By Liam Lacey
In Never Saw It Coming, Emily Hampshire (TVs 12 Monkeys and Schitt’s Creek) plays a fake psychic, Keisha Ceylon, who is a combination momma bear and beatific sociopath. She lives in a small town somewhere (played by Sudbury) and makes a distinctly niche living pretending to offer psychic assistance to families of missing persons.
Keisha has a school-aged son, Matthew (Keegan Hedley) whom she loves, and a deadbeat male partner, Kirk (Shaun Benson), who sponges from her so she has financial needs. Besides, she rationalizes, she’s not exploiting vulnerable families. She’s giving them “hope.”
Never Saw It Coming is a comic noir adapted by Linwood Barclay’s from his own novel and directed by veteran Canadian documentary and television director Gail Harvey. It has all the right ingredients — a lively narrative, colourful characters, credible performances — but as a whole, the movie is an example of how difficult it is to get the balance in black comedy right, to give the humour weight and make the horror believable.
The film has one key scene in which Keisha, ever the business opportunist, goes and knocking on the door of a home of a middle-aged woman, Ellie Garfield, who has recently gone missing. Initially Ellie’s patrician husband Wendell (Eric Roberts) calls Keisha a fraud but he’s willing to let her come in and talk. Keisha appears calm, solicitous and even plausible (even the police use psychics, she tells him).
Keisha has a knack for repeating the words she sees Wendell respond to which makes her seem insightful... until her guesses suddenly seem to come too close to the truth and he becomes increasingly agitated. The scene just barely colours within the lines of plausibility but it’s fun to watch, like a smart one-act summer theatre play with a wink to Alfred Hitchcock.
As it turns out, Never Saw It Coming is one of those thrillers that peaks early before progressing into a zigzag plot that tends to dissipate rather than gain momentum. There’s a doggedly friendly woman detective (Tamara Podemski) who looks Keisha up and asks a lot of questions. Meanwhile, Keisha’s cocky mishap-prone boyfriend, Kirk, runs around and makes everything worse. Also, a teen grifter (Nick Serino, the breakout kid from Sleeping Giant) who Keisha had previously worked a scam with, makes an untimely call. There’s a lot going on, like a bedroom farce, but with no sex and lots of corpses.
Ultimately, Never Saw it Coming falls onto the life’s-too-short pile of black comedies that just aren’t quite funny or disturbing enough.
Never Saw It Coming. Directed by Gail Harvey and written by Linwood Barclay from his own novel. Starring Emily Hampshire, Eric Roberts, Tamara Podemski, and Nick Serino. Never Saw it Coming plays at the Cineplex Yonge-Dundas cinema.