Writer and director Michael Mognillo’s latest film, Diane, is a daring mix of genres. It’s part horror film, part psychological thriller, and part crime genre. Diane is an example of ambitious storytelling on a shoestring budget. Though it had a limited released in 2017, Diane is just turning up on VOD-streaming platforms.
Disabled war veteran Steve leads an empty and soulless existence alone in the house he inherited from his deceased parents. Traumatized by his past, Steve lives on the fringes of society, drinking too much and seldom connecting with those around him. When he finds a dead woman’s body in his backyard, Steve becomes increasingly obsessed with the woman’s photo. Though he believes he has never seen her before, Steve is haunted by visions late at night and begins to question what he does and does not remember.
Diane is a Haunting Dream
For much of the movie, Diane manages to deliver on its ambitious yet simple story in spite of a clearly low budget. Steve’s lonely daytime world is brightly lit, offering a sharp contrast to his empty existence. After finding Diane’s body, Mognillo bathes Steve’s nighttime world haunting shades of black and blue. Foregoing jump scares, Mognillo focuses on crafting some haunting atmospherics that delicately balance chills with a morose feeling of sadness. As an added bonus, Diane’s soundtrack is a fitting collection of tunes that eases you the movie’s lonely world.
Steve’s loneliness and harsh societal rejection lends a critical commentary to Diane about the treatment of our veterans.
Diane also benefits from a biting subtext that runs beneath its surface. Steve’s loneliness and harsh societal rejection lends a critical commentary to Diane about the treatment of our veterans. Mognillo doesn’t necessarily draw this theme too close to the surface, but it’s certainly present and gives Diane more substance than what you’ll find in the average supernatural thriller.
Diane Leans on Its Stripped Down Performances
With its low budget and lead story, Diane relies heavily on its stripped down lead performances. As the haunted Steve, Jason Alan Smith shines with a straightforward but disarming performance. Diane doesn’t require Smith to deliver any over-the-top histrionics. Instead, Smith restrains his performance, showing only small cracks here and there. In many ways, this proves to be more challenging performance. Much of Smith’s emoting is through his eyes, which convey a tired sadness. In the title role, Carlee Avers has much less screen time, but shines when she’s in the spotlight. Similar to Smith’s performance, Avers impresses with a restrained intensity in her role.
Given the film’s budgetary constraints, it’s not surprising that the supporting cast comes up a little short. Performances range from stiff to groan-worthy. Two local thugs who regularly harass Steve have such a limited range that it cuts out any real tensions from the encounters. The actors playing the investigating officer don’t fare much better.
A Resolution That Lets Down What Came Before It
Things unravel somewhat once Diane let’s its mystery out of the bag. The fault doesn’t lie entirely with Mongillo’s screenplay. His reveal about Steve’s relationship with Diane is true to its characters and provides a heartbreaking arc fitting with the movie’s somber tone. Mongillo’s execution of the final act, however, leaves you feeling like the earlier tension has been drained from the movie. Certain thematic elements also seem to have been forgotten by the climax. Steve’s fringe status as a war veteran doesn’t play as much into the film’s resolution as one might hope.
Diane Mostly Succeeds in Mixing Genres
It’s mixing of genres paired with a low budget and ambitious character arcs may prove unsatisfying for some viewers. But Mongillo impresses with some haunting imagery and focus on character that hurdles any budgetary limitations. In addition, the lead performances help compensate for a somewhat disappointing conclusion. In spite of the low budget, Diane has enough going for it to earn a peek from potential viewers.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: B