Observance is an intriguing enough concept that is technically astute but big on making promises and also failing to deliver on them.
It is a tale of a private investigator, Parker (Lindsay Farris) who is mourning the death of his son, William (Gabriel Dunn), but also saddled with massive debt from hospital bills. Due to that fact he goes back to work seeking some easy quick cash, and gets a lot more than he bargained for.
A film so focused on visuals, with such wonderful compositions, so willing to play into the implicit pleasure of voyeurism; is always welcome. The flashes are well-conceived and -constructed. The framing, and camera moves are precise, some of the vistas offered as a break of the claustrophobic environs are breathtakingly beautiful. However, when the film finally does speak and offer morsels, it ends up being sorely lacking.
The audio mixing/editing, in a rare treat, is creatively involved in the storytelling. As his subject, Tenneal (Stephanie King), scarcely leaves her apartment he can set up video surveillance equipment but not audio. This allows us to look with him and not hear for a while. His opportunity to set up bugs offers some wonderful suspense as he has to get in an out unseen. After the equipment is in the mix remains creative as the audio is imperfect and he has to try to sweeten & filter it to hear them better.
All this makes the Observance engaging to an extent but a film cannot thrive on technique alone, the story has to do most of the heavy lifting and that’s where the issues come in.
Plot elements and details, as well as horror touches, are sparse. This is not to say that to succeed in the horror genre an excess of details are required. However, more than a few salient points about the protagonist’s trauma, and even fewer about the purported mystery he’s witnessing come forth. The tip of the hat to Rear Window is most certainly not coincidental. However, what most voyeuristic cinema deliver is what this film fails to do: increase clarity and suspense. While some scares are delivered and some details are revealed the curtain is never drawn back enough such that the opacity, it fails to reach out from the narrative miasma it creates and draw you in.
This is the kind of film that is designed to get vastly disparate reactions it would seem. While the effort is greatly appreciated the lack of specificity it offers is too much of an obstacle to overcome.