Directed and written by Brandon Block (taken from the short story “Ghost” by Maxwell Gontarek) Psychic Murder has a distinct Faustian twist that leaves the viewer convinced that this will all end in tears. Ruthless agent Mickey Goldsmith (played coldly, and somewhat nastily, by Timothy J. Cox) zeroes in on the comic with three fingers on each hand; Billy (Will Bernish) and offers to represent him.
While there is that Faust flavour to the proceeds, the feeling is one of impending disaster. Billy, who is bombing when he first appears on stage, does somewhat better when he references his “defect.” This approach garners the young man more laughs but one feels that the cold audience is laughing at the novice stand-up and not with him.
Block and his cinematographer Bethany Michalski, along with production designer Danielle Naassana, opt to make the proceedings feel shady and slightly unpleasant. Mixing the sound (Corey Johnson) with an overblown decibel level and a somewhat sinister sounding crowd track combines with the seedy appearance and increases the unease factor exponentially.
Taking Billy’s rather inept attempt at comedy and showing us a crowd who clearly are not entertained or amused until Mickey’s table begin to react puts the agent in as devil’s advocate as well as, perhaps, an interlude to Billy’s journey to join the damned.
Cox kills it with those snide and cutting remarks about his previous client and that cold yet penetrating stare he uses to pin the new comic down like a bug on a bit of cardboard. There is clearly no mercy to be had here and Mickey tells his potential client that, in reality, he will do nothing to advance his career.
Despite this, and Puma (Tatiana Ford in her first role) trying her best to warn the lad off, Billy seems determined to take the menacing, and downright unpleasant, agent on as his representation.
This is after Mickey tells Billy about his previous client Adrian Mann (Matt Moores) – an equally unfunny comic that Puma took a fancy to. Goldsmith tells Billy that he destroyed Mann’s career because his lady opted to love the hapless performer. However, one gets the feeling that Puma was just the bait used for Goldsmith’s trap. He clearly goes after the less talented stand-up artists.
There are things that jar with this short drama. The hands of Billy, for example, look cartoonish. (So much so that one expects some reference to it.) This could well be an allegory for the whole scenario, however, with the fake looking three-fingered hands representing the falseness of Goldsmith’s offer.
The sound, which is overly loud in several places, intrudes at the beginning but, once again, this appears to be on purpose. Block opts to allow the background music to drown out Mickey’s first few words to Billy. The emphasizes the bewilderment of the novice performer and his nervousness after his stressful set.
Psychic Murder is lit with a bit of soft, yet harsh, saturation that also adds to the allusion that Billy is not just desperate to be a stand-up comic but he also sees this as his salvation, no matter how unrealistic it feels.
Clearly Block and Gontarek have had some shared experience with the hard to please crowd of the stand-up set. It is a harsh world where the comic has to be good, or at least have the audience on his or her side, to survive. If the performer is off, or not up to the task, the comedy crowd audience can be brutal.
Regardless of whether the writers and the director have personally experienced this world, they have given us a dour, and somewhat unsettling, look at the world of live entertainment. Mickey and his right-hand lady represent all that is wrong with this world and the film gives us a vision of decadence and cruel that is upsetting.
Psychic Murder is a solid 4 star film. It entertains and, despite those cartoon hands, gives up pause for thought. This one is worth a look, or two, if for no other reason than to see Timothy J. Cox playing the devil incarnate.