‘Gemini’ Review: A Solid Throwback ThrillerBritt Hayes |
Early on in Gemini, the new film from director Aaron Katz, John Cho’s Detective Ahn tells Lola Kirke’s Jill that it’s often some seemingly innocuous and overlooked detail that winds up being “the key to solving the whole thing.” That one line says as much about Gemini as its cool, reflective aesthetic, which tips its hat to late ’80s and early ’90s thrillers, including films like Mulholland Dr., Lost Highway, and the lesser-seen and under-appreciated Bad Influence.
That’s not to say that Gemini shares a similar plot with those films, or even really the same attitude. It’s more realistic (though not entirely), and more humorous than horrific, despite moments of understated tension throughout. And while fans of the genre and those aforementioned films may clock the answer to its central mystery early on, Gemini is still a joy to watch.
Gemini centers on the relationship between personal assistant Jill (Kirke) and her boss / friend, a famous actress named Heather (Zoe Kravitz), who is antsy to take some time away from the spotlight. The film is as much about Los Angeles as Mulholland Dr. or The Neon Demon, though not nearly as elusive as the former or as stylized as the latter. Katz’s film definitely exists in the same universe, with a self-aware streak that never becomes grating. It’s a fine tonal line and one that Katz and his cast navigate with expert balance.
That cast is the key to the film’s success. Over the course of 90 minutes, Kirke’s mini-odyssey through Los Angeles finds her crossing paths with a hilariously cynical screenwriter (Veep’s Nelson Franklin), a coolly assertive detective (Cho), Heather’s narcissistic former flame (Penny Dreadful’s Reeve Carney), an insensitive publicist (Michelle Forbes) and Heather’s rumored new girlfriend (Greta Lee) — all of whom represent the self-serving and opportunistic microcosm of L.A., a world in which an actress like Heather might take hyperbolic death threats from any one of them literally.
Like his most successful contemporaries, Katz doesn’t seek to overtly emulate his influences, but they’re felt in innocuous details — like Kirke’s Bettie Page-inspired hair, which changes from brunette to blonde and calls to mind Patricia Arquette in Lost Highway. These are fun nods, but they don’t overpower the film, which is effectively an experience all its own.
Kirke carries much of Gemini on her shoulders as Jill, a determined assistant who devotes much of her life to an employer who has, by all accounts, become a close friend until a moment of startling violence threatens to undermine it all. And yet, Jill’s tenacity persists long after many of her professional peers would have called it a day. (It’s also kind of rad to see Kirke decked out in full leather motorcycle gear in a moment that is a subtle feminine badass fantasy.)
Kravitz deserves just as much credit for her magnetic performance, which is just elusive enough to keep you guessing even when you suspect you may know how this story ends. Ultimately, it’s a testament to Katz and company’s efforts that Gemini still feels remarkably fresh even if you suspect the third-act reveal. Films shouldn’t hinge on twists and surprise endings. Even if you have these moments spoiled for you, it shouldn’t spoil your overall experience.
In this current era of spoiler-driven pop culture, films like Gemini, which place a higher premium on storytelling, performances, and character-building than on the “big twist” at the end, feel like an act of beautiful rebellion. Simple in both concept and execution, Gemini rewards viewers who aren’t anxious to outsmart it, and are more interested in seeing a movie that’s, you know, good.