"The Living" presents itself as a searing genre piece about domestic violence, but it proves to be only a shell of its potential.
Fran Kranz stars as a man in a rural town who wakes up after a blackout to find his wife and wedding ring gone, his hands bruised and bloody. He finds his wife (Jocelin Donahue) at her mother's house, beaten within an inch of her life.
In revenge, her brother (Kenny Wormald) sets off on a misguided plan to hire a hit man to kill his brother-in-law, biting off more than he can chew in hiring the smart but sociopathic Howard (Chris Mulkey).
What could have been a taut and tense thriller is ankled by the inert characters, clunky screenplay and nonexistent back story. Writer and director Jack Bryan clearly wanted to experiment with dropping the audience into a dramatic moment and letting us observe the fallout, but the main characters are so underdeveloped that there's really no way to know or care about them. Any opportunities for suspense are undercut by the stylistic choices in framing and the shocking violence.
Kranz brings a soulful sorrow to his character but is entirely miscast. Wormald is fine as the brother who definitely isn't the sharpest tool in the shed, but veteran character actor Mulkey acts circles around the whole bunch and is the only source of charisma on screen. "The Living" is just dead on arrival.
MPAA rating: R for violence, language.
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.
Playing: Downtown Independent, Los Angeles.