The White Orchid (Steve Anderson, 2018): USA


Reviewed by Brianna Franklin. Viewed at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2018, Metropolitan 4 Theater.

The White Orchid is a neo-noir set in Morro Bay, California, directed by Steve Anderson (This Last Lonely Place, The Big Empty). It begins as an interesting film with strong female characters, up to a point. It takes a turn that is both unfortunate and odd. A film that had the makings of a solid mystery, The White Orchid misses the mark by using cheap tactics to explain the behavior of its characters.

This film made it’s world premiere at the Metropolitan 4 Theater at SBIFF. The cast includes Olivia Thirlby (Juno, The Wackness) as young private eye, Claire, who is investigating the murder of a woman in Morro Bay, Jennifer Beals (Flashdance, The Book of Eli) plays her boss (Vivian) in San Luis Obispo, and John Carroll Lynch as Sheriff Mann.

The opening shots are of Claire rummaging in a house that is clearly abandoned, this is never for sure explained, but one could infer that it has something to do with one of her cases. The film continues with Vivian speaking to Claire, who the audience doesn’t see yet. She is explaining the case of a young woman left on an isle in Morro Bay without hands or a head, the case is known as “the white orchid”. The camera pans to Claire, she is dressed in mousy clothes, with glasses and her hair pulled back in a tight ponytail. She is the epitome of precise and intelligent. When Claire gets to the house of victim, she begins to go through her things, looking for clues. But then she finds herself sitting at the woman’s vanity putting on her lipstick. The film continues on a path that shows Claire balanced on thin line between investigative and inappropriate.

Up until the hour mark, the film is interesting and mysterious, and then Anderson takes some not-so-great risks, and basically chops the head off of the film. Claire takes a wild turn to lesbianism, which had never been a part of the story to that point. I would have no issue with this, but it starts to feel like a film exclusively for men, where women are hot playthings. This is a massive departure from the first half of the piece. Instead of being shocking and provocative (which is no doubt what Anderson was going for), the film becomes mildly offensive and generally dull. The rest of the film results in similar choices that pull the viewer out of the cinematic world of The White Orchid.

All in all, this film had a lot of potential, but was punished with unnecessary elements that feel forced. Unfortunately, this one might be worth skipping.



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