At Risk (1994): Noir Melodrama from Debut Director Elana Pyle

Hamptons Film Festival 1994–A gap prevails between the bold intent and the undistinguished execution of Elana Pyle’s feature debut, At Risk, a noir melodrama that also positions itself as a relevant cautionary tale. Unfortunately, pic’s disjointed narrative, unevenly played core drama, and crude production values would rule out any possibility of theatrical release.

It’s hard to tell whether it was naivet, vanity, or just misjudgment that led writer-director Pyle to cast herself as a femme fatale, for she not only lacks the alluring presence but also the talent to play a woman whom men find irresistible.

As the story begins, Lara returns from Mexico, where she spent a year trying to unravel her marital problems with Steven (Daniel McDonald), her selfish, career-oriented, philandering hubby. With plenty of time in her hand, Lara begins searching for her lover Max (Vince Vaughn), a photographer who has mysteriously disappeared.

Through a flashback structure, we learn that Lara met Max while going to see a private eye and that they practiced unsafe sex. To further complicate matters, Lara’s paintings are destroyed by the custom officers, after having been tipped off that they contain hidden drugs.

As scripters, the Pyles obviously don’t think that a noir melodrama provides sufficient material for a movie, so about 15 minutes before pic is over they introduce, or rather throw in, AIDS in a desperate attempt to make their yarn socially-conscious, one with blatant messages about promiscuous sex and the risk of contracting the HIV virus.

As most Hollywood movies about AIDS have focused on gay men, a morality tale about the lethal virus in the heterosexual community is more than welcome. Yet, the whole thing is done in such haphazard manner that it’s doubtful whether the message will be taken seriously in this particular context.

In its present shape, At Risk is so underdeveloped that it needs substantial work before it’s shown to the public again. Helmer Pyle seems to lack technical knowledge of such vital issues as camera placement and movement, lighting and framing. The acting is almost uniformly unpolished and, except for Hedges’ serviceable music, tech credits are on the raw side.

Credits

Running time: 95 minutes

A Visualiner presentation.
Produced by Kari Nevil and David E. Pyle. Directed by Elana K. Pyle. Screenplay, Elana and David Pyle.
Camera (color), David Scardina; editor, Robert Graham Jones; music, Kevin Hedges; production design, David E. Pyle. Reviewed at the Hamptons Film Festival, Oct. 20, 1994.

Cast

Lara………….Elana K. Pyle
Steven………Daniel McDonald
Jennifer………….Kim Myers
Max…………….Vince Vaugh
Mrs. Nolan.. Shirley Anne Field