November is a mildly creepy Southern California variation on Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon that tells the story of a murder from three different angles.
In Rashomon, the details surrounding a rape and murder change dramatically according to four varying points of view. Kurosawa used those diverse perspectives to show the shifting, subjective nature of truth. In November, first-time director Greg Harrison is after less heady stuff.
Call it a binge eater's nightmare: A craving for a late-night treat forever alters Sophie Jacobs' (Courteney Cox) destiny. Her boyfriend, Hugh (one-time indie darling James LeGros now reduced to a nebbish romantic sidekick) saunters into a seedy L.A. bodega to indulge his lady fair's chocolate jones and gets caught in the crossfire of a robbery.
Each of the three segments of the film imagines a different outcome to that November night as photography teacher Sophie returns again and again to the events.
Style explodes like an overpacked firecracker in the hands of director Harrison. November was shot on digital video, and with its eerie technological sputters and fishbowl moodiness of glum blue-green light, it manages to achieve Seven-like atmosphere on a surprisingly low budget.
There are multiple attempts made to fool viewers that something disturbing and stalkeresque is afoot. Sophie has a bruiser neighbor upstairs who pounds violently on the floor when disturbed. And in Sophie's photography class, her slide carousel appears to be haunted. A photo pops up showing the bodega with Sophie's car parked outside the night of the murder.
But for the most part, November just uses its ambiguous treatment of Sophie's reality as a ho-hum thriller convention to prolong the tension and mystery of what happened that night. Harrison encourages us to question the sanity of Sophie's point of view, not because he has something to tell us about the nature of grief and trauma, but because he's got a neato surprise ending cooking. But by the film's second recounting of the events that night, many will feel as if his pots are boiling over. Opens Fri., Sept. 16 at Tara Cinema. 2 Stars