Directed by Josh Brandon and written by Angela Bourassa and Adam Pachter, a seemingly chance encounter between two women on a bus trip with identical black suitcases sets off a dangerous game of cat and mouse when one discovers she’s swapped her bag with a killer. Starring: Laura Vandervoort, Olesya Rulin, Drew Pollock, Ryan Francis and Bruce Davis.
If you were to judge this film based purely on the first few minutes, you’d likely get the entirely wrong impression. That’s because its initial style makes it feel like you’re headed into a Lifetime or Hallmark movie, the tone has a strangely romantic tinge. It’s one of the few details which don’t quite hit the right note but beneath those issues, there’s a decent, understated thriller. It feels as though a simpler, one on one, style mystery or thriller is extremely underestimated in today’s landscape, with so many trying for something overly complex or large scale. Black Bags throws back to the earlier days of cinema, the dialogue focused murder mysteries of the 1940s and 1950s.
Putting aside its weaknesses for the moment, there’s a strong story at work. Angela Bourassa and Adam Pachter don’t over complicate things, it’s not too slow and it reveals itself gradually. It hits the right pacing and progression to keep your attention. The dialogue doesn’t feel like it’s trying too hard to be emotional or sinister, it holds a relatable tone. Both of its leading women characters are also well constructed, and it feels like no coincidence that it’s one of the few of its kind to actually hire a woman as co-screenwriter. They have intelligence, resilience, strength but hold onto plenty of vulnerability.
Another part of why the characters work so well are the performances from Laura Vandervoort and Olesya Rulin, firstly in that they have a fantastic connection. The way that these two women relate to one another, and how that evolves as the story moves forward is surprisingly entertaining to watch unfold. Secondly, in that they never push things too far, the tone can become harsh, threatening or emotional but it stays on the right level. Both Vandervoort and Rulin’s characters have a transformation throughout the film and you get to see a number of different sides to their performances, none of which disappoint. It’s possible you’ll even wish you could carry on watching them after the credits have rolled.
Now, as said there are a few ways in which Black Bags is doing itself a disservice and the first is the cinematography. There’s a dark edge to this story but you wouldn’t know it from the visual, Timothy Riese’s texture and tone to the aesthetic throughout keeps hitting that note of Hallmark movies and it’s disappointing. The same goes for the direction, it’s hitting an everyday feel when it needed to intensify itself, the plot gives it the opportunity but it’s not capitalising on it.
Black Bags has set itself up to be underestimated which is a shame because there’s a solid thriller at work beneath its rosy exterior. Laura Vandervoort and Olesya Rulin give captivating performances, their chemistry is really fun to watch develop. It moves with much more confidence than its lacking visual quality would imply, it really needed that boost of sharpness to the aesthetic to fulfil its potential.