Randall Cole’s 388 Arletta Avenue was probably the most ‘experimental’ film I decided to see this year at TIFF. Experimental in the sense that every single shot in the film was from a handheld or surveillance camera. I normally wouldn’t pop a film like this into my DVD player at home, but at TIFF I was really trying to do the festival properly, and that called for me to watch something outside of my comfort zone. Arletta Ave. turned out to be an interesting film, however a few bumps along the way prevented it from being a completely enjoyable experience.
388 Arletta Avenue doesn’t start off subtly, it’s kind of the point. The house that James (Nick Stahl) and Amy (Mia Krishner) live in is under surveillance by an unknown person. Unknown to the viewers and unknown to James and Amy. Initially the story progresses quickly, as harmless, although creepy, surveillance turns into breaking and entering. The intruder wires the couple’s entire home with cameras and begins to surreptitiously meddle with their already rocky relationship. When Amy disappears, it’s not clear to James or the audience whether she has simply left him or if something more sinister has happened to her. James must battle his own paranoia while trying to find Amy and get to the source of the weird occurrences that have been happening in and around their home.
The most successful part about Arletta Ave. is probably the downward spiral of James into a state of paranoia and the convincing performance given by Stahl. Some clever scenes contain pranks that would be sure to turn anyone into a gibbering mess if they were left unresolved. For example, a mix CD appears in James’ car, full of songs that he doesn’t like, and then the same songs subsequently appear on his desktop computer at home, with no explicable explanation as to how they got there. On another occasion, James comes home from work one day to discover that someone has replaced his cat with a near identical animal that hisses every time he gets too close. Unfortunately, these same pranks lead to the film’s downfall.
After a while, Arletta Ave. begins to feel like a string of pranks and James’ reactions to them. At no point does Arletta Ave. really draw the viewer into an absorbing narrative. Rather, Cole seems content to place the audience in the role of the voyeur, which is naturally thrilling at times, but rather dull at others. Also, the ending portion of the film does not deliver as forcefully as I’m sure it was intended to. In fact, the conclusion feels like a bit of a cop-out. During the Q&A Cole said that his goal at the finale was ambiguity. However, 388 Arletta Avenue feels like it uses ambiguity as a fallback rather than because it provides the most effective ending (I found the same to be true of the film Lovely Molly).
The film works well as an experimental piece, illustrating how intrusive recording technology has become. However, on the thriller level Arletta Ave. never really lets the audience in or endears the characters to them. The final segment doesn’t feel like it fits with the rest of the film and the ending will leave some viewers a little angry. However, I still think that Arletta Ave. is worth a watch if you feel like something different. It is definitely more of a unique experience than an actual story.