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August 1, 2016

Movie Review: Bestseller (2016)

We all know that I can be a sucker for a single location film. The ability for a filmmaker to take a single location, invest it with enough malice (in this case) that allows a small cast to take us on a rollercoaster ride, and let the audience go. Bestseller, to a large extent, succeeds in that regard. There are classic examples of the genre, like Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin’s  Wait Until Dark and, more recently, The Strangers. What Bestseller has going for it is a sympathetic lead, a remote location and some very effective cinematography. Much like early John Carpenter’s work, the actor blocking and camera combine for an effect that allows us to immerse ourselves in Ann’s plight. These strengths, periodically through the film, also become the few instances that hold Bestseller back from its true potential as a thriller.


Based on the novel by Christopher Knight (better known as Jonathan Rand of the American Chillers series of young adult books), Bestseller tells the tale of Anne Harper (Melissa Anschutz), a literary agent, whose clientele are some of the most neurotic writers on the planet. We meet Mark Franklin (D.J. Perry), who is incredibly socially awkward, and are introduced to Gerald Morgan (played by Ralph Lister) who, at one time previously, ransacked Harper’s agency after a rejection. Harper receives a manuscript from Morgan while she is in the remote North of Michigan and, as we move along, the contents of the book (a literary agent menaced by an author) plays out with her in the lead. There is a secondary storyline regarding Harper’s daughter facing cancer for a second time that, largely, gets in the way of the tension. Overall, Anschutz is believable as a terrified woman, alone in the woods (for lack of a better term) and being menaced by what she believes to be a deranged psychopath. There are twists and turns, of course. The truth of Anne’s predicament is stranger than fiction.

Therein lies the issue with the film. It is effective and Melissa Anschutz is very believable as the distraught, menaced literary agent. The direction by Christina Rohn really plays to Anschutz’ strength as a performer and her ability to connect with an audience, but Bestseller, as written, asks far too much from her. We spend a lot of time with Anne, alone, in that cabin. In fact, we spend far too much time alone in that cabin with Anne, waiting for the suspense to begin. The success of a film like this is predicated on keeping the audience on the edge of their seat. That is very hard to do as we follow a single character whose profession is reading. The narrative is interrupted brilliantly with scenes from the book that Anne is reading, but the remaining subplots really drag us in a different direction (and not in the good way).

Overall, the film is very well done, especially the performances of Anschutz and Perry. Rohn’s direction and Scott Castelein’s camera work really round this out. The only real fault is in the writing, and only in those long stretches of time we’re with Anne as she talks to herself. Other than that, Bestseller is just that!

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