One Hour Outcall
2020, NR, 85 min. Directed by T. Arthur Cottam. Starring Natalia Ochoa, William Norrett, Kristin Carey, Shannon Leigh Godwin.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Oct. 2, 2020
Relationships can be tricky, and Greg and Esmerelda have been through it all in a short period. Or rather, in a series of short encounters. Every Thursday at 8pm, she comes to his apartment and stays for one hour. That's all he's paying for. Esmerelda (Ochoa) is a sex worker, the literal "just paying her way through college" convention, and Greg (scriptwriter Norrett) is a middle-class divorcee, polite, seemingly as interested in the company as he is in the sex with a much younger woman. The course of their relationship - and, as it becomes increasingly clear, that's what they have - is plotted out through several of these 60 minute interludes over a year.
Undoubtedly a little rough around the edges (especially in the sound design), One Hour Outcall still surpasses its clear micro-budget limits. It starts with Norrett's script, which flickers between different moments and interactions, thematically binding moments together as they open up to each other, dance around how much they want to know and how much distance to keep. There's more than a hint of David Mamet's formalism in the dialogue, replacing the misanthropic edge with a weather-beaten sentimentality. Yet, even with a clear theatrical influence, it never shambles into staginess - due in part to director Cottam's low-key cinematography and Sam Hook's editing, both of which give a vibrancy to what is primarily a talking-head two-hander.
Greg and Esmerelda's near little arrangement collapses due to one night outside of the comfort zone of Greg's apartment, when unexpected strands of their bonds start to unpick due to an awkward dinner engagement. That's when Norrett's key themes, about what people get and give in these kind of entanglements, and about consent (emotional rather than sexual), really emerge. Much as with Josephine Mackerras's excellent Alice, there's no condemnation of sex work, or bracketing of Esmerelda as a prostitute. Sex work is a thing she does - which means there's no space to savage Greg for paying her for intimacy either. It's the way that their arrangement spills out beyond these preordained lines, and becomes messy and heartbreaking (as foretold in one of those backwards-forwards segments) that is truly transgressive, and ultimately damaging.
But without an incredible balancing act between Norrett and Ochoa, none of this would work. Fortunately their dance is by turns awkward, elegant, saddening, even wistful. Norrett is the rock on which Ochoa performs, a stoic presence off which her youthful verve bounces and leaps in a performance that fills the screen just as he (deliberately) keeps within his restrained constraints. Somehow, they conjure up an ending loaded with coulda, shoulda, woulda, even when the inevitable collapse comes. In a tale about the never-ending intricacies of the human heart, the stomach-drop resolution is exactly what it was always going to be - and that makes it even more tragic to watch.
One Hour Outcall is available now on VOD.