Ed. Note:  The 2014 Little Rock Film Festival brought a variety of films – local, domestic and international – to the Natural State. The Idle Class is reveiwing several of these films.

“The Heart Machine”
Dir. by Zachary Wigon

There’s nothing more tragic than a film that effectively builds tension through mystery only to fall flat on its face once all is revealed. Case in point: Zachary Wigon’s The Heart Machine. For roughly an hour of the films 85-minute runtime, I was utterly engrossed. But that ending, ugh that ending. The Heart Machine follows Cody (John Gallagher Jr.) and his long-distance girlfriend Virginia (Kate Lyn Sheil), who is doing a fellowship in Berlin, except maybe she’s not. It starts with a police siren blaring over a Skype call, which, as world travelers may know, do not sound the same in Europe. Suddenly Cody begins to notice other details that contradict Virginia’s story, American electrical sockets in her room, a curious pause when he mentions he saw a very similar looking woman. The film quickly dispenses with the question of whether or not Virginia is in Berlin (she’s not; she’s living in the village and casually sleeping with men almost every night), but two far more interesting questions arise from this revelation. Why is Virginia deceiving Cody, and how is Cody going to find out? For their part, the two leads give wonderful performances and share an electric chemistry despite all of their conversations being mediated through video chat. John Gallagher Jr. especially shines as his suspicion begins to blossom into paranoia and he takes on the role of amateur detective.

It all starts to go bad, though, once Cody’s increasingly stressed-out state leads to an impromptu sexual encounter in a back alley. It feels completely out of place and borderline tasteless in context. If only the film bounced back. Those two burning questions are answered, and they’re deeply disappointing on both counts. That said, I feel uncomfortable dismissing the film outright. It is a lovely film anchored by two fantastic performances and a sharp film. I’d recommend the film wholeheartedly were it not for its last twenty minutes. As it stands, it’s tragically middle of the road, an elaborate gymnastics trick fouled up by a sloppy landing. Oh well.