Film Review: Apart

Imagine <i>Romeo and Juliet </i>by way of <i>Donnie Darko</i> and you'll have some idea what to expect from writer-director Aaron Rottinghaus' atmospheric story of star-crossed romance with a supernatural twist.

Two years ago, high-school senior Noah Greene (Josh Danziger, who co-wrote the story here) barely survived a fire that killed his father and plunged Noah into a two-year coma. He wakes up with no recollection of the blaze and only fractured memories of the events leading up to it.

Noah isn't sure he wants to go rooting around the cellar of his subconscious, and he's not the only one: His older brother is firmly in the “let sleeping dogs lie” corner, though it's unclear how much of that is concern for Noah and how much is his own psychological damage; he did, after all, have to leave town and disrupt his own education after the fire, and now he's effectively forced into his late father's shoes, looking after a high-strung, moody sibling. But Noah's psychiatrist is convinced that not only does Noah need to know—he wants to know the whole truth as much as he's afraid of what it may be.

Experienced editor Aaron Rottinghaus, whose credits include multiple episodes of HBO's “Big Love,” is nothing if not ambitious: Many more experienced directors would think twice about tackling a story that unfolds in two separate time frames and whose ultimate impact depends on doling out fragments of information in such a way that audiences are forced to piece them together along with Noah.

And he's remarkably successful, gradually revealing the story of Noah's relationship with classmate Emily Gates (Olesya Rulin of High School Musical), a pretty cheerleader with a dark secret: She has gruesome clairvoyant visions, visions he begins to share. Psychiatrists call the syndrome ICD-10 F24, but the French have a much sexier term for it—folie à deux, a shared madness that binds lovers together while cutting them off from the rest of the world.

Young actors Rulin and Danziger deliver subtle, nuanced performances as the troubled Emily and Noah, particularly given that their characters in Apart are decidedly underwritten, little more than the sum of their disorders. Rottinghaus also stacks the supporting deck with capable character actors, including Bruce McGill and Joey Lauren Adams as Noah and Emily's psychiatrists, Jason Davis (TV's “Prison Break”) as Noah's older brother, Sue Rock as Emily's mother and David Born as Noah's father. And extra credit to cinematographer J.P. Lipa, who gives the movie a rich, slightly dreamy look that draws the viewer into Emily and Noah's intense private world.