While Alfred Hitchcock did not create the thriller, it’s undeniable that he perfected it. To this day, his best works are clearly identifiable in tone and style. While many have tried to emulate this unique vision, few have been able to match it to perfection. The Mistress, a new film starring John Magaro, attempts to bring that style back into the mainstream. The low-budget thriller makes the most of its opportunities, creating a creepy aesthetic that holds until a somewhat disappointing final act.
Parker (Magaro) and Madeline (Chasten Harmon) move into their first house. The newlyweds are excited to get their life started, and their one-hundred-year-old house has plenty of promise. However, almost immediately after moving in, they find a treasure trove of items from the former owners. Soon, Parker and Madeline begin seeing weird things around the house. Parker begins seeing a woman (Aylya Marzolf) at the most unusual times, making him question a tie to his past. Making things more difficult is a local neighbor (Kat Cunning) who seems determined to spend as much time with Parker as possible.
Attempting to tread on ground walked by the master of thrillers can be quite tricky. Yet Mistress leans directly into the vibe of a vintage Hitchcock thriller. Drawing on the visual motifs and scores of the master, Greg Pritikin helps the thoroughly modern film feel like a true throwback. Despite a limited budget, the images he crafts with DP Antonio Riestra are spectacular. Additionally, he proves adept at staging horror sequences for the most part. While we cut away from the action a few times (which frustrates), he builds sufficient tension prior to the payoff.
Magaro continues an outstanding year, tacking on another excellent performance to pair with Past Lives and LaRoy form earlier this year. He grounds the drama of The Mistress, which helps sell the more supernatural elements. Magaro plays his character with enough vulnerability that you want to believe him, but fairly early, he begins hiding things from his wife. While he actively proves himself untrustworthy, we want to continue to believe him. Magaro keeps his cards to himself, which helps lift the mystery of The Mistress.
Meanwhile, Harmon suffers from a lack of screen time. She excels when she gets to play against Magaro, but much of his time is spent chasing phantoms. When locked into emotional bouts, Harmon shows considerable talent. Her performance only feels uneven because she rarely gets to develop outside of her relationship with Magaro. Cunning and Marzolf get the same treatment but play bigger characters. Their moments land wonderfully simply because they get better material.
The final act, unfortunately, devolves into some thriller tropes that hurt the final product. At times, The Mistress feels like it’s building for a particular moment. When it passes with a thud, it leaves us unmoored from the material. While there are certainly interesting ideas in The Mistress, it would have benefited from a stronger exploration of them on the page. While Magaro and Harmon bring a lot out of the film, its lack of new ideas at the end leaves us wanting more. Pritikin could go further with a more polished screenplay in the future.
The Mistress is not a perfect film, but it’s a nice proof of concept for Pritikin. Whether he was hindered by budget or some other aspect, the performances make The Mistress worth a watch. With some excellent homages to yesteryear and the master of suspense, The Mistress almost lives up to its most ambitious moments but struggles to land the plane.