Every Time I Die ✮✮

Sams I Am

by Glenn Lovell

Given the title I expected a labyrinthine noir along the lines of “I Wake Up Screaming” or “Each Dawn I Die.” Boy busts out of prison, boy teams with greedy, manipulative girl, boy winds up back behind bars — that kind of thing.

Instead, Robi Michael’s debut feature “Every Time I Die” proves a smartly produced if overly complicated mashup of murder, madness and supernatural soul-melding. Once it finds its stride, about an hour in, this paranormal romance picks up momentum as an amusing variant on the “Evil Dead” movies. But there’s a lot of heavy-handed exposition and turgid talk to plow through to get there.

Do Michael and Gal Katzir, who co-scripted, expect us to giggle or swoon over their whispered, ersatz-“Casablanca” sentiments? We’re never sure. Mia to secret lover Sam: “There are things happening with you now, Sam, that are bigger than just you and me.” Even Ingrid Bergman fleeing the Gestapo would have a tough time selling that one.

“Every Time I Die” (no connection to punk band of same name) premiered Friday at Cinequest Film & Creativity Festival in San Jose and reprises today and Tuesday at Century 20 Redwood City and Friday at SJSU’s Hammer Theater.

What begins as a tale of misplaced guilt over the death of a sibling soon morphs into another lake-side reunion thriller. In attendance: two couples and Sam, the gloomy fifth wheel. Sam, a paramedidiePosterc, has never gotten over the death of his sister. He was eight, she six. He was supposed to be watching her but had older brother things on his mind, like poking the moldering carcass of a dead bird.

Not surprisingly, the adult Sam (Drew Fonteiro) lugs some heavy baggage. Which explains why he’s naively looking for true love in a hook-up with Mia (Melissa Macedo), wife of a deployed soldier (Tyler Dash White). Upon returning home hubby guesses the truth. How could he not? Besides mood swings and migraines, Sam is prone to blabbermouth blackouts.

Mia’s sister Poppy (Macedo’s real-life sister Michelle) is married to Jay (Marc Menchaca), a shaggy ’60s throwback also prone to psychotic breaks. Bear, as he’s called, dispenses pills and aphorisms. “Keep going in circles, partner,” he reassures Sam. “Happiness is right around the corner.”

Later, at the gang’s favorite watering hole Bear opines, “Our minds are a chemical cocktail. As the bartenders of our own sanity we are in charge of mixing it up right.”

That’s some deep shit, all agree.

Director Michael is nothing if not ambitious; he even pays homage here to Bunuel and Dali (remember the ants crawling out of a hand in “Andalusian Dog”?). He’d do well to lighten up for his sophomore effort, less inner Shyamalan, more outre Raimi, if you will. When Sam stakes out a new home and the exasperated villain finally catches on, yelling, “You fuckin’ parasite, how many people have to die for you to stay dead!,” this debut feature seems most assured. Wickedly funny, and assured.

Every Time I Die ✮✮ With Drew Fonteiro, Michelle Macedo, Melissa Macedo, Marc Menchaca, Tyler Dash White. Directed by Robi Michael from script by Gal Katzir, Michael. 77 min. Unrated but could be PG-13 (for profanity, some violence)

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