Movie review of “Pali Road”: This adroit, inventive psychological thriller, set on Oahu, invokes the old trope about a beleaguered heroine fighting for her sanity, but it lacks sufficient juice to make the story count. Rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.
“Pali Road” — an engrossing psychological thriller with a trapped damsel’s very sanity on the line — demonstrates how an enigmatic story can unabashedly overflow with disorienting puzzles and perverse twists, all for the sake of blurring the line between reality and illusion. Who doesn’t love that bumpy ride?
But for all the playful craziness, eventually there has to be a reckoning: not just the explanation of a mystery, but a meaningful outcome for the flaws and conflicts a character carries into a journey through madness. (Think of James Stewart’s obsessive ex-cop in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” or Leonardo DiCaprio’s rattled investigator in Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island.”)
No such outcome exists for the beleaguered heroine of “Pali Road,” a young doctor named Lily (Michelle Chen) with a bright future in Hawaii, a nice house and a doting boyfriend named Neil (Jackson Rathbone). After an awkward reception during which Neil and Mitch (Sung Kang), Lily’s vaguely creepy mentor, get into a jealous conflict over her, Lily spurns a marriage proposal from Neil.
Movie Review ★★½
‘Pali Road,’ with Michelle Chen, Jackson Rathbone, Sung Kang, Henry Ian Cusick. Directed by Jonathan Hua Lang Lim, from a screenplay by Doc Pedrolie and Victoria Arch. 95 minutes. Rated PG for intense situations. Pacific Place.
The distracted Neil then does what many of us who grew up on Oahu shudder to think about: driving on the unlighted, narrow, two-lane Old Pali Road at night, a spooky and potentially dangerous experience that looks pretty fearsome in this visually adroit feature by Jonathan Hua Lang Lim (“Slam”).
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A dreadful accident occurs, and when Lily wakes up she finds herself in an entirely different life: married to Mitch, mother to a young son and warned by a manipulative therapist that her ravings about Neil, her old home, etc., will get her committed.
There’s no way for a viewer to know the objective truth about what’s going on, at least until the end. But the lack of a strong inner conflict or neurosis for Lily (why did she turn down Neil’s proposal, anyway?) makes the resolution of “Pali Road” prosaic, a lost opportunity.