Monday, July 1, 2019

James L. Edwards' Her Name Was Christa

Cody gets an early look at James L. Edwards' upcoming film Her Name Was Christa.

Writer/director James L. Edwards hasn't been secretive about the fact that his film Her Name Was Christa deals with necrophilia, and even if you didn't know about the subject matter before you start watching it, the title sequence that features lingering shots of a woman's rotting corpse will give you a good idea of what it's about... So when you see that the running time of the movie is 120 minutes, it can stir up the concern that this is going to be some kind of gross-out endurance challenge.

Thankfully, that's not the case. In fact, more than half the movie goes by before there's any further hint of necrophilia. Until then, Her Name Was Christa functions as a fascinating character study of Stephen (played by Edwards), an extremely lonely man who, at the urging of a co-worker, decides to seek out female companionship. Soon he's embarking on a "girlfriend experience" relationship with a call girl who goes by the name Candy, but we'll come to find out that her real name is Christa (Shianne Daye). Sure, Stephen is paying Christa for everything they do together, but their interactions are actually rather sweet.

The structure of Her Name Was Christa reminded me of Takashi Miike's Audition in the way that it plays like a love story, complete with a love montage, up to the point when things go horribly wrong. (The love doesn't exit the picture when things go bad here, though.) Flash forwards to footage of Stephen being interviewed in a mental ward add a sense of dread, making us brace ourselves for the horror to come. By letting things play out this way, Edwards really gets us to care about Stephen and hope that things will turn out well for him and Christa, despite knowing that it's not going to. We may want to advise Stephen not too get too emotionally involved with this girl, but at the same time there seems to be some kind of spark between them. In a perfect world, this situation could turn out like Pretty Woman. But the world of this film is far from perfect. Even the way things go in True Romance, with the shootouts and multiple deaths, is preferable over how things go for Stephen and Christa.

I have been a fan of Edwards' indie film work for over twenty years, ever since I purchased a copy of J.R. Bookwalter's Polymorph, which he wrote and starred in. One thing I loved about Polymorph was the fact that Edwards had characters having heartfelt conversations about relationships in the middle of a goofy creature feature, and all this time down the line I was again impressed by how well-written Edwards' dialogue is in Her Name Was Christa. Stephen says he isn't much of a conversationalist, but Edwards did an admirable job writing the conversations he has.

Edwards also delivered a strong performance as Stephen, making him a likeable character we can understand and sympathize with even when he's making questionable decisions we can't condone. It's not unusual to wish death on a despicable villain in a film, but it's rare thing when you're made to like a character so much that you start to think they'd be better off dead. Daye was described as a "relative newcomer", and as far as I can tell this was her screen acting debut. Whether this was her first movie or not, she is flawless in the role of Christa. She and Edwards have to carry a lot of this movie on their shoulders, and she proves to be fully capable of doing so.

Another performance I really liked was the one Drew Fortier turns in as Stephen's co-worker Nick. He's a fun character who has some amusing lines, and I enjoyed watching Fortier's scenes with Edwards. There are also some nice cameos from actors Edwards has worked with in the past.

While Her Name Was Christa does get very dark, disturbing, and (thanks to some special effects work courtesy of Alan Tuskes) downright disgusting, it's captivating throughout. Even when appalled I couldn't look away, and I was invested in seeing how it would all turn out for Stephen and Christa. Some viewers won't be able to handle the gross-outs found in the second half, but this movie is going to find some very appreciative fans - and it deserves to.

Edwards has written or starred in quite a few movies over the last thirty-plus years, but this was his first directorial effort. The result is one of the best movies he has ever been involved with. With the aid of Daye, their supporting cast, and collaborators like cinematographer Gordon Cameron, editor Jason Kasper, and composer Matthew Sturgeon, Edwards has crafted a great film. This makes me wish he had started directing a long time ago, and hope that we'll be seeing a lot more James L. Edwards films in the future.

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