The Horror at Gallery Kay begins in a waiting room, with a slow zoom onto a seated Olive (Rosebud), as the sounds of drilling, screams and children singing Ring a Ring ‘o Roses, fill the soundtrack – or at least the soundtrack in Olive’s mind. Olive is waiting for a Couples Counseling session which her lover Petra (Maine Anders) has reluctantly agreed to attend in a last-ditch effort to save their relationship, even though Petra already considers Olive a closed chapter in her life. Petra is running late, the receptionist (Kristen Vaughan) is keen to get home to her children, and the only reasons that the counsellor, Claremont Bozill, MD (Brian Silliman), is willing to stay behind is that he is Petra’s personal friend. Olive, determined beneath her flaky exterior, will do anything to win back Petra’s love. And so she waits.
The action of Abe Goldfarb’s directorial debut (written by Mac Rogers) will move into the pompous Bozill’s consulting office, and from there eventually into the small gallery of the title – but all these rooms represent the same arena with the same essential personnel all locked into the same combat, as Bozill digs deep into what has driven Olive and Petra apart, and what ‘arable land’ might remain for sowing the seeds of reconciliation. “Inside every couple is a secret world,” insists Bozill, “co-existing within and alongside this one.” It is Bozill’s job to explore that world, and to expose it to its inhabitants – even if he seems more interested in excavating the world of his more impressive, assured, professionalised friend Petra than hearing Olive’s side of the story. Petra is convinced that the relationship has nowhere left to go, and is well and truly over – whereas Olive claims that a visit to Gallery Kay led her to an epiphany, and that she now knows her love for Petra is everything and everlasting.
These differences will get thrashed out, talked through, raked over – until Petra’s way with storytelling will start infecting the atmosphere and revealing strange subterranean subtexts (subtexts that clearly have special meaning for the wide-eyed Olive), and this couple’s metaphorical “secret world” will begin, over the course of the session, to assume a literal reality. As Petra tells her narrative about a secret, suppressed parallel city underground, the lighting, even the physical space, in Bozill’s office shifts under her story’s beguiling power. Olive’s own complementary story will require an altogether different location for its telling – although the receptionist, now wearing a surgical mask to cover a facial disfigurement, is still present and correct(ed). In this mythic (gallery) space, a place of radical transformations and Lovecraftian terror, the power dynamics between couple and counsellor will alter, Olive will lay out her new pitch to Petra, and everything that has fallen apart can be remade.
The apparent mismatch between Petra and Olive is visually encoded by the fact that the former is black and the latter is white – and yet the film, itself shot (mostly) in monochrome, constantly evokes the compatibility that can exist between opposites. Cinema, after all, is the medium where black and white go perfectly together. A low-budget, lo-fi affair propelled by big ideas, The Horror at Gallery Kay is a queer chamber(s) piece that builds its own mythology of science fiction and horror in order not only to enter the dark, hidden spaces of an intense, flailing relationship, but also to find a way for its two divided lovers to re(e)merge, once more sharing the same fantasy.
© Anton Bitel