Kathryn (Ashley Benson) is a struggling actress. She should be much further ahead in her career, given that she's married to Richard (Jay Pharaoh), a well-connected Hollywood producer. When she brings that up, he gaslights her into thinking that success wouldn't mean as much if he helped her make connections or get auditions. Kathryn is the lead character in Private Property, a thriller that's not so much about her career ambitions as it is a metaphor for the way bad men attempt to benefit themselves by controlling and manipulating women.
With no acting jobs on the horizon, Kathryn spends her days obsessively cleaning the Lauren Canyon home Richard bought for them. He's off making movies, she's left on her own. When her gardener inexplicably leaves the landscaping company, a new one is sent to replace him. He's Duke (Shiloh Fernandez), a soft-spoken aspiring rapper with obvious dreams of owning a fancy place like this someday. Duke is immediately attracted to Kathryn, and as he works to form a connection with her, she finds herself falling under his spell. Unlike Richard, he's attentive to her.
That's the first 45 minutes of Private Property. At this point, the movie rewinds to the beginning, providing us with new information about Duke and his cohort Oates (Escape Room's Logan Miller). To reveal anything specific would be to give away the whole movie, so I'll simply say that much of what we witness in the first half is not exactly what it seems. It deserves mention that the great Frank Whaley has a one-scene cameo as a guy Duke and Oates get a lift from. Once the second half catches up to the first half, the film hits its sordid conclusion.
There are several things I liked about Private Property. Director Chadd Harbold has a nice visual sense. He employs a recurring motif involving a drinking glass that's been tipped over, and a dramatic scene between Kathryn and Duke is cleverly staged with him standing a bit behind her and slightly out of focus. The synth-based musical score from Com Truise (think about it) is reminiscent of those great '80s scores Tangerine Dream did for Michael Mann's Thief and Paul Brickman's Risky Business. And Ashley Benson does a good job conveying the boredom and insecurity Kathryn feels.
The issue is that these characters are fundamentally boring. Half of the film consists of them standing around talking about themselves. An old cinematic adage says, “show, don't tell.” Private Property would be much more engrossing if it followed that rule. I'm not sure what the point of having the plot double back on itself is, either. Knowing what we eventually learn about Duke and Oates up front would have added suspense, not taken it away. We would have worried about whether Kathryn will fall prey to their lurid scheme. Instead, we get 45 minutes of people explaining their life problems, 30 minutes of backstory, and 10 minutes of actual tension. The mix is all wrong here.
Based on a 1960 film of the same name, Private Property is ultimately a wasted opportunity. When we're finally told what's up, the idea behind it is perversely fascinating. Waiting until late in the movie to reveal it, however, is a case study in “too little, too late.”
out of four
Private Property is rated R for language, violence, and sexual content, including sexual assault. The running time is 1 hour and 27 minutes.