J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Revelator: His Name is John and He Sees the Dead

John Dunning can see dead people, but is he ever defensive about it. The last person he should be teaming up with is an ambitious journalist trying to work her way out of listicle Hell, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Dunning was born desperate, thanks to his incessant visions of the dead and the increasingly severe mental stress they have caused. However, he might achieve some measure of relief and redemption if he does not completely crack-up in J. Van Auken’s Revelator (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

The only dead person Dunning has not been able to see is his late wife, a school teacher who drowned with her students in a freak ferry accident. Every three years, he moves into a brand-new apartment complex, because that is generally how long it takes before the first resident dies in the building. Unfortunately, that leaves little money for anything else. Despite his shady rep, Dunning has amassed little through his gifts.

The closest thing he had to a patron has just passed away. By law, he stands to inherit an unusual property from her, but the wealthy and powerful Bellevue family intends to contest the will into eternity, unless he can solve the mystery surrounding the death of patriarch Carmine Bellevue’s developmentally-challenged son. When scuffling journalist Valerie Krueger sniffs out the story, she sets off Dunning’s alarm bells, but he still lets her observe him at work, because he needs a regular ride. Dunning can indeed see the late poor Jacob, but in a somewhat unsetting turn of events, he also seems to see Dunning.

Revelator might have a few rough edges, like most first features, but Van Auken offers up a number of fresh wrinkles on the psychic spirit-chaser genre. In fact, some of the eeriest incidents actually do not happen on-screen, but are related as evocative confessionals. That also means they are quite well written.

Directing himself as the lead might sound like a vanity project or a decision mandated by a rigid budget constraint, but Van Auken arguably projects the right world weary, spiritually-deflated psyche for the literally haunted Dunning. Yet, the real discovery is Mindy Rae, who is terrific as the brash but also somewhat broken Krueger. (Careful googling her, because there is another Rae, who is completely different and totally NSFW.) Plus, Greg Lucey does his best to channel the Hammer Horror greats as Old Man Carmine, which is definitely not a bad thing.

When Van Auken starts working with bigger budgets and greater technical resources, he should produce something really distinctive. Yet, the talent and freshness to be seen in Revelator already make it worth searching out. (We’re happy to give it a positive review now—and suspect we’ll look like geniuses for it, in a few years.) Recommended for genre fans looking for the next new thing, Revelator opens this Friday (8/25) in LA at the Laemmle Music Hall.

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