Film Review: Abigail Harm

Sluggish and pretentious fantasy about a lonely woman and the otherworldly visitor who enters her life.

There are movies which try mightily to be great art, and then there are movies which merely try your patience. Lee Isaac Chung’s Abigail Harm fits into both categories, limning a bleak little story—based on a Korean folk tale—of a very solitary middle-aged lady, the titular Abigail (Amanda Plummer), who works as a reader to the blind. Her life is at once sad and magical, with visitations by such as a strange, wild-haired man (Will Patton), a kind of scarred fairy godmother, who gives her some mystifying advice on how to find that someone in her life she so desperately wants to love.

By following his instructions and venturing into an abandoned building, Abigail finds her love object in the form of an angelically handsome young man (Tetsuo Kuramochi), enigmatically sitting naked in a bathtub. It turns out that he is an otherworldly creature and the robe he wears has powers enabling him to travel from his other dimension. Abigail hides the garment and thus keeps him with her.

If the plot as described seems to promise a feast of disarming enchantment, you are sadly mistaken, for Chung is the most self-indulgently arty director imaginable. He seems to be enraptured by his own “painterly” imagery, with Plummer’s unprepossessing face occupying much of the film in various shots with swaying reeds on a Brooklyn dock or peeling paint on that deserted building as a textural background. She’s certainly no Garbo, being one of those plain Jane actresses who can seem lit from within—like the late Julie Harris—when blessed with the right role. But Abigail gives her nothing to play but a quirky mousiness (apart from one sudden, unfathomable violent outburst against her lover) we’ve seen before, making this but one more portrait of a weirdo in an already fully stocked Plummer gallery of them.

Slowly meandering doesn’t even begin to describe this movie in which very little happens over what seems like an eternity, but which one presumes is meant to convey a rapt aura of mysticism. There’s very little dialogue—the young man is largely mute—and what words there are are largely unintelligible because of the maddeningly whispery delivery of Plummer and Patton. “I’m a mumbler,” she explains, as a result of not wanting to be like her (unseen) bombastic father who, we learn, is dying with a daughter who refuses to see him.

Hearing those words, all I could think of was certain friends I know who also mumble or do that Seinfeld-ian “low talking” thing and who merely come off as passive-aggressive narcissists, demanding you to lean in ever closer to catch their rare nuggets of wisdom. They are as annoying as this aimless yet pretentious film which, for its air of deep portentousness, just reminds me of that remark of Gertrude Stein’s about Oakland, Calif.: “There is no there there.”