Dir: Rachel Samuels. US-Ireland. 1999. 91 mins.
Prod co: Concorde New Horizons Corp. Int'l sales: Concorde New Horizons Corp. Exec prod: Roger Corman. Prods: Rachel Samuels, John Brad. Scr: Lev L. Shapiro. DoP: Chris Manley. Ed: Bernadette Kelley. Mus: Adrian Johnston. Main cast: Jonathan Pryce, David Morrissey, Catherine Siggins, Paul Bettany, Neil Stuke, Andrew Powell.
Roger Corman protege Rachel Samuel's debut feature film, which was produced by Corman, is a faithful adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's macabre short story about a sinister secret club in late 19th century England.
Captain Henry Joyce (Morrissey) is a young man devastated by his wife's death who stumbles upon the exclusive 'Suicide Club', run by a cold and calculating Mr. Bourne (Pryce). Upon signing a contract, and promising to relinquish all their material possessions to Bourne, club members are guaranteed certain death. At the biannual club meetings, members are dealt a pack of cards nightly: the ace of spades signifies death before dawn, while the ace of clubs designates which member will be responsible for the killing.
Morrissey's death wish begins to diminish, however, as he becomes increasingly more drawn to the sombre Sarah Wolverton (Siggins), the only woman in the group. In trying to persuade her to change her mind, and her fate, he realises that Bourne will go to any length to ensure that his death pacts are not broken.
In her first film, Samuels shows that she is a capable successor to Corman in the Gothic tradition, skilfully recreating the dark and disturbing atmosphere found in the literature of Stevenson and Edgar Allen Poe. With an assured hand she steers the narrative and her strong cast away from over-the-top melodrama. Making effective use of her low budget, Samuels shot mostly interiors, to produce a claustrophobic and intimate look at characters who have no place left to hide, from their own desperation or from Bourne and his thugs.
However, the film's pace is at times too unhurried for the kind of suspense it must build, giving off an overly literary or made-for-television feel, which should make it difficult to find wide cinematic appeal.