Old Flame Has Potential In It But Fizzles Out [Brooklyn Horror Film Festival]

Old Flame still of Rachel (Rebecca Robles) wear a mask

With the opening scene, Old Flame (playing at Brooklyn Horror Fest), written and directed by Christopher Denham, requires a trigger and content warning for viewing, and, as this will be a review of the film, I am issuing a warning now. The movie is about a college reunion, but this reunion is where two ex-lovers meet, and as the past comes up, violence erupts. Though Old Flame has sharp writing built into cat-and-mouse suspense, the film devolves into a predictable ending.  

The opening scene is an assault. The audience sees a person on top of a woman, covering her mouth as she screams. This being my introduction, is a strike against Old Flame. If I choose to watch a film with that content, that is one thing. Being caught off guard is another. The cast is tiny; Calvin Green (Andy Gershenzon) and Rachel Lerner (Rebecca Robles). Calvin video chats with his little daughters then heads over to set up for tomorrow’s reunion when Rachel shows up. The film follows a three-act structure between the pair.

Old Flame Has Something Rotten At The Reunion

As soon as Rachel arrives, you know something is off. There is a past between them that did not end well. When friends or former partners reunite, they hug. Here, Calvin’s response is smiles and shock, but neither he nor Rachel moves in for an embrace. Rachel is not here for tomorrow’s reunion, so Calvin cannot find her on the RSVP list. Their conversation, particularly Rachel’s words, have double meanings laced throughout that Calvin either does not or pretends not to notice. Yet, given how he chooses to phrase her character and behavior in college, it is apparent he is covering for something. Tension and a sliver of terror builds for the viewer as these two skirt around a confrontation.

Side-Eye The White Man

Old Flame still of Rachel (Rebecca Robles) wear a mask
Old Flame still. Brooklyn Horror Fest.

Calvin is the white, heternormative man that, when seen, women should run in the opposite direction. As you watch movies, social media and politics traipse through your mind. Films like Promising Young Woman, social media conversations around predatory men using fighting alongside women, and words like “feminist” and “toxic masculinity,” as a shield to protect them. Because when and if the truth comes out, they have tons of women ready to list the fundraising, marches, and women they helped. Calvin’s type is the most grotesque human being ever to exist. Both Rebecca Robles and Andy Gershenzon bring their ‘A’ game in their respective roles.

The banter between the two changes when Rachel answers Calvin’s question about why she didn’t reach out with the truth. After that, the tension that brimmed starts to spill over, gradually at first. The dialogue is quick and sharp, moving fast, as though filling the silence can keep the truth hidden, but once Rachel abandons social pretense, it is out. Then come the buzzwords, the “I was drunk,” and all the other excuses that fall flat because not all drunks are predatory. It is not a default of alcohol but a defect of character. 

Reminiscent of Hard Candy with Elliot Page and Patrick Wilson, you watch Old Flame wondering what the goal is and how it will end. By the end, there is a reversal between the opening and ending scenes. I understand the intended impact; however, it’s sensational for sensationalism’s sake. Old Flame loses you in the beginning, has you in the middle, then loses you again by the end. Old Flame loses the potential for nuance, and the film winds up the same as others, with albeit higher discomfort in different packaging

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