“I want to disappear.”
A great dark comedy doesn’t depend so much on timing, as traditional comedy does, but rather tone. The Coen Brothers are masters of this, able to weave tales that are simultaneously bleak and laugh-out-loud funny. Martin Scorsese is also a master of this, although his forays into the territory have been scarce (After Hours, The King of Comedy, The Wolf of Wall Street). There’s an intricate balance to films that strive to both be humorous but desolate. Get that balance wrong and you’re in a world of hurt, left with a film that seems as if it can’t make up its mind as to what it wants to be.
Actor Pat Healy, making his directorial debut, is no Scorsese or Coen Brother (and that’s not a slight; almost no one else is), but he makes a noble effort with Take Me. Unfortunately, he never quit manages to balance that tricky tone. Healy plays Ray Moody, a would-be entrepreneur who runs Kidnap Solutions, LLC. For a fee, Ray will “kidnap” people and let them live out whatever reasonable abduction fantasy they might have. From Ray’s perspective, he’s helping people — giving them something no one else can give. Others don’t exactly see eye to eye with his unconventional line of work, and as a result, Ray has trouble securing loans and finds himself running into financial problems.
Enter a potential windfall: one day, Ray gets a call from a wealthy executive named Anna St. Clair, who offers Ray a job. She wants to be kidnapped, but not just for the standard 8-hour timeframe Ray usually provides — she wants a whole weekend, and she’s willing to pay handsomely for it. Ray agrees, although he senses something not quite right about Anna. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and after arranging everything via phone, Ray stalks out Anna (played by Taylor Schilling) in person and begins planning. The abduction goes smoothly, but after Ray spirits Anna back to his basement things begin to go south. Anna’s fear and confusion at her abduction seem a little too genuine and not like someone role playing, and when she starts violently attacking Ray he begins to think he’s been set up.
Take Me eventually gets to where it really wants to be via a twisty, revealing and unsettling third act. But before it arrives there, however, it stumbles, and stumbles frequently. Healy’s direction is a bit flat and stand-offish — the camera doesn’t do a whole lot except hang back and and wait for something to happen. Not helping matters is a goofy musical score from Heather McIntosh that would be more at home in a cartoon. The overly chipper music seems to constantly be screaming, “Look, see, isn’t this wacky and funny?” It’s painfully distracting.
What works, however, are the performances. Healy is quite good as a man out of his element, and Schilling is fantastic as the mysterious Anna. Anna remains a puzzle through the film — we, along with Ray, can never tell if she’s playing along with the abduction or if she really is a hapless, helpless victim, and Schilling plays this perfectly, jumping between seeming frightened to seeming frightening in the blink of an eye.
By the time Take Me arrives at its climax we begin to see how much better this film could’ve been. We watch as Ray and Anna settle into a new location, and the characters both reveal more and more of themselves in increments. The movie comes to life here, and it finally manages to balance darkness with comedy in an effective way. But it’s almost too little too late — we’ve spent so much time building up to this with little to show for it. Take Me is a curious exercise, and its third act wrap-up might sway you enough to forget about the lackluster first half. But overall, this film never manages to balance that tricky dark comedy tone, and suffers for it.