Crime thrillers are always so much more intense when they are rooted in reality, and Respite‘s roots are very real and very dark. This was a high stakes high tension game of cat and mouse and lines of right and wrong are blurred. Respite was not without flaw, but its originality was able to keep me engaged and invested.
Respite opens with private investigator Jimmy Baz (Monte Bezell) investigating an adultery case. It is clear from the get-go that Jimmy is down and out and has a mountain of misery in disappointment in his life. The sullen, dark, mysterious, tortured private eye is sporting a leather jacket and gives off a distinctive Richard Greico vibe, and I think it worked well for Bezell. The story takes off once Jimmy is enlisted to locate Khalid Turner, a missing college student. While searching for Khalid, dead bodies of Muslim men start turning up, turning the hunt for a missing boy into the hunt for a serial killer.
Respite’s story felt predictable at first, but due to the slow burn nature of the film, the true dark essence of the events unfolding are not immediately clear. I had a pretty good sense of how the film would end, but the means to the end was a mystery to me. As Respite progressed I found myself enveloped in feelings of anxiousness and fascination. Hats off to writing team Saro Varjabedian and Ali Abouomar for creating a solid crime thriller tale with unique and factually based elements.
The acting felt a little varied, ranging from stellar to just acceptable. Special recognition should be given to Monte Bezell, and Julián Juaquín for their performances as Jimmy Baz and Richard Alvez, respectively. Bezell really nailed the “tortured PI who deep down is a good buy but has a complicated past” motif. And Alvez was a delightful co-star to Alvez, portraying sincerity, support, and strength: all the makings of an ideal partner, both as an on-screen cop and as a castmate.
Respite dives into an ancient Afghani tradition that makes its way to the United States. Admittedly I was previously unfamiliar with the tradition and researched the topic after being exposed to it in the film. The horrifyingly real and dark practices mentioned in the film were heartbreaking, to say the least. Apart from the heaviness of the material, this is a difficult subject to portray on screen without relying on cheap “shock value”. Director Saro Varjabedian was able to delicately balance creating a film that was visually interesting, moving, emotionally tense, and keeps the audience engaged without completely demonizing or vilifying another culture. Varjabedian created an atmosphere of engagement and intrigue which was no easy task here.
Though the story was wonderfully original and captivating, the pacing could not keep up. Occasionally the film felt stagnant or emotionally stale, despite the high stakes environment developing. Perhaps this could have been mitigated with some editing changes, or a zap of energy to the dialogue. Thanks to the story’s intrigue and originality, Respite was able to avoid becoming banal despite the intermittent dragging.
Overall I was quite moved by Respite. The horrifying source material, raw originality, and sullen yet satisfying ending made it watch worthy. If you are a fan of crime thrillers then Respite is worth a shot. Shortcomings aside, the content and sincerity of this film stick with you.
6 out of 10