Casey Affleck and Sam Claflin star in Every Breath You Take, a new Psychological Thriller that arrived in theaters, as well as on premium VOD, on Friday, April 2, 2021 thanks to Vertical Entertainment.
Written by David K. Murray and directed by Vaughn Stein (Yussef Is Complicated short 2015, Terminal 2018), Every Breath You Take explores boundaries, loss, and how each of us process our individual grief. More specifically, it is the story of Dr. Philip Clark (Affleck: Gone Baby Gone 2007, Manchester by the Sea 2016), wife Grace (Michelle Monaghan: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang 2005, The Craft: Legacy 2020), and teenage daughter Lucy (India Eisley: Underworld: Awakening 2012, I Am the Night series), a family that has been grappling with tragedy for the past three years.
Further loss only makes the situation worse. A dedicated psychiatrist, Philip has grown attached to a patient named Daphne (Emily Alyn Lind: The Babysitter 2017, Doctor Sleep 2019), a young woman with a lengthy family history of mental illness as well as a personal history of suicidal ideation. Though she assures the doctor that she is doing great, has even parted ways with an abusive ex, she tragically takes her own life.
Her death raises a red flag that will eventually call the respected psychiatrist’s methodology into question. And with the wound still fresh, Philip finds himself poised on the precipice of a major turning point when a new face arrives on his family’s doorstep: Daphne’s brother, James (Claflin: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire 2013, Adrift 2018). A fellow survivor of immense loss, the affable stranger quickly works his way beneath Grace and Lily’s skin, leaving only Philip to suspect his true colors.
A beautifully orchestrated production of a sinister revenge fantasy, Every Breath You Take is not without its flaws. But it makes up for some obvious failures by offering viewers top notch acting, superb cinematography, a powerful original score, and a spectacular attention to its visual details. With some clear parallels to Cape Fear (1962, 1991), its story places the audience into the position of silent observer as an unwitting, upper middle-class family welcomes a polished evil into their home, reminding us all that no good deed will ever go unpunished.
Surprisingly, its biggest sin is found in its screenplay, where a painfully obvious plot point will eventually become the attempted “big reveal.” Without giving away spoilers, let’s just be honest: there is no great shock, no real puzzle for moviegoers to solve; and it’s hard to imagine that the Clark family, who are seemingly intelligent, did not already suspect this outcome. However, to some degree of efficacy the focus is shifted away from this flaw by an exquisite attention to detail in its pacing and backstory, as well as how the story is brought to life visually.
Keep in mind that this is not a bloody home invasion thrill-ride, but a quest for twisted psychological revenge. So it’s especially important that the film builds its story carefully, taking the time to explore the ethical gray area of Philip’s methodology, specifically with Daphne. And while it might not be groundbreaking to meet your patient on a personal level, it’s a non-standard, somewhat questionable approach to psychiatry, and Murray is careful to make that very clear in his screenplay. But this slow-build that provides extensive detail comes with a tradeoff: the film’s runtime of 105 minutes.
The time spent with Every Breath You Take, however, is enjoyable. And what does not harm the production in any way is the magnificent cinematography of Michael Merriman, who previously worked on the Oscar-winning The Revenant (2015) as well as the Oscar-nominated Green Book (2018). Utilizing the natural splendor of Vancouver, Canada to his advantage, all while playing with muted colors to complement the onscreen emotions, Merriman provides stunningly crisp imagery that allows the audience to step inside the Clark home. And once inside, it is hard not to appreciate the care taken in selecting and placing the metaphorical artwork that is depicted throughout the lavish house—from Rorschach-inspired paintings in the dining room to the photograph above the psychiatrist’s lounge.
Although this is all built upon a foundation that does lack in the element of surprise, the film is ultimately greater than the sum of its individual parts. And one could easily say that many of the greatest points in its favor come from its truly gifted ensemble cast. From the elegant and sophisticated delivery of Veronica Ferres (Pay the Ghost 2015, Salt and Fire 2016) to Lind’s incredible performance as the woman whose death kicks off this entire saga, Every Breath You Take is a film that is built upon a foundation of exemplary casting.
At the helm of the entire dramatic operation, Affleck and Claflin are beautifully juxtaposed: the tender-hearted family man and the vengeful brother. As Doctor Philip Clark, Affleck does an immense job at displaying the weathered and beaten countenance of a man struggling with his own trauma while still trying to juggle his patients’ struggles with care. He wears his character’s sorrow, regret, and anger upon his face, eloquently relaying what it means to scream in silence. Literally clothed in the weight of the world, he is diametrically opposed in looks, in actions, and in the furthest depths of his soul to Claflin’s James. A man who blankets his suave sociopathy beneath a silky smooth exterior, Claflin approaches his role with a haunting grace.
But even the greatest performances from a truly exceptional cast cannot forgive the obviousness of the screenplay’s denouement. So while Affleck, Claflin, and their co-stars do the material proud, elevating the entire production, Every Breath You Take still loses some of its edge due to its lack of a revelatory moment. Much like Dr. Clark’s methods of psychiatry, it isn’t exactly groundbreaking but there is enough meat on the bones of this elevated Psychological Thriller to make it worth your while. A visually appealing piece branded with explorations of loss, trauma, and how each of us travels through the stages of grief, Cryptic Rock gives Every Breath You Take 4 of 5 stars.