Ambition Movie Review
Written by Robert Gold
Released by Shout! Factory
Directed by Robert Shaye
Written by John Rocco and Jenna Lyn Wright
2019, 87 minutes, Not Rated
Released on September 20th, 2019
Katherine Hughes as Jude
Giles Matthey as Dave
Sonoya Mizuno as Sarah
Dylan McNamara as Steve
Kyanna Simone as Veronica
Bryan Batt as Prof. Murphy
Jude is a driven violinist rehearsing for a scholarship to a prestigious music program. Her instructor, Professor Murphy, pushes her to reach perfection in her performance. Jude hopes to match the talent of a former student, Emily Foster, who died in a tragic fall from a building last year. There is a question as to if she fell or was pushed and Jude can’t get her out of her mind. When Jude is not practicing, she is hanging out with her roommates Sarah and Veronica and their next door neighbors Steve and Dave. Jude has a boyfriend she never sees except through FaceTime on her phone.
Her already complicated life becomes more so when she discovers someone is following her and watching through her bedroom window. Jude’s life spirals out of control when a killer begins stalking her and her friends. This could be a random nightmare or it may have a connection to Emily Foster’s death. Jude’s time is running out and she will have to give the performance of a lifetime in order to survive this terror.
Producer Robert Shaye (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Lord of the Rings) steps into the director’s chair with Ambition, a psychological thriller from first-time screenwriters John Rocco and Jenna Lyn Wright. The premise is certainly interesting, but something is missing in the delivery. The story never fully commits to the main theme, instead relying too heavily on fooling viewers with jarring plot twists. The problem is that these revelations are not earned but rather pushed onto audiences and damage any goodwill that has been steadily building. The first hour sets up some nice tension and a potential mystery, but the tone shifts more towards something of a slasher movie, except all of the kills happen off-screen and the bad guy keeps the girl tied up and talks a lot. There is a final revelation that contradicts just about everything that came before, all for the sake of surprise, but it falls flat and should have been reconsidered.
Robert Shaye is a hell of a producer and has spent decades steeped in the horror genre championing independent films and helping launch the careers of unproven talent. Ambition is not his first project as a director but it is his first horror movie and sadly he misses the mark. The story is well told and there are some creative shots and strong performances, but the script is a real stinker. He should have a better eye for material and recognize that this script needs work. Cinematographer Brian Rigney Hubbard (Plague Town) is Shaye’s strongest ally who contributes some much needed atmosphere and a strong visual style to the picture.
Katherine Hughes (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) is endearing as the determined Jude and handles the first twist nicely. Once she is placed in physical danger audiences will be rooting for her to escape and fight back. She doesn’t fare as well with the surprise ending, but she does her best with the material. Giles Matthey (True Blood) does a fine job as Dave, the neighbor with a secret or two. He is instantly likeable and shows a nice range as an actor. Bryan Batt (Mad Men) is intimidating as the demanding Prof. Murphy. He is a hard-ass determined to draw perfection from Jude’s performance, but genuinely appears to have her best interest at heart. Horror fans will be excited to see a cameo appearance from genre great (and the director’s sister) Lin Shaye (The Midnight Man), but the role is not very good and tips the hand of the ending.
I wanted to like Ambition, having seen the trailer and knowing Robert Shaye’s filmography as a producer. The first hour of the picture is well-executed and the reveal comes unexpectedly. The narrative takes an interesting turn and reaches a natural conclusion, but someone felt the need to include an additional spin that reaches for greatness, but succeeds only in negating much of what we just sat through. Either twist works on its own and the ending could have been a real shocker, but instead of choosing one, the screenwriters got too clever for their own good and spoiled the end result. Shaye is a good director and deserves better material, but this one is just an over-ambitious mess.
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