Armynel opens starkly. Slow rack focuses heave on a mysterious and sinister object. Moments later, arial sweeps across a stunning cliff off the coast of California. Waves crash onto craggy old earth. Arymnel’s lead, Savannah, stands atop these cliffs. She is contemplative and pensive. This moment would almost seem vulnerable if it weren’t doused in the over-the-top production of those massive arial sweeps. Fortunately, a moody, elegant and bare piano score eases the awkwardness a bit. Still, it’s hard to shake how out of place those big, pretty nature shots feel. Moments in, and one worries that Arymnel might be poised to bite off more than it can chew.
Our story focuses on Savannah, a professional woman with a dark secret. Of course, Savannah’s lore is contingent on mental illness, which is rarely handled well, and Arymnel makes no strides in changing that. We’re certainly not treading new territory here. Standard fair for straight-to-streaming psychological thrillers. Savannah has a haunting past, barely accessible to her or her cool, hippy shrink. A handful of uncomfortably close murders spark an investigation, and Savannah is right in the middle. All the while, our lead is hoping to resolve her own sordid past. Several half-twists lead us to an ending that, given more time and tension, could be a fun surprise. Though, there is something to be said for a film that at least tries to challenge you.
Throughout its runtime, Arymnel focuses hard on constructing its mystery. It does manage to produce a dense cloud of smoke, but fails to produce the tension it is clearly reaching for. It’s apparent that Armynel’s crew were aiming high. A good deal of this movie is shot beautifully, a pleasant surprise. Sadly, the often gorgeous cinematography is offset by sound that is…lacking.
Okay, the sound is bad. Very bad. There are moments where a line seems to have been edited to a new dub halfway through its delivery. On other occasions, the mix is so poorly balanced that some lines are simply inaudible.
Of course, there are the performances, which are exactly the quality you might anticipate from a no-budget. I’m not sure if this is a good or a bad thing, yet, but the characters themselves are almost entirely ancillary. If not, they are severely under developed. Savannah does have a girlfriend, Felicia. Her story seems to hope to deliver some impact, but we simply do not get to know her well enough to feel a connection. Despite that, it’s worth noting how well handled their relationship is. Considering depictions of non-straight couples in so many other films, it comes as a bit of a shock that Armynel’s is about as unsensational and tasteful as it can be. Although, I can’t help but wonder how deliberate that was. Still, it is pretty refreshing to see a lesbian couple not depicted as some hammy fantasy, or loud as hell social commentary. Savannah and Felicia are just a loving couple.
Arymnel seems to be, if nothing else, a movie of contradictions. For as tastefully as the couple at the center of the movie may be handled, their saucy gay-guy best friend is over-the-top as fuck. Though, the character does manage to be charming sometimes.
All things considered, Arymnel is in a class of its own. Sure, that class is in a league that isn’t known for its total knockouts. Nonetheless, Armynel strives to be something more meaningful. To make a no-budget thriller with the hopes of saying something of merit is admirable and Arymnel comes close to close.
Review by: Ian Sutherland