belief that he too could somehow become an integral part of their family unit. Then comes the day when Si realizes that he is no longer content to be a mere vicarious member of this adopted family and, thus, begins his plan to gradually insinuate himself more and more directly into their lives.
As both writer and director, Romanek manages to keep us in a state of vague uneasiness throughout. We are always anticipating some potentially dreadful event, yet Romanek doesn't go for the easy thrill or the obvious plot turn. Thanks to Williams' subtle, incisive performance, we come to understand something of what makes this strange character tick. We begin to sense the deep-seated loneliness and social awkwardness that have come to play such an important part in defining both his behavior and his character. Si is scary, but he is also pathetic. He may have slipped over the edge into madness, but it is a pathology rooted in overwhelming loneliness and the inability to `fit in' to the societal `norm' of marriage and family. Even when his character is at his most threatening and irrational, Williams somehow makes us care about him.
Romanek hits upon a few ancillary themes as well. He acknowledges how photos create the appearance of a life without necessarily reflecting the reality of that life. Most people, Si confesses, record only the `special, happy' moments of their lives birthdays, weddings, holidays etc. and leave out the mundane or painful ones. Moreover, Si tells us that people use pictures as a way of defeating aging and time, of saying to the world of the future that `I', this seemingly insignificant person, was really here, being happy and enjoying life. To match this theme, Romanek's visual style often feels like the director's own personal homage to The Photograph, as the camera scans caressingly across a sea of snapshots and Si's voiceover narration complements that feeling.
`One Hour Photo' is not a film for those who like their chills heavily laced with bloodshed, murder and mayhem. It is, rather, for those who can appreciate a quietly unsettling, yet strangely compassionate glimpse into the dark recesses of the troubled mind.