A Paint by Number Mystery – Moviehole

The crime mystery “Lost Angel” feels like one of those made-for-TV movies you watched on weekends before the streaming era; they were always moderately popular, and you never managed to learn the name. They were a welcome distraction when you had nothing else to do, but they were made with enough heart and creativity that you willingly compromised your time. The British-made “Lost Angel” follows a similar pattern to hundreds of other low-budget thrillers, but can also get lost among them.

“Lost Angel” begins with twentysomething Lisa Hills (Sascha Harman), who mourns the recent loss of her sister, Melanie. Investigators conclude that Melanie committed suicide by heroin overdose, but as with any amateur sleuth at the start of a thriller, Lisa is not satisfied with this explanation. The circumstances surrounding his death are obscure and Lisa finds strange notes in her diary. When Lisa visits her late sister’s apartment, she is accosted by three menacing and imposing men, who naively reveal that Melanie was hired for “a job” before her death. There are enough red flags raised for Lisa to question her sister’s death, but she has nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, the beginning of the film gives the impression of waiting for the plot to begin.

As we do, “Lost Angel” pivots unpredictably. At work, Lisa meets a man her own age, Rich Van der Euer (Fintan Shevlin), whom she immediately befriends, and they spend every hour of her night shift chatting. We soon find out, a few scenes later, that Rich is actually dead. Yes, Rich’s character is a ghost. For a moment it suddenly seems like a very different type of film, maybe even a paranormal comedy, but one can quickly admire the quirkiness of what is otherwise meant to be a serious mystery. Rich effectively becomes Lisa’s sidekick, and their relationship lends flavor to the film’s many dry investigation scenes. Their relationship provides the film’s most heartfelt moments and is sweet enough to make you think about the sad thought if sometimes our destined soulmates might already be dead.

But Rich serves a better purpose; he gives Lisa her first clue, which then leads her to another, and so on. Lisa’s entire investigation takes place in her unillustrious hometown on the fictional island of Newpoint. She has encountered corrupt officials, local businesses engaged in shady behavior, and mysterious men who follow her throughout. “Lost Angel” is probably billed as a thriller or suspense, but you’re rarely on the edge of your seat. The most heart-pounding traditional thriller scene unfolds like a cliché: Lisa takes too long to steal information from a would-be killer’s office, just as that killer walks up the stairs to her office, the camera shots quickly shifting from to one another. And just as the killer opens his door, you realize the protagonist has already escaped.

The scandal and cover-up behind Melanie’s death—faulty drugs resold to poor countries for profit—seems arbitrarily engineered, but it could suggest both higher story expectations: an expose of pharmaceutical crimes by a spurned reporter methodically making her way back, instead of an aimless girl who talks to ghosts. Alas, the end product is insufficient, but we can still enjoy creativity.

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