Sam Rivman ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Visionary presents a lucid vision regarding the future of Hollywood: one in which actors Stephen McElwain, Evalena Marie, and Sophie Frieden are undisputed superstars with very long and prosperous careers. An indie film written and directed by Ben Proulx, Visionary tells the disturbing story of Daniel Long (McElwain), a big time film director with deep rooted psychological issues and a taste for young women. When Daniel casts Ava Vallier (Frieden), a ten-year-old autistic girl, she reminds him of a long lost love, and Daniel is unable to control his twisted desires. Proulx dives in deep with this psychological thriller, and despite a few rough edges, Visionary is a film that displays great artistic prowess by the director as well as the actors involved.
In terms of generating actor chemistry on screen, Proulx proves himself to be a scientific genius. McElwain and Frieden, despite it being their first project together, make Visionary feel like a tale told between old friends. Watching Daniel’s chilling interaction with Ava incites an internal struggle to remember that the action on screen is scripted and not a legitimate act of pedophilia. Frieden is an incredibly gifted young actress, having mastered the art of conveying autism in her performance by the age of ten. Both she and McElwain, whose acting career debuts in Visionary, should be watched closely as their upcoming careers are not to be ignored.
There are a few scenes in the film that don’t quite mesh well with the story. At certain instances involving Candice Merlot (Marie), the film enters an almost dreamlike sequence in which Candice gives some kind of strange and worldly quote. The interjection feels like an exasperated attempt to create trailer fodder, albeit Marie still delivers with such grace and poise that the audience will listen even when she isn’t saying anything of substance. Candice isn’t necessarily the most well developed character in the film, which proves that Marie is a well-versed performer, as she is still mesmerizing to watch onscreen.
The main antagonist of the film, despite only appearing fleetingly on screen, is Daniel’s mother (Laura Pizzuti). Daniel was abused and abandoned by his mother as a child, which leads to his broken and corrupt understanding of love. Pizzuti ‘s role is one that was important to sell hard, as she only has a few scenes to convey the source of Daniel’s emotional trauma to the audience. She does just that, and serves to add a more concrete element to Daniel’s background.
Ava’s mother Rita (Melissa McMeekin), is a bit difficult to comprehend. She constantly pushes Ava to act and sing while it is perfectly apparent that Ava isn’t comfortable. While overbearing stage mothers are nothing new, a mother who pushes her autistic daughter into the arms of a psychotic film director is a new level of low. Rita, however, isn’t painted as a really bad or evil character. She doesn’t appear to be overly influenced by greed or lust, and when push comes to shove, she seems to really love Ava. While McMeekin does an excellent job with the character she is given, Rita’s motivations are confused and not well defined.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Visionary is the cinematography. Proulx shot most of the principal shots while still only a senior in college, and he (along with cinematographer Brian Way) brings a level of unusual and unique artistry to his shots without crossing over the boundary into absurdity. On a budget of roughly $8,000, Visionary looks and sounds like a production 100 times its budget. Aside from excellent camera work, the costuming and set design also serve to make Visionary appear as anything but a low budget indie film.
It takes a steady hand to direct a film involving pedophilia that remains tasteful. Proulx, with the help of his brilliant cast of actors, pulls it off seamlessly. There are a few weak links in terms of character development, but the rest of the film dwarfs these flaws. Visionary should serve as an example of what indie filmmakers can do when they shoot for the stars and aim big. Proulx made excellent use of his resources, and put together a film that everyone will be talking about upon release.
Overall Grade: A