Artful and atmospheric to the max, "Never Here" is a study in personality disintegration dressed up as a whodunit. The film marks an auspicious debut for writer-director Camille Thoman and a fitting valedictory for the late, great Sam Shepard, whose final screen performance exemplifies his offhand fusion of sexual and cerebral, self-contained and vulnerable.
But it's a remarkable Mireille Enos who occupies the shivery center of this plunge into voyeurism. As Miranda Fall, a conceptual artist in an unnamed, New York-ish city, she's used to entering other people's lives in unaccustomed ways; her newest installation builds upon the contents of a cellphone she found. Its owner is not amused, but the cognoscenti are enthralled.
In a more spontaneous act of appropriation, Miranda pretends to be a witness to a crime that her married lover (Shepard) saw from her apartment window. As she protects him from revealing his adulterous whereabouts to an inscrutable detective (Vincent Piazza) — who happens to be a figure from her past — and the complications of her lies multiply, Miranda begins to surveil a man from the police lineup, convinced that she's creating her next work of art.
Even if you know better than to expect a conventionally satisfying solution to this moody mystery, the repetitious later sections are disappointing. But elsewhere in Miranda's shrinking world, with its De Chirico shadows in underpopulated streets, Thoman conjures beauty and shudders in equal measure.
Rating: R, for language and some sexuality
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Playing: Laemmle's Ahrya Fine Arts, Beverly Hills