Breanna Lucci says Old Flame holds a plethora of alluring storylines and emotions, all delivered through thoughtfully crafted dialogue.
Written and directed by Christopher Denham, the psychological horror film Old Flame is mesmerizingly complicated and begs questions about malleable memories and what the “truth” really means. It follows successful businessman Calvin (Andy Gershenzon) as he sets up a banquet hall for his college reunion when his college girlfriend, Rachel (Rebeca Robles), walks in. The old lovers reminisce about the good old days with an awkward back-and-forth, but looks can be deceivingly amicable as hideous truths bubble to the surface.
Old Flame explores a unique survival situation—a perceived threat to one’s livelihood. While the secret Rachel holds won’t mortally wound and end Calvin’s life, it will change everything—and that is precisely what raises it above other horror films with minimal casts. The film is inherently psychological. The audience isn’t subjected to gore or violence, yet the stakes feel tenaciously high.
Denham demonstrates his creative talents through the excellent screenplay and the simplistic and careful cinematography of Chris Heinrich and Jeff Holman, which perfectly propel it forward. Old Flame reads like a play. The first act holds Calvin and Rachel in the banquet hall, with the camera remaining centered in the middle of the large room as the two converse. There are very few close and tight shots of their faces as we’re forced to watch the two carefully dance around each other with high-energy conversation from across the room. Our angle gives the impression of sitting in a theater as the events unfold on stage or perhaps like shamelessly watching an uncomfortable meeting between two former lovers and discovering their pasts through forced laughs and overly-glorified descriptions of their respective lives.
As the first act closes, the second finds the duo sitting across from each other in a hotel restaurant. What was once an overwhelming empty space between them is now nothing but a clothed table and some half-empty glasses of beer. Denham's usage of space and camera angles, as this act dives deeper into Calvin and Rachel’s true selves while the lens inches closer and closer to their faces, keeps us undeniably immersed and engaged.
The film wouldn’t work without Robles and Gershenzon’s compelling performances. From the start, Robles’ sweet, intelligent, and bubbly personification of Rachel is unsettling. When responding to Calvin, Robles sometimes smiles and laughs with bright eyes and a wide grin. Other times, her grin doesn’t quite reach her eyes, and her laughs seem scripted. Gershenzon plays off this perfectly, portraying Calvin as nervous, self-assured, and confident. When those off moments occur with Rachel, Gershenzon forces a loud laugh or exaggerated hand gesture in an attempt to bridge the uncomfortable gap.
Although there is minimal action, a plethora of alluring storylines and emotions are delivered through thoughtfully crafted and delivered dialogue. As the film progresses, Rachel and Calvin’s happy-go-lucky politeness fades, and their characters become truly unsettling. Denham’s compelling story of survival and strong direction make Old Flame an acute discomfort we cannot tear ourselves away from, despite our growing anxiety as dangerous secrets wait to reveal themselves.
Old Flame world premiered at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival on October 19, 2022.