Alex Kahuam’s “Failure!” is a well-written character piece that gives actor Ted Raimi a role that shows off the actor’s underused depth of talent.
As James, a man teetering on the precipice of financial and familial ruin, Raimi is a tightly wound ball of stress and anger that makes his character dangerously unstable. The actor plays every emotion with intense dedication. Raimi makes James feel real (and dare I say, relatable), but leans into the dark and macabre humor of the character’s design without going over the top. Always a welcome presence in many genre films, Raimi perfectly navigates the emotional beats of the piece and subtly traverses the nuances of his character. Void of over the top histrionics, this is an excellent performance.
Raimi’s James is a ruthless, yet precarious, owner of his inherited family business. He is plagued by tremendous debts and is trying to sell the his deceased father’s plastics company for 12 million, though he is holding out for 15. James has four days to make a decision or the banks will seize the property (including his lavish house). Already dealing with these pressures, James is also juggling his overly-demanding daughter’s upcoming wedding plans. Though already on the calendar, a visit from the groomsmen and his younger daughter (Melissa Diaz) couldn’t be more ill-timed.
As his life spins out of control minute by minute, James has heated conversations with a character named “Unknown Man” (Noel Douglas Orput). The identity of the character isn’t difficult to decipher and it could be the filmmaker’s homage to Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”, but this is unclear. While the unknown man’s presence certainly doesn’t hinder the film, in the scheme of things, it seems unnecessary.
James’ day starts off badly and things only get worse. Every knock at the door heightens the film’s suspenseful tone and brings another threat to his well being. The first is an angry employee (John Paul Medrano) who wants to blackmail him. The second (and most dangerous) is his greedy business partner (Daniel Kuhlman) who is out of his head and carrying a gun. Throw in the family’s “fixer” Slavko (Ernest Cavazos) and a mobster named Mr. Serge (Merrick McCartha), who is the man buying the company, and this day will steer the course of James’ destiny.
“Failure!” gives Director of Photography Ernesto Lomeli quite the workout, as the film is shot in one “unbroken” take. The style works for this particular piece, but has its disadvantages. I understand that director Kahuam wanted fluidity and the camera is almost always in motion. The entire film is shot handheld with the the filmmaker going for a stark realism, but many moments are almost ruined by the unsteady camera. For films with budgets big and small, the “shaky cam” style of filmmaking has been a plague on our cinematic houses for too long. Modern filmmakers need to remember that the Steadicam and tripods exist.
These issues aside, Alex Kahuam has written an enthralling chamber piece where one character embodies the self-centered mindset of the wealthy and how some feel they can get away with anything. The devil’s bargain made by many elites can lead to thinking wealth can buy their way out of even the most dastardly of sins. The perception of being above the law causes them to trample the rules of society and guides their every dishonest move; a very present concern in 2023 America.
As karma tightens its noose around James, director Kahuam slowly releases the tension that has been boiling within the picture, doing so not by trickery, but by focusing on his lead actor and forcing the audience to be a passenger in his presumed downfall. The film’s uniquely macabre trick is to have viewers rooting for James, no matter how vicious or repulsive his actions may become.
Kahuam’s film is full of uncomfortable tension that keeps us in its tight grip until the final credits roll. “Failure!” is a very good film with a good script and an exceptional performance from Ted Raimi.
Written & Directed by Alex Kahuam
Starring Ted Raimi, Noel Douglas Orput, Melissa Diaz, Daniel Kuhlman, Merrick McCartha
NR, 87 Minutes, Spacebrain Entertainment/Promatora NAE