VOD Releases: Diane (2017) - Reviewed

From such a praised and promising new director as Michael Mongillo, whose previous features have received accolades and awards aplenty, his new movie, Diane, which is billed as horror, comes as quite the letdown.

Described both as “Stephen King meets Elmore Leonard” and “in the tradition of De Palma and Hitchcock” (in promotional materials), Diane comes nowhere near any of those mentioned masters and what little it tries to offer in the way of genuine scares falls completely flat.

Steve (Jason Alan Smith) is a depressed war veteran with a limp, who finds the corpse of a beautiful woman in his backyard (the titular Diane, played by Carlee Avers). The main mystery to be unveiled, if we can call it that, is how Diane’s corpse got there.To a couple of incompetent, and terribly written, police detectives, Steve is obviously the prime suspect of the murder.He, on the other hand, seems to have been hexed by the unexpected appearance and becomes obsessed with the idea of this “perfect” woman.

The main problem with Diane is that it suffers from multiple personality disorder, as Mongillo does not seem to be able to decide if he is shooting psychological horror, drama or thriller. Unfortunately, the end result does not fit in any of the slots, which, in this case, is not a good thing. As drama, it is simply not compelling, neither is it scary as a horror entry, and as a thriller… well, it is just plain boring. And while still trying to figure out what it actually is, up to the very end, it succeeds at nothing.

The use of a muted color palette (during the first act) works more as a crutch to mask the native digital photography than as a narrative device, that is, until it is forced to act like one, when the color palette is opened up to be used as a way to differentiate between reality, dreams and/or hallucinations.

Lacking a solid screenplay and any sort of plot points that engage the viewer, Jason Alan Smith is abandoned, amidst a troupe of inexperienced actors, to carry the entire weight of the movie on his shoulders. He does his best to hold up, but neither the material nor the execution help, and that cane of his surely can’t work miracles. Thus, Diane unfolds like a generic episode from a bad nineties TV show.

Mongillo, who is working from his own screenplay (based on a novel by Matt Giannini) seems to be trying to channel some personal experience in his portrayal of a haunting relationship and there are a couple of lines delivered by Carlee Avers that resonate in a sad, pathetic, self-deprecating way, which seem to hit particularly close to home.

The best idea on display is Mongillo’s exploration in the use of image (and color palette) as storytelling tools, the sudden “invasion” of bad video tracking issues as narrative device is completely wasted, and ultimately makes no sense once the mystery is, supposedly, solved.

In the end, Diane is a lost opportunity for Mongillo’s slightly rising star. Hopefully he’ll make a better choice of source material next time.

--Manuel Ríos Sarabia