Review first published by Vérité
The opening sequence of I Put A Spell On You establishes a dynamic that will energise everything that follows—or at least do whatever the opposite of energise is. Harper (Sara Canning) carefully selects her elegant dress and heels for a night out that she has planned with equal care. She arrives at the swanky restaurant – her choice – and waits. By the time Ray (Aaron Ashmore, twin brother of Shawn) has arrived, late and underdressed, Harper is already tipsy. They have been going out for two years, but his injured knee, topicalised as soon as he walks in, emblematises his general slowness to action, and more specifically the unlikelihood that he will be kneeling to propose any time soon. So Harper, who is pushier and more aspirant than her slacker, stoner boyfriend, has decided to take matters into her own hands, and surprises Ray over dessert with an engagement ring, picked and purchased by herself, that she wants him to present to her. Ray says no.
What we witness unfolding in this scenario is a relationship in stasis. As Harper tries to engineer a future for the two of them very much on her own rather controlling terms, and Ray literally drags his feet, there is little obvious possibility left that this couple can meet halfway, let alone move forward together. Returning to her apartment angry, drunk and alone, rather than the fiancée she dreams of being, Harper hits the bottle hard. She then goes to a trading post online and jokingly offers her engagement ring to anyone who will murder her (now ex) boyfriend. Much later that night, passed out on the sofa, she is awoken by a phone call from a man saying he will carry out the kill by dawn. Hungover and horrified, Harper rushes to Ray’s to warn him of what may be coming, and to wait out the night with him.
“This might not be the best time,” suggests Harper when Ray tries to talk about what happened at the restaurant. “It’s not the time,” Ray will later hiss as Harper questions him about their future living arrangements right in the middle of a home invasion. In fact, from the very outset, bad timing has defined their relationship, as conflicting interests and contrasting paces stretch this couple in opposite directions. The hitman on his way may represent a little irruption of genre into what is otherwise strictly a drama, but he is also an extension of the same instinct that drove Harper to buy her own engagement ring, in the hope of shaking Ray from his inertia even at the risk of terminating the relationship once and for all.
Written and directed by Dane Clark and Linsey Stewart (who also collaborated on the 2013 telemovie Alive), I Put A Hit On You comes with something of a structural problem. Like its two main players – and this is essentially a two-hander – the film suffers from a certain paralysis. Caught between the clashing of this couple, and the mild thriller elements that propel its overnight narrative, the film proves unable to reconcile its different parts. The plot is preposterous from the outset (who on earth would risk murdering a complete stranger for a cheap ring?), and so demands over-the-top, off-the-hook comedy to keep up with its inherent silliness. Instead, however, it is lumbered with bogged-down scenes and endless low-key dialogue. Kept apart, these may have worked, but together their combination is toxic.
As Harper and Ray wait and wait and wait, we too begin to notice that there is not much actually happening here, and that the film, like their relationship, is stuck in a holding pattern, in expectation of the inevitable end. All of which is no doubt deliberate, as the awaited hit serves to adumbrate and intensify the chinks and vulnerabilities in Harper and Ray’s life together, and their utter failure to agree on a direction. This very directionlessness, however, hardly makes for entertainment, in a film which has already economically laid out all this pair’s problems in its opening sequence, and from there on, can only resort to detailed yet repetitive character assassinations. Both Canning and Ashmore are good here, but mired between Harper’s push and Ray’s pull, there is nowhere to go.