Directed by Christina Choe. Starring Andrea Riseborough, J. Cameron Smith, Steve Buscemi Thriller, US 2018, 82mins, Cert 15.
Released in the UK on DVD and Digital Download on 5th November by Studiocanal
Although it has the outward appearance of a psychological thriller, Christine Choe’s debut feature NANCY is in fact a more sombre, thought-provoking musing on loss and belonging centred around a predictably excellent performance from Andrea Risborough.
It tells a similar tale to Barti Layton’s disturbing 2012 documentary THE IMPOSTER, yet with a softer edge and themes that stare into the human condition rather than raising further questions than answers regarding the circumstances.
Riseborough plays the titular Nancy, a quiet, lonely girl who cares for her ailing mother. When we first meet her she is staring into her smartphone and it soon transpires that this is the only way she has any meaningful form of human contact. This is achieved by creating pseudonyms and reaching out to those in need on-line. She eventually comes across Leo (Steve Buscemi) and Ellen (J. Smith Cameron), a couple whose daughter Brooke was kidnapped 30 years ago and remains missing. Nancy contacts them and claims that she just might be Brooke.
From here, Choe creates an interesting dynamic. On one hand we have Ellen, who is emotional and desperate to believe Nancy is he long lost child, often referring to her in the second person. Leo meanwhile, refers to her in the third, taking a more practical, pragmatic approach, keeping a cold distance where he can. The measured performances from both Buscemi and Smith Cameron, aided by Choe’s smart script, demonstrate different ends of the spectrum of human emotions, pulled in separate directions where dream and reality threaten to merge.
In the middle there is hope, represented by Nancy. We’re never quite sure what is real and what is not, much like the characters within and Choe allows the sense of ambiguity to run throughout. Nancy is dishevelled, drained of life, but allowing a twinkling of joy breakthrough as she becomes a projection of Brooke equally hoping that there is a semblance of truth to the situation. Her actual knowledge of who she is may be undefined but her motives are as heartbreaking as Ellen’s.
It leads to a finale that doesn’t offer easy answers, but provides a satisfying conclusion to a smart, understated, bittersweet film and a great calling card for Choe.