Lyle (2014) [Final Girls Berlin Film Festival 2018]

Two young mothers move into their new place in Brooklyn, soon thereafter, their first born falls to her death. Riddled with guilt and grief, pregnant Leah attempts to make sense of things.

Written and directed by Stewart Thorndike, Lyle is more a character study than anything else and it is definitely not a horror film as most have come to expect. The horror here is based in reality and feelings, in emotions and family. The lead character of Leah is a representation of mothers having lost a child, a loss that no one can fathom unless it has happened to them. Her descent into what might be paranoia or might be the right path in this story grabs the viewer by the feelings and doesn’t let go until the credits roll. The way this is written and directed shows a great care for these feelings, for portraying emotions more than the simple horror of the situation. The grief and guilt are handled beautifully, painfully well. The way things occur and escalate show how someone can be trying to let go, to move on as hard as they can and it may very well lead them on a very difficult path.

The cast for Lyle is minimal almost with the main part of the movie revolving around the character of Leah and her hardships. In the part of Leah is a stunningly touching and emotional Gabby Hoffman who gives the kind of performance that gives shivers and makes careers. Given that she has been around for a while and giving great performances, this is no surprise. Her acting is subtle at times and overt at others with nuances on top of nuances. She just takes this character and makes her incredibly human and emotional without over-doing it or trying too hard. Everything she does here is the right choice for a character that is clearly near and dear to her in one way or another. Ingrid Jungermann as June gives the perfect counterbalance for Hoffman’s Leah. She plays June almost cold to having lost a child and very detached, contrasting Hoffman in almost every way. Both fives great performances with Hoffman’s being flat out incredible.

The film also rests a lot on visuals. At the start, there is some uneven, shaky, amateur-ish feeling camera work for a little bit, but it stabilizes and then develops some interesting moments and creates images that stick with the viewer. The use of the front house, for example, going more and more askew as the lead’s emotional stability is in danger more and more is just one of the few things used to create emotional impact. The cinematography by Grant Greenberg creates these images and makes then an integral part of the film and the emotions it is trying to convey.

Lyle is a highly emotional film created with care and attention. It tackles difficult subjects, subjects few dare to cover and even fewer manage to bring forth the anguish, torture, guilt, sadness, inner turmoil, etc of a grieving mother. The performance by Gabby Hoffman is incredible, strong, emotional, and so many other things at the same time. She makes the film with her performance and anyone else most likely would not have made this film as poignant and real. Lyle is one of those films that sneaks in unexpectedly and breaks the viewer’s heart as well as makes them think. It shows the strength of a mother desperately trying to understand, to grieve, and to love.