A James M. Cain-menagerie of spiritually flawed characters learn that reaching for the stars and realizing one’s dreams can have Faustian consequences in this twisty, paranoid crime-noir spiced with supernatural overtones.
Harry Frick, a nebbish, hypochondriac homicide detective right out of the ’70s giallo playbook (Danny Donnelly, reminding one of “’80s” Jeffrey Combs in terms of looks and jittery-acting style) is mismatched with Jessica Alvarez (Jennifer M. Kay), an eager, newly-promoted detective, to the case of a stockbroker who plunged to her death at the stroke of midnight—clutching a mysterious photograph. In the photo: the owner of an adult film studio, who later turns up dead—at midnight. Why would such a successful woman and a porn bottom feeder be photographed together? And was it murder or suicide? Has a serial killer with a “midnight” modus operandi from several years before returned for a new batch of six victims?
The sinister force behind the evil emulsion is The Pitchman (our favorite journeyman actor, Eric Roberts), a self-help shaman who offers the Garden of Eden to the greedy and the weak. As the photograph morphs to include new faces and the bodies pile up, the already emotionally fragile Frick begins to unravel once he realizes the woman of his dreams (the physically and emotional scarred Melissa) may soon become the next person to fall victim to The Pitchman.
The Arrangement is a family affair-inspired labor of love: a film that proves reaching for the stars and realizing one’s dreams doesn’t need a pitchman offering devilish contracts to achieve the desired result.
It began in 1983 when writer-producer-actor Andrew Hunsicker was accepted into the American Academy of the Dramatic Arts summer program (which is a nothing-to-sneeze-at accomplishment). He didn’t go and came to regret the decision; he returned to acting in 2013 and logged over a hundred projects in indie films, web series, and shorts, as well as writing several scripts.
It’s Hunsicker’s commitment to the “dream” that makes The Arrangement—like our recently reviewed, under-the-radar thriller indies of Prince Bagdasarian’s Abducted, Nick Leisure’s A Clear Shot, and Don Okolo’s Lone Star Deception (also starring Eric Roberts)—the debut film by the first-time father and son filmmaking team of writer-producer-actor Andrew Hunsicker (here as Captain Murray) and writer-director Jake Hunsicker worthy of hitting that big red streaming button.
Andrew wrote the script in 2000 when the project’s destined director, his son Jake, was only six years old. During the script’s twenty-year journey, Andrew experienced the frustration of selling the screenplay—only to see the option run out, twice: once with director Joel Zwick (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), then once again with Steve Bing (Stallone’s Get Carter). The script received a third chance courtesy of Jake, who grew into an award-winning filmmaker in his own right with Nod, a 2017 indie-short that received industry allocades across twenty film festivals.
In addition to Andrew stepping in front of the lens for The Arrangement, his daughters, Jessica and Melissa, and his other son, Nick, also have roles in a film that serves as Jake’s feature film debut (he’s directed four other shorts). Principal photography began in January 2019 and wrapped in three months—shooting over the weekends during the course of seventeen days in and around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. If shot as a major studio film with an eight-figure budget and A-List actors, one would be left with the vibe of David Fincher’s noir-influenced horror-thriller Se7en crossed with Taylor Hackford’s Faustian-influenced The Devil’s Advocate. A little bit more blood, mixed with graphic sex and more elaborate kills, and you’d have an Americanized, neo-giallo*.
In the world of low-budget indie film, casting is the key. And as is the case with most of his films of late in his ever-expanding 570-plus resume, Roberts’s role is a small, albeit, pivotal role. Keen eyes will also recognize the always welcomed presence of Brian Anthony Wilson (Detective Vernon Holley on HBO’s The Wire) as a corrupt senator with his own set of noirish skeletons to hide. The affable supporting cast of adult film and social media star Britney Amber, Deborah Twiss (Kick-Ass, TV’s Blue Bloods), noted sports journalist and Philadelphia radio personality (WIP 610) Glen Macnow, Mike McFadden (TV’s Bull, Blindspot, Gotham), and Aaralyn Anderson (Netflix’s Maniac)—especially standout Dax Richardson, as a morally-corrupt detective (get this guy on a Blue Bloods or Law & Order, stat)—more than make up for the slight screen time of Roberts and Wilson.
While there is the occasional awkward moment that comes with an ambitions-over-budget indie production, and the proceedings could have benefited with a shorter, more palpable running time, neither point is a distraction. Considering its budgetary and scheduling restraints, the Hunsicker’s feature film debut is professionally consistent across all the disciplines; a well-shot film that knows its suspense-noir cues to hold one’s interest.
I particular enjoyed the subplot concerned with the concepts of reincarnation (that I interpreted). When one dies and is reborn, they forget their past life, only to remember all of their previous lives when they reach the afterlife; once reborn, all is forgotten once again. And The Pitchman preys upon that spiritual memory loss, only to relish man repeating his sins once again: for he is Hell’s Geppetto and knows what a man sees in the world is what he carries in his heart.
You’ll be able watch The Arrangement, which already won its first set of leaves as an “Official Selection” at the 2020 Golden State Film Festival, via Gravitas Ventures on VOD, DVD, and Blu-ray on July 7. You can keep abreast of the film’s developments on their official Facebook page.
* Be sure to join us for our recent “Exploring Giallo” featurette wrap-up of our weeklong, June 14 to June 20 blowout featuring classic gialli from the ’70s and the newer crop of neo-giallo films of today. We love our giallo and noir around this neck of the Allegheny County wilds, so there’s lots of links to our film reviews (along with streaming links to films) to enjoy.
You need more Pennsylvania-shot film? Then check out our recent review of Jon YonKondy and Mike Rutkoski’s Baby Frankenstein, shot in Wilkes-Barre.
Disclaimer: We were provided a screener by the film’s PR company. That has no bearing on our review.