Intermedium (2023)

Look in a dictionary, and you will find that ‘intermedium’ is an anatomical term for a small carpal or tarsal bone, or a musical term for a compositional interlude – but while Erik Bloomquist’s Intermedium, expanded from his 2019 short film of the same name and wittily scripted by Taylor Turner, features both a skeleton in a character’s closet, and a short musical piece, the title is more suggestive of the intermediacy shared by its adolescent characters, and of a character who plays medium to the ghost that, in different ways, haunts all their lives.

High school senior Bridget Daugherty (Emily Keefe) has a lot going on. She has severe OCD which, along with her brusque arrogance, can easily alienate others. She is a retro girl who lives in a comforting past of Golden Oldies, and surrounds herself with outmoded VHSes, cassette tapes and second-hand vinyl. She is a highly talented if precocious ‘theatre kid’ who has been singing commercially since she was a little girl, but has recently done something foolish in her home city of Chicago to undermine her career prospects there. And she has just moved in with her divorced dad Greg (Sean Allan Krill), in the home that he shares with his new wife Diane (Amy Hargreaves) in small-town Carrigan.

Bridget’s biggest problem of all, though, is that her new bedroom is still occupied by Kyle Donovan (Beau Minniear), a buff, often shirtless, ‘dead adjacent’ teenager whose ghost only Bridget can see, but who is more than just what his jock stereotype presents to the eye. So as Bridget struggles to fit into her new environment, to make new friends and to get a part in the school musical, she must also contend with her mixed feelings towards a boy whom she would like in equal measure to exorcise and to embrace, even as death rears its head in a different way when her father’s cancer returns. 

Soon Bridget has recruited Kyle’s ex-girlfriend (and her own theatrical rival) Nina Romero (Haskiri Velazquez), Kyle’s best friend Evan Burkhart (Jesse Posey) and local lesbian amateur ghostbuster – “but more intersectional” – Darcy McCalister (Sadie Scott) to try to resolve whatever ‘unfinished business’ is keeping Kyle there. Yet Kyle does not wish to leave – and maybe these living characters too are caught in their own intermediate states between childhood and adulthood, longing to put the grief, trauma or just plain embarrassment of their pasts behind them while hesitant to move on to an unknown, potentially frightening future, beyond the security, however frayed, of the family nest.

Make no mistake, Intermedium is both a romantic comedy and a musical – but the sweetness of these modes is embittered by the film’s equal status as a ghost story, bringing with it the ever-present gravity of death. Most of the film’s singing and dancing is intradiegetically motivated – auditions, rehearsals, practice and actual performances of a musical staged within the story – but there is a moment, like the ‘soul food restaurant’ sequence in John Landis’ similarly Illinois-set The Blues Brothers (1980), that breaks this pattern. For Greg’s confrontation (in a mirror) with his encroaching mortality is converted into an incongruously upbeat big-band jazz number which he, suddenly in a tux, performs with his daughter even as she switches from teenager to little girl. In other words, here Greg bursts into song for no reason but to heighten his emotional state, and this desperate break from reality becomes a fantastically stylised intermedium for expressing – and ironising – his deepest hopes and fears, loves and losses. Here not even the suavest, swankiest nostalgia-tinged song can shelter these characters forever from the fate in store for them.

Bridget frequently wonders aloud why only she can see Kyle. It might be that she alone is living in the room that was once his, or that she, like him, is nursing a potential that has not yet been fully met – but it might equally be that like him, she is stuck in a series of repeating routines to which she clings, and which she has neither the ability or even willingness or courage to leave. As the film goes on, Bridget’s obsessive-compulsive behaviours, so pronounced at the beginning, gradually fade away, along with Kyle, so that in the end they are just a memory, and she, like him, is able to move on to the next place.

While, for Bridget, Kyle – or a persistent idea of Kyle – may still be around, it is those who actually knew him before his death that must carry the weight of his absence, and deal with what happened to him and how it affected them. For Kyle may be a ghost, but he is also a metaphor – for the immaturity, intransigence and excessive dependence of the teenage years, disrupted by change and exorcised only by rites of passage. Having already brought theatre kids into collision with mortality in his earlier She Came From The Woods (2022), here Bloomquist allows his young characters’ encounters with a Casper-like friendly ghost to show them the rôles they want and need to play in their adult life. 

strap: Erik Bloomquist’s LGBTQ-friendly musical rom-com ghost story sees adolescence itself as unfinished business 

© Anton Bitel