Missing person dramas work because they incite theories, the sense of discovery, and lay out a puzzle the audience needs to solve. Modern TV recognizes this, illustrated by the glut of procedurals that line the network schedule. However, what happens when the mystery takes away from the story unfolding in front of our eyes? “And Then There Was Eve” fancies itself a mystery when it is more successful as a drama about an unlikely friendship.
Alyssa (Talia Nolan) flies into a panic when she discovers her husband cannot be found. Presumed dead, his family jumps to mourning for him. However, Alyssa convinces herself that he is still out there, even though she doesn’t have any clues, nor even a photograph to show the police. Hopeless, she turns to a mysterious colleague, Eve (Rachel Crowl), to help her uncover the truth about her husband. Eve, a talented songstress, involves Alyssa in growing her music career as they spend more and more time together. Both women draw strength from each other. Alyssa, in particular, opens up through their interactions and soon finds herself looking for love she never found with her husband.
Leading the film, Tania Nolan compels viewers to follow along in her journey. Her character fixates on certain facts, while blocking out others, making her a challenge to play. However, Nolan understands these contradictions and manages to not let them overtake her performance. In her screen debut, Rachel Crowl mesmerizes as Eve. Ever an enigma, almost out of a noir, Crowl never steps into the “mystery woman” caricature. As the film shifts perceptions the more we learn about Eve, Crowl steps up her game. She communicates a unique arc that does not disappoint.
Warning: the next couple of paragraphs contain mild spoilers. Best to skip if one wants to head into the film fresh. Crowl exemplifies the need to cast trans actors in trans roles. Crowl spoke earlier in the festival during a panel called “Transgender Visibility,” a part of LA Film Festival’s Diversity Speaks series. A good deal of the conversation was devoted to the practice of casting white cisgender actors in the role of trans characters and how it can be detrimental. Crowl’s performance works because she is not flexing her muscles to play transgender. Instead, she uses her considerable talent to concentrate on what makes Eve a unique and engaging character. With more resources available to connect casting directors with trans talent, let’s hope we move into an environment where trans talent can be nurtured.
While the casting decisions were top notch, there were storytelling issues that hampered the effectiveness of the film. Writers Savannah Block (also the director) and Colette Freedman structure their film around a central mystery that reveals itself too early. It’s incredibly reductive to dock points on a film based on the ability to guess the ending. However, the film seems to put all of its eggs in this “mystery ” basket, when instead they could have made the burgeoning friendship between Alyssa and Eve the focus. Even Block’s filmmaking choices both play up a big twist and hit the audience over the head with obvious clues. Removing the build up around the central reveal could allow for a stronger meditation on the film’s themes. End possible spoiler territory.
Genre choices aside, Block has made an interesting and engaging film. The evolution of our central women succeeds at being something unique and compelling. If only there had been more faith in this core rather than shoehorning mystery elements. The film might not appeal to everyone. However, it represents a specific new voice that would be great to hear more of in Hollywood.