It’s perhaps the most well-worn trope of any heart-pounder: The calls are coming ... from inside the house. Kyle Ham’s Reparation, an expertly constructed thriller, employs a fun variation: The calls are coming … from inside your daughter.
Bob Stevens (Marc Menchaca) can’t remember anything from his years in the Air Force. A wry young boy in a green T-shirt serves as Bob’s confidant, cheerleader, and life coach, and is the only one who can see through to the inscrutable veteran; Bob is the only one who can see the young boy. After a medical discharge, Bob is directed to outpatient services in Indiana. The boy — a pint-sized Gandalf, really — prudently suggests California instead.
They go, and Bob careens back into civilian life, building a nuclear family more than chance than by plan, and ditching Gandalf along the way (Bob’s disconcerted missus kindly requests he wrap up his running conversation with thin air). But the missing chunk of memory is a burden. Bob is an uncomfortable man — and his troubled melancholy is unbecoming in his new role as the owner/operator of a local farmers’ market. His episodes of PTSD panic, however ambiguous, rend Menchaca’s otherwise subtle face. The sheen of domestic calm is further darkened when a slick friend (Jon Huertas, having a lot of fun) from Bob’s unremembered past arrives, and his nine-year-old daughter, Charlotte (Dale Dye Thomas), wakes up from an uncomfortably familiar dream.
True to its legalese-inspired title, Reparation is guilty of over-articulation in spots (Charlotte’s inexplicable condition is hashed out by a didactic, straight-faced doctor, and one six-minute monologue in the midst of a tense sequence is 15 minutes too long). The supernatural wrinkle elevates the film’s central mystery, but steps aside for level, self-contained thrills, which erupt in a taut and gut-wrenching final 15 minutes. Wherever the calls are coming from, it’s best to pick up and get on with it.
Thriller, 105 minutes, not rated, 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, Center for Contemporary Arts, 3.5 chiles