Aaron Katz’s moody and occasionally enigmatic L.A. noir “Gemini” makes excellent use of the City of Angels as a backdrop in the age of smartphones and social media. The film vacillates between being the type of low budget indie drama in which its director – an occasional participant in the Mumblecore movement of yesteryear – got his start and a stylish murder mystery with some gorgeously haunting imagery.
The film opens on a nighttime shot of upside down palm trees, suggesting a town that operates on its own set of rules and where bad things happen in the dark. The film centers on a popular Hollywood actress named Heather (Zoe Kravitz) who is in the middle of a nasty breakup with her boyfriend, on the fence as to whether she will star in a film that is nearly ready to shoot and pursued relentlessly by both the paparazzi and fans who border on stalking.
Heather relies heavily on her assistant, Jill (an excellent Lola Kirke), who doubles as her confidante, business manager and best friend. Although Jill technically works for Heather, the relationship is appears to be one in which the two women are on more equal footing than your typical celebrity and assistant. In fact, it reminded me slightly of the camaraderie between Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart in Olivier Assayas’ excellent “Clouds of Sils Maria.”
From the film’s beginning, there is a sense that danger is lurking. Jill must constantly deal with the aftermath of Heather’s decisions. She is the one who has to listen to Heather’s ex-boyfriend, Devin, on the phone following the breakup. He tells Jill to tell Heather that he will kill her. The same sentiment is relayed after Jill tells the filmmaker with whom Heather is supposed to work that the actress plans to drop out of the project. Jill is also forced to deal with Heather’s grouchy agent Jamie (Michelle Forbes).
One night, Heather tells Jill that she knows she owns a gun and asks if she can borrow it. Heather doesn’t feel safe – especially amid the breakup with Devin, but also due to a creepy paparazzi who follows her seemingly everywhere and after being approached by a fan who seems clingy to an unsettling degree.
Then, a horrific crime occurs and an easygoing, but determined, detective named Ahn (John Cho) suspects Jill, who then dyes her hair blonde and treks across Los Angeles, dodging the police and attempting to find the culprit behind the crime herself. The film includes a few noteworthy twists, but also a fittingly enigmatic ending that questions perception in an age of social media-dominated unreality. It also adds to the ambiance that the film’s blue-tinted twilight visuals are punctuated with jazzy saxophone riffs and an eerie electronic score.
While “Gemini” doesn’t exactly reinvent the noir or tread new ground, it is an engrossing and highly effective thriller that serves as a great showcase for the talents of Kirk and Katz and a reminder why Los Angeles is such a perfect spot for thrillers of this sort.