Directed by David Buchanan and written by Paul Papadeas, a disaffected former musician with a prosthetic hand is drawn into the mysterious and sinister world of his downstairs neighbour. Starring: Russell Steinberg, Stephanie Brait, Manuel Canut, Dan Crane, Félixe De Becker, James Markham Hall Jr., Jeff Hilliard, Jameson Keeling, Carlos Marentes, Paul Papadeas, Jane Reardon, Zachary Taylor and Sheridan Ward.
Independent sci-fi is both a terrific breeding ground for imagination, and a very difficult thing to pull off on a budget, making it a tricky outing to strike the right note. Does Laguna Ave succeed in that task? Well, there’s no definitive answer in this case, it’s undoubtedly one that viewers will either click with or they won’t. One of the things holding it back somewhat is the extended length of time it takes to get going. It feels like the opening establishing of its lead takes far too long, then undermines itself when it finally does try to grab your attention. The mystery simply isn’t built up enough for a satisfying turn to the story. It’s also yet another example of an anti-hero, although hero might not exactly be the right word. It does hold a sense of the weird and wacky, with an edge of oddity, but it misses out on an atmosphere of fun.
One of the key factors to that is the choice to go with black and white, it gives a slight serious feel which doesn’t gel. There’s a strange touch of arthouse which works against the rest of the tone of the film, which is much more in the sleazy arena, creating a harsh contrast. However, the monochrome visual does help to boost the physical effects and costume work. Although the directorial style is surprisingly humble, outside of its few artistic additions, it plays things relatively simple and dramatic.
The performances are all solid, they lean into the bizarre side of things and create a good version of reality that’s slightly warped. Russell Steinberg creates a protagonist who’s just dislikable enough that you can still want to follow his story. Jamie Hall gives a performance that’s just weird enough, he doesn’t quite fit in as human and feeds nicely into the curious vibe of the story.
Laguna Ave has a classic indie sci-fi feel but it takes too long to get going to really grip you when you story finally kicks in. The black and white aesthetic has more of a practical feel than adding to what the film has to offer. It feels as though it needed to lean into the sleazy, fun side of the story and embrace a bigger energy to pull it off more effectively.