Why Flinch Is a Crime Thriller Worth Watching

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The stylish debut feature from director Cameron Van Hoy is currently available on VOD.

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The crime thriller Flinch, currently available on VOD, follows a skilled killer-for-hire named Joey (Daniel Zovatto) who begins to experience a crisis of conscience after abducting Mia (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), the only witness to his most recent murder. I was pleasantly surprised by writer/director Cameron Van Hoy’s debut feature, which shares DNA with other feverish modern crime dramas such as Drive and Good Time. Like Drive, Flinch doesn’t contain much action; it primarily focuses on the escalating tension between its characters while deftly utilizing a handful of explosions of extreme violence to keep the stakes extremely high. It never reaches Drive’s gonzo heights of stomping a man’s skull into mush inside a grimy elevator, but Van Hoy demonstrates a careful hand in crafting a resonating story about the nature of duty and obligation, and how easily we allow ourselves to become trapped by our own definitions of the two.

Imprisonment is the primary theme of Flinch. Obviously, Mia is being held captive by Joey, but Joey himself is the film’s biggest prisoner. Van Hoy employs a number of subtle devices to keep this theme circling in your mind while you watch, beginning with the recurring image of Joey’s pet fighting fish. The fish has to be kept in its bowl alone for obvious reasons, much like Joey himself. They’re both prisoners of their own violent nature, and although Joey clearly cares for the fish, they’re always separated from each other. And while Joey isn’t literally being kept in an enclosure, he experiences the world through the same lens of separation as his fish. The story takes place in Los Angeles, but every shot containing downtown’s familiar skyline is at a distance, with Joey somewhere on the outskirts. He’s in L.A. but not really in it, always on the outside looking in. He doesn’t appear to have any friends or family outside of his mother Gloria (Cathy Moriarty). Gloria is also a willing prisoner, living in a tiny house with Joey behind a paper-thin front door held in place by half a dozen locks. As Joey points out, those locks aren’t actually keeping anyone out, so their only purpose is for Gloria to feel securely contained. And while she longs to break free and live on a beach somewhere, she obsessively turns each lock back into place every time the door is opened.

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Much like the relationship Joey has with his pet fish, there’s an invisible barrier between him and Gloria. That barrier is directly connected to Joey’s father, Joseph Sr. (Steven Bauer), another contract killer currently languishing in prison thanks to the family trade. Joseph’s presence is felt throughout the film – Joey listens to cassettes of his father’s voice proselytizing on the rules of “the life” and how to stay smart and out of jail. He sleeps in a room in his mother’s house, dominated by the reddish glow of a neon crucifix, a constant reminder of his father’s fanatic religious beliefs bathing him in intense light. And Joey is locked into this life of assassination thanks to a debt Joseph owes to Lee (David Proval), a genial but quietly menacing crime boss. Van Hoy employs that harsh reddish lighting throughout the film to remind us that Joey is trapped by his father’s legacy. Mia may be handcuffed to the bed beneath that giant blazing crucifix, but Joey sleeps there willingly. The fact that he lives with his mother, doing the same work as his father while perpetually existing in the shadow of Joseph’s absence, establishes Joey’s identity as a prisoner by choice and drives home the notion like a coffin nail.

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Music also plays a considerable role in the imprisonment theme. The score is primarily synth-driven, keeping us on edge with moody, pulsating beats that emphasize the tension of Joey’s predicament. But the film’s lighter moments, in which Joey is able to take a moment to breathe and enjoy the company of Gloria and Mia, are punctuated by soft pop ballads. The score is pure instinct, thrumming with the danger of his criminal life, with the pop music highlighting the scenes in which he chooses to stop and actually experience the world on his own terms. Joey could break out any time he wants to, but a distorted sense of duty keeps him locked in place.

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Flinch is an alluring neo-noir drama made with an impressive level of craftmanship. The film’s attention to detail in exploring the plight of its protagonist constantly surprised me, right up until the very last shot. It’s a little rough around the edges, but it’s a worthwhile watch that has passed a lot of people by. Check out the trailer below. For more on the movie visit the film’s official website and follow the film on Instagram.

KEEP READING: ‘Cherry’ Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel on the Film’s Ambitious Visual Approach and the Russo Brothers

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