Set in the present day, the film follows Fabio (Justin Marcel McManus), who works as a Hypnotist in New York City. But life for Fabio could be a whole lot better. Fabio recently appeared on a popular TV show where he was invited to try and hypnotise the host. Failing to get her to fall asleep resulted in Fabio being quite embarrassed on national television. Not only that, but Fabio is financially failing and is struggling to pay rent, which is now overdue. Fabio generally feels frustrated with life and begins to question everything around him after maintaining his craft for a long time.
One day, Fabio finds a mysterious woman in his office (played by Susan Sarandon) who reveals she knows one of Fabio’s biggest secrets: his degree is, in fact, not real and is completely fake. The conversation results in Fabio being blackmailed. sIn return for the mysterious woman’s secrecy, he can be called upon at any point when his hypnotist skills are required. He accepts the deal to maintain his identity and keep his business, feeling he has no other choice. But when Fabio is called upon to use his ability, things don’t quite go to plan, and things only worsen.
Forty Winks is an independent directional debut by William Atticus Parker. Parker also serves as the film’s writer and producer. The film is best described as a combination of many genres, including comedy, crime and mystery. Shot completely in black and white, it gives the appearance of a fun, neo-noir type story about a man thrown into an unexpected situation which only gets more crazy as the film progresses.
The use of black and white throughout is a true strong point of the film. It looks great and rather sharp. I found these visuals quite fitting, given the general tone and style. It’s evident the director enjoys playing with aspect ratios depending on the situation our characters find themselves in throughout the film. Costumes were very nice and felt fitting with all that was displayed here. Another pleasing element of this feature was Susan Sarandon playing a heartless villain. The actress does not disappoint and gives everything to this film, no matter how crazy and comedic the role requires her to be.
While I found lots to admire with this directional feature, some moments didn’t quite work for me. Firstly, the film’s taste for comedy will be a hit and miss depending on the audience. The gags here are very random and come out of nowhere, occasionally feeling like they overstay their welcome. Other small details are distracting, one example is where a mobile phone alert goes off in the background. Another example is when a character opens a briefcase that has obviously already been opened and unlocked. Sound is also another issue. Conversations between characters often have the camera switching back and forth, and the ambient background noise such as an air conditioner can clearly be heard. More than this, the ambient noise behind each character is different.
Overall, as an independent directional debut, I’m quite pleased to see there are lots of elements that I admired and enjoyed. Visually, I feel this film was great. Stylistic choices, such as changing aspect ratios and costumes, were a joy to witness. Seeing actress Susan Sarandon play a heartless villain was satisfying- after all, the actress never disappoints. While the film ticks many boxes, it also misses some critical ones, with elements that become more of a distraction instead of delivering powerful key moments. There is a touching message packed in for all viewers, but this also feels rushed, vague and sadly a little unclear upon my first watch. Again, please make no mistake- as a directional debut, it’s still a solid release and a great step towards what I feel will be a great career in future films for the director, writer, and producer William Atticus Parker.