What would you do if your wife disappeared, yet no one believed she was really missing, and you had the unsettling feeling you were being watched?
This is the reality for James Deakins (Nick Stahl), a young ad executive who is a rising star at his Toronto advertising agency. After a trivial dispute with his wife Amy (Mia Kirshner), he comes home to find her gone, with a brief, inconclusive note saying she needs space. But he senses something is wrong when he can’t reach her phone, and there’s also an unexplained CD of golden oldies music that neither of them like, which appeared mysteriously in their locked car. He reaches out to Amy’s sister Katherine (Krista Bridges), thinking Amy may have told her where she was going, but the problem is, Katherine already thinks he is a jerk and despises him. She immediately suspects him of doing something to make her sister leave.
Everyone that James tries to reach out to, even his best friend Alex (Aaron Abrams), assumes that Amy is really just taking a break from him, because as Alex points out, James is not the easiest person to get along with. This assertion prompts James to examine his life to try and determine who would want to get back at him for some previous wrong.
His suspicion falls on a former schoolmate, Bill Burrows (Devon Sawa), who was once a friend until James turned to bullying him at school.
Ten years later, Burrows is a reticent former soldier (an Afghanistan veteran), and Deakins’ attempts to apologize and make amends are strained and awkward. However, Deakins reads Burrows’ unwillingness to talk to him as suspicious and finally accuses him of taking Amy to get back at James for all those years of torment. But to his chagrin, Burrows just laughs at him.
As he voices his suspicions to the police, especially in light of increasing incidents of strangeness around the house—his computer turns on in the middle of the night, volume on full blast; his cat begins to act like he’s a stranger—they regard him as a paranoid husband with a wife who simply doesn’t want to see him.
But he knows something is very wrong, and at this point, so does the audience. Unexpectedly jarring shots of an anonymous hooded stalker inside Deakins’ home, installing hidden cameras and even filming him with a handycam while he sleeps, make the viewer seem complicit in this deadly cat-and-mouse game between the unknown antagonist and the increasingly paranoid Deakins.
The biggest contributor to this sense of unease is the fact that the entire movie is shot from the perspective of the surveillance cameras secretly installed by the stalker throughout Deakins’ home, vehicle, and even at his place of work.
Skepticism from the police and friends fuels his growing desperation at his wife’s disappearance, and he decides to take matters into his own hands, with horrifying results.
A finely-paced, Hitchcock-like thriller, 388 Arletta Ave reads like a truly post-modern horror story. In this examination of the overlap of high technology and the privilege of privacy, director Randall Cole forces the viewer to confront the question: How do we protect ourselves when the technology we rely so much on is used to attack us in the most private of spaces, our own homes?
Right from the first scene, when you realize that what the camera is showing you is essentially a couple being filmed unknowingly, there is a creeping sense of doom. You don’t know why this is happening, who is doing it, or why this particular couple is the subject. But it is impossible to look away as you begin to see the ways the stalker, from whose vantage point you are filtering the scenes, is beginning to manipulate the situation to dire ends.
Unlike Deakins, the audience knows exactly what is going on, and that he is not merely paranoid. But like James, the viewer is helpless and unable to do more than watch in dread as events unfold.
Nick Stahl is known for a multitude of on-screen roles including protagonist Ben Hawkins in HBO’s seriesCarnivale, and a young John Connor in feature film Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. In 388 Arletta Ave, he brings a starkly convincing performance to the role.
As the sometimes-bullish James Deakins, one has to initially fight the urge to feel like what is happening to him is deserved karma. However, his tormented spiral and the sheer extent of what he goes through invoke a chilling sort of empathy from the viewer, simply because he is someone just like each of us—imperfect. He is not necessarily the nicest guy, so you don’t feel compelled to like him immediately. And with a past of “the guy you didn’t want to know at school,” you do wonder if he has it coming. But the realization that this can happen to anyone is probably the most bone-chilling aspect of this film, and its true source of unease and empathy on the part of the viewer.