There’s an outstanding short film lurking within “Diane,” a sketchy, enigmatic thriller that writer-director Michael Mongillo (reworking a Matt Giannini screenplay) can’t quite fill out into a feature. Strong performances and some memorably dramatic moments suggest what might have been, had the movie been more focused.
Carlee Avers plays the title character, introduced in a riveting opening scene singing a torch song directly into the camera. A few minutes later, a wounded U.S. Army veteran named Steve (Jason Alan Smith) finds her dead in her underwear in his Connecticut backyard, impaled by a screwdriver.
Though the police suspect Steve, he insists he doesn’t know Diane. But as he stares at a cellphone photo of her corpse, he begins to remember — or perhaps hallucinate — a tumultuous romantic relationship.
Mongillo evokes Steve’s scattered state of mind by deploying a variety of visual styles. The movie shifts between vivid, colorful fantasy/flashback sequences and desaturated realism. The dialogue too is a mix, jumping from punchy cop-speak to long, earnest, getting-to-know-you conversations between young lovers.
“Diane” remains intentionally vague for much of its running time about whether the hero’s being haunted by his memories or by a literal supernatural spirit; and even when the payoff comes, the intent is still primarily to explain the mind-set of a depressed ex-soldier. But while that’s an interesting direction for a suspense picture to take, it’s a path that gets needlessly complicated by too much aimless wandering.
Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes
Playing: Starts Friday, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood