The very first Make Believe Seattle festival took place last week and included a lot of stellar features. One that particularly caught my eye was Pursued. It is the new film from Jeffrey Obrow, known for 80s classics The Dorm that Dripped Blood and The Kindred. He’s back with a new thriller focusing on friends and strangers in the digital age.
When Lark (Madison Lawlor) learns that her mother (Molly Ringwald) is dating a new guy, she has mixed emotions. She’s happy that her mom is finally moving on after her father’s death two years before, but the whole idea naturally feels a bit strange. This is only compounded by the fact that she only learns about the relationship when Carol announces that she will be going away for the weekend with her new suitor. Lark cautions her mom, asking if she really knows this guy well enough to go away with him. Her mom reassures her, saying that Mark Franc is a stand up guy, and one that she fully trusts.
Lark isn’t 100% convinced, so she does some internet sleuthing. She enlists some help from her friends and dives down a rabbit hole of Mark Franc profiles on various social media sites. Though there are too many to make a solid connection to the man her mother is dating, one profile does stand out. Her friend manages to hack his way into a dating site and Lark witnesses a real-time instant message conversation between Mark Franc (Angus Macfadyen) and a local woman named Sarah. The woman seems to be trying to break off their relationship, and Franc is becoming more and more hostile as she does so, even resorting to threatening her life. When an unidentified woman’s body is discovered in the river a day later, Lark can’t help but feel like she knows who it might be. The police aren’t interested in her theories, so she’s left to do what any enterprising teenager would do - solve the damn mystery herself!
Pursued is a lot of fun in that Riverdale-adjacent, Lifetime movie kind of way. It’s got all of the pieces: an air of mystery surrounding Mom’s new guy, shots of the crazed madman as he does his evil stuff, internet breadcrumbs, lots of teen detective work and a lot of suspense. But it’s all connected very unevenly. The plot is pretty convoluted and there are several head-scratching moments where we wonder how exactly we got to this place, only to be served a line of dialogue a few seconds later that attempts to bridge the plot gap. For some, it will be a major aggravation. For others, it's just part of the fun. It’s like the omnipotent storyteller turning the pages for us is a bit unhinged.
Obrow assembled a great cast for this film and they absolutely delivered. Madison Lawlor really carries the story well. Lark is a complex character: she’s about to graduate, has no idea what she wants out of life, and is hesitant about stepping into the real world. And that’s before a murder mystery lands on her doorstep. As a detective, she is driven and tenacious as all hell. Her methods are often a little sloppy, but we’ll let that slide. Sam Trammel’s Jack is a great counterpart to her chaos and a rock solid parental stand in.
There are a few plot threads and character components that feel superfluous and slow things down. Lark is still mourning the loss of her father and the guilt that she has surrounding his death, and Jack (when he’s not babysitting teenage detectives) is trying to offer the support that she clearly needs. The actors really lean into it and deliver great performances, but sometimes the inclusion of these scenes feels unnecessary and distracts from the mystery at hand.
I really had fun with this film. There are a lot of flaws, but they are the kind of flaws that serve to unintentionally make the viewing experience more entertaining. Some of the plot points are weak, the characters make terrible decisions on more than one occasion, and the general flow of the story is really janky. You can read between the lines and find a pretty decent thriller that got lost in the edit. Sometimes that is the kiss of death, and other times, the film that remains is batshit and engaging enough to be fun. This is one of those times.
And I haven’t even talked about the MMA fights! That’s right. Lark is friends with an MMA gang and let’s just say that this story can’t wrap up properly without at least one badass beatdown. Another one of those WTF “Why are we here???” moments that would utterly wreck the experience if it wasn’t providing an injection of “Hell yeah!” just when we needed it.
I’m not going to tell you that Pursued is an elegant cinematic masterpiece, but not every film has to be brilliant in order to be enjoyed. Sometimes flaws can stand out and bring character to something and make it shine in a new way, and that’s what I found myself enjoying while watching this. It’s got solid performances, some choppy editing, and some plot turns that leave you going WTF before shrugging it off and just being happy to be along for the ride. Enjoy it with pizza!
Movie Score: 3/5