Ushering in viewers to “The Double Hour” is the image of a glass leveled in the center with liquid. It poses an immediate philosophical question to the viewer: half empty or half full?

The Double Hour

June 3 – 9
Michigan Theater

In the modern psychological thriller, we’re often given two acts of hope that make the inevitable third act of failure all the more crushing. Consider M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” twist heard around the world — the one that took six drafts to include — or Christopher Nolan’s refusal to give poor Leonardo DiCaprio a concrete break in “Inception.” When we’ve got characters to hang onto who have so much to lose, the topsy-turvy cognitive roller-coaster ride is easier to consume, but it is that much harder to accept their fates.

“The Double Hour” ’s protagonist — Sonia (Kseniya Rappoport), a wounded spirit who never seems to be on the winning side of karma — starts off low and only goes lower, with hardly anything there to hold onto. After she witnesses a suicide and is subjected to a list of mismatches at a speed dating service the size of a phonebook page, Sonia connects with a handsome gentleman named Guido (Filippo Timi). When they part for the evening, Guido checks the time. It’s 20:20, a “double hour” which he explains to be a fantastical time of day in which one can make a wish. With childlike sincerity and a cautiously playful smile, Sonia asks Guido, “Does it work?” He pauses only for one unapologetic beat before coldly replying, “No.” From the very beginning, this glass is half empty, with cracks spreading all across, its base ready to spring leaks.

Director Giuseppe Capotondi, a first-time director who took home “Best Italian Film” award for young directors at Venice, has created a film that escalates from an off-kilter character drama to a bizarre little monster. Guido, a widowed ex-cop-turned-security-guard, finds consolation in Sonia and strikes up a relationship. When she visits him at his job, the two are attacked and held hostage. In an attempt by Guido to fight back against the masked men, there’s a brief struggle, gunshot sounds, and the story jumps weeks ahead. Sonia now walks through life in the wake of Guido’s death, having survived a gunshot wound to the head herself.

She starts seeing him everywhere — on security monitors at the hotel, in the shadows of her apartment — and as the story unwinds, it becomes clear that these hauntings are more guilt-based manifestations than fears of what goes bump in the night. As each new twist is put into play — and the film does provide them ad nauseum — it morphs into a grown-up cautionary tale, like a very surreal episode of “Tales from the Crypt” for the art house crowd with echoes of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-tale Heart.” That’s when Sonia becomes less of a protagonist that we care for; she becomes more complex, certainly, but a rooting interest in her flounders as the truth emerges.

“The Double Hour” shifts from a genuinely unsettling Lynchian romance to a more standard psychological thriller, but it makes the conversion while maintaining most of its early atypical charms. It’s not wholly original, but it becomes a beast of its own in its unflinching explorations of the darkest parts of the human mind and the human condition. Unfortunately, though, its zigs and zags may be odd, engaging and oftentimes quite disturbing, none of them seem revelatory. It’s missing the great “ohh” moment — when Bruce Willis realizes he’s dead or Leonardo DiCaprio spins his totem — that so often defines the psycho-thriller. Though the glass may be half full of ideas, their meaning is no more than half empty. Maybe a sixth draft would have got it just right.

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