Rosemary’s Baby gets the micro budget lesbian remake it deserves in Lyle, an unsettling domestic horror that wins in its grand ambition and unfailing earnestness – despite being somewhat lacking in genuinely terrifying scares.
Leah (Gaby Hoffmann) and her partner June (Ingrid Jungermann) move to New York with their adorable toddler Lyle (Eleanor Hopkins) – June is enjoying a burgeoning career as a record producer, while Leah stays at home pregnant with their second child. But when tragedy strikes and Leah spends an increasing amount of time alone in their unassuming brownstone, she begins to uncover the dark secrets of the house and of the people around her.
Clocking in at just 62 minutes, Lyle feels like an overblown short rather than a neat and tidy feature film. Director Stewart Thorndike keeps the proceedings simple but loads the front end with clunky exposition, spelling out character traits and backstories that would have been better served without concrete information. With the visible constraints of an incredibly low budget, Thorndike can only do so much to create a truly terrifying atmosphere – but while the odd technical inconsistency interrupts the mood, the film’s depiction of grief, anxiety and paranoia is inspired and teeming with the palpable ambition of a talented team.
The crowning glory of Lyle is Gaby Hoffmann’s central performance – trading in her usual comedic stylings for something much darker, she never falters and creates a thrilling portrait of a woman consumed completely by grief and anxiety. It’s a role in the film that could have easily descended into parody in the wrong hands – but Hoffmann never even comes close and utterly steals the show.
But as a matter of fact, my favourite thing about Lyle is its refreshingly casual portrait of same sex marriage. Eschewing any kind of grand statement on the subject, Lyle is a simple portrait of a woman and her partner where the sexual orientation of its lead characters serves as a rather minor element of a much bigger picture. It may sound rather unremarkable, but it’s a nice change to see a queer narrative that couldn’t be further removed from the tragedies and struggles too often found in LGBT stories on the big screen.
A small film with plenty of big ideas, there’s plenty of good to be found in Lyle. The first of a promised low budget female-led horror trilogy from Stewart Thorndike, I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next – if Lyle is any indication, we should all be very excited.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 62 minutes
Lyle is screening as part of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, click here for more information and tickets