In the opening moments of the new short from Cindy Maples, Out of My Mind, it seems like we might be headed off into noirish territory when we're introduced to the story of Carter (Rusty James), a mystery writer waxing eloquently about a mysterious woman in a blue dress (Mina Fedora) whose presence serves as both tense unknown and muse. James projects a sort of Raymond Carver-like aura of grizzled Bukowski-esque awarenesses lost in some sort of psychological haze and skewed reality.
But, of course, there's more.
At first interested in this mysterious beautiful dame, Carter quickly is jerked back into reality when her companion (Clint Calvert) arrives and amps up the tension and the mystery. Resigned once again to his seemingly lonely presence yet inspired by this far-off beauty, Carter writes his newly inspired story with a fury that suggests more than what is on the written page.
Out of My Mind continues Maples' transition from actress into the world of filmmaking, a transition that is reaping increased rewards as Maples has a vivid cinematic sensibility yet also the awareness of a finely disciplined performer able to discern the most appropriate ways to build tension and suspense in dialogue and structure.
Based on an original story by John Cosper and penned by Maples with co-writer Neil Kellen, Out of My Mind does a surprisingly slow build into the film's tension and, in the end, its roots that exist more in intelligent horror with hints of noir.
The brilliant stroke, perhaps, of Out of My Mind may simply be that the film isn't easily resolved nor is the audience given easy answers about everything that has unfolded. Is Carter dancing on the edge of sanity? It seems likely, but even if true it's unclear how that manifests and how that's impacting everything that we're seeing unfold on the screen. In my not quite humble opinion, a good mystery leaves a little bit of mystery to stew over.
Out of My Mind is, indeed, a very good mystery.
As Carter, Rusty James excels in the film's various shifts, more than you might expect, from an almost nerdish-like presence early on through those hints of noir all the way toward a quietly epic and insane finish that demands a weaving together of fantasy meets reality. James handles it all convincingly. As the mysterious woman in blue, Mina Fedora has a sort of rock star aura, I was thinking Courtney Love at one point, and yet quietly adds on a layer of vulnerability that draws you in. It's a quietly horrifying performance that lingers like that final shot of whiskey before last call.
Out of My Mind is the kind of indie horror flick you love to run into at a regional indie film fest or in some other obscure setting. It's like one of those little gems that you find yourself thinking "I can't believe more people aren't going to see this film." While outlets for short films are growing in numbers, Out of My Mind is a fine example of the quality cinematic work being done outside Hollywood and on the indie scene. If you get a chance, check it out.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic