THE LIVING kicks off as a thirty-something husband Teddy (Fran Kranz of THE CABIN IN THE WOODS) awakens from an off-screen bender to the grim reality that he'd beaten up his wife Molly (Jocelin Donahue from HOUSE OF THE DEVIL) the night before. Molly has retreated to her mother's house, but eventually returns home with Teddy much to the chagrin of said mother (Joelle Carter), who takes out her frustration over the situation by shaming her timid son Gordon (Kenny Wormald in a non-dance role). Gordon, of course, has frustrations of his own, especially his inability to protect his sister by beating up Teddy (who even sincerely offers him a free shot by way of apology). But enough "I'd like to kill him" declarations finally encourage a work-friend of Gordon's to actually set him up with "a guy" who really WILL kill Teddy.
The "are you a man or aren't you" goadings of his mother and his friend alike convince Gordon to actually go through with the scheme, which leads to a face-to-face meeting with killer-for-hire Howard (Chris Mulkey of TWIN PEAKS) and a road trip through hell.
Everybody thinks they know what's best for poor Molly... but of course, nobody actually cares how SHE feels about the situation. Gordon's fateful journey is only half of THE LIVING, which pays equal attention to Molly as she chooses to rebuild her marriage to Teddy, but strictly on her OWN terms. And herein lies the only real liability of this indie drama. As Teddy, Kranz offers a truly heartfelt and sensitive portrayal, but the film very deliberately avoids showing his dark side. Yes, the physical scars on Molly are quite bad enough, and no caring viewer would want to watch the actual beating, but when it comes to Teddy himself, we ONLY see his intense guilt and remorse as he tries to redeem himself in Molly's eyes, gradually allowing his original sweetness to resurface. The film tries SO hard to get us to like Teddy (true-life victims of domestic abuse will doubtless have quite a lot to say about that, but that discussion belongs outside the context of a movie review) that it foreshadows only one possible outcome once Howard (Mulkey is genuinely terrifying in the role) hits the road with Gordon--who realizes, far too late, that he's committed himself beyond withdrawal.
Actually, there isn't a false note to be found here, and the "indy" cast has far more potent material with which to work than the veterans populating CUT BANK did last week. THE LIVING is undeniably effective, but you're in for a huge, sobering downer if you're seeking the "thriller" promised by the packaging.
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