With a tip of the hat to Agatha Christie and a nod toward “Twelve Angry Men,” writer-director Ted Geoghegan (“Mohawk”) skillfully sustains suspense and showcases a strong cast in “Brooklyn 45,” a supernatural-themed chamber drama about a small group of World War II vets entangled in a séance where visits from the restless departed are hardly the worst threat to participants. Set for a June 9 premiere on the Shudder streaming service after a sprint on the festival circuit, the film impresses as a well-crafted period piece with some pointed observations about paranoia and xenophobia that feel, discomfortingly, as relevant as recent news reports about over-reactions by stand-your-ground shooters.
It’s a cold December evening in 1945 when Lt. Col. Clive “Hock” Hockstatter (Larry Fessenden) summons to his Park Slope, Brooklyn brownstone four friends whose lives, like his, have been drastically affected by their recent wartime experiences: Marla Sheridan (Anne Ramsay), a former Army interrogator with formidable powers of persuasion; her husband Bob (Ron E. Rains), who clearly loves his wife but just as clearly prefers not to talk about her enhanced interrogation techniques; Maj. Archie Stanton (Jeremy Holm), a closeted gay man who strenuously (but not altogether convincingly) denies reports that he inadvertently killed innocents during a combat situation; and Maj. Paul DiFranco (Ezra Buzzington), a tightly wound medical officer who’s deeply concerned that his good friend Hock may be, to put it charitably, unwell.
Hock truly is on edge, and with good reason: Just a few weeks earlier, his disturbed wife Susan committed suicide after repeatedly trying, and failing, to convince authorities that their seemingly harmless German neighbors actually are Nazi spies just itching for a chance to go to heil again. Hoping to move on from the tragedy — or so he claims — Hock asks his friends to join him for a séance to contact Susan, if only to ascertain whether she’s at peace on the other side. Reluctantly, his comrades take their seats at the table in the brownstone parlor and join hands. Nothing good comes of this.
There is a distinctly stagebound feel to “Brooklyn 45,” a film in which most of the action, including visitations from the beyond and the entrance of a key supporting character, take place within the confines of a locked room. (Indeed, with only minimal tinkering to his script, Geoghegan probably could adapt his movie into a play.) But this self-imposed limitation actually serves to ramp up the pressure-cooker suspense, as paranormal activities are deftly balanced by human failings, steadily bringing out the worst in every character, alive or otherwise. Cinematographer Robert Patrick Stern, employing a color palette that suggests a small-budget ‘40s programmer, and production designer Sarah Sharp earn kudos for their evocative contributions to the proceedings.
A late arrival disrupts the get-together: The conspicuously German-accented Hildy (Kristina Klebe), who strenuously denies that she, her husband, and their children, are unregenerate Nazis, despite Susan’s obsessive accusations. But even after Marla tests Hildy’s credibility with a joltingly brutal demonstration of how she earned her reputation as “America’s finest interrogator,” lingering doubts remain. And a bad situation becomes unimaginably worse when, for at least one person trapped inside the parlor, doubt gives way to certainty.
It’s extremely difficult to provide more in the way of plot synopsis without spoiling any of the nasty surprises Geoghegan has planted in his scenario like so many land mines. Suffice it to say that while “Brooklyn 45” can accurately be described as a horror movie, the most dangerous monsters on view are flesh-and-blood creatures who only gradually reveal how they continue to be controlled by their pasts. Ramsay is first among equals in the exceptional cast, but it’s left to another member of the cast to deliver what is arguably the biggest shock to the audience. Rest assured: You’ll never see it coming.