As humans, we tend to dig into our bad decisions in life. Yet, somehow if we continue down that dark path, certainly there’s an escape, and all the bad will be over. Such is the dilemma for a professional hustler in Will Parker’s feature film, Forty Winks.
Justin Marcel McManus plays Fabio Baker, a struggling grifter with skills in hypnotism. The con is simple. Fabio has established himself professionally as a hypnotherapist. However, he sees clients with various mental ailments and never gets anywhere close to helping them to ensure they come back for their weekly sessions. Instead, he resorts to mind reading (cold reading scam) and tarot cards, particularly when he feels his clients slipping away.
The grind of his monotonous everyday life is beginning to wear on Fabio. He’s stuck in life and the con, and before he can catch his breath, Fabio is visited by the sinister Connie Montoya (Susan Sarandon). Connie has done a little research on Fabio and discovered that he is a fraud. Blackmail is the game, and Connie promises not to expose his operation in exchange for free “sessions” with some of her victims associates. Fabio soon realizes he’s in over his head.
First, I’m in awe of how Forty Winks was made. There’s a long list of big names supporting and appearing in Parker’s film. Susan Sarandon and John Turturro appear on screen, with Sarandon taking on a significant role. How are they in this film? I don’t want to know.
“…never gets anywhere close to helping them to Ensure they come back for their weekly sessions.”
Forty Winks also has its indie charm. The film is pretty much a very-low budget noir. Shot in black and white, most of the action takes place on small sets for a television spot and in an office for Fabio’s therapy. Parker’s story is chock full of emerging bit-part actors, and I’m simply in awe seeing many of them acting against Susan Sarandon.
I would consider Forty Winks more of an art film than a dramatic narrative. Fabio’s world is surreal, and the overall narrative matches that. Low budget effects and editing are employed to create the feeling of being hypnotized, and its productions values are sparse. The story is essentially a series of conversations where Fabio finds himself less and less in control of his destiny.
My criticism of the film surrounds the stakes of the story. Narratively speaking, those stakes should be really high as Fabio’s life is in the hands of Connie Montoya, but the stakes never feel that high at all. There’s a bit of a wink-at-the-camera cheekiness with some of the tense situations and the over-the-top stereotypes of the characters. The exception is John Turturro as Milo, the paper delivery guy. Though he’s delivering a ream of letter-sized paper, he grounds Milo into the drama in a way I wish was consistent with the rest of the film.
Also, the ending is a bit problematic as the story just ends. Obviously, I can’t give it away, but it sort of just ends with a bit of narration—almost as if some of the horrific events never happened… hmm, I wonder. There are loose ends that need to be tied up, and it doesn’t happen in a satisfactory way.
As a purveyor of independent film, I’m utterly fascinated with Forty Winks. However, I wonder what the film would be if it had tens of thousands of dollars for professional cameras, lighting, and set design. How about money for more seasoned character actors and better hypnotic effects. At the same time, Sarandon and Turturro are acting against lead actor Justin Marcel McManus. But money can’t buy the indie guerrilla filmmaking charms that ooze all over Forty Winks.