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“Listen Carefully” is an odd, highly creative, and engrossing film blending intense action, psychological horror, and dark humor.

Listen Carefully

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Listen Carefully begins with old-school, terminal-style text on a black screen and a quote from T.S. Eliot: “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”

Cut to a tense opening with a man desperately running through the streets being chased by a group of hooded men wearing demented baby masks.

As viewers, we’re immediately tense and on edge, but we soon discover it’s just a nightmare the man is having after falling asleep at his desk while working late.

The man is assistant bank manager Andy McNeary (writer-director Ryan Barton-Grimley, last seen in the excellent Hawk and Rev: Vampire Slayers, which he also wrote and directed).

The reason for his very specific and deeply unsettling dream is that he has a three-month-old newborn at home, little Abby, and the stress of fatherhood—combined with the stress of work—is getting to him.

On this particular night, Andy is on baby duty as his wife goes out for a much-needed girl’s night.

The amount of concern she expresses before leaving makes it clear that Andy isn’t exactly the most dependable or present father, more wrapped up in his work than in being a parent.

When he falls asleep, he has another upsetting nightmare, only to wake up to the sounds of Abby crying in distress on the baby monitor. He rushes into her room to discover she’s been kidnapped out an open window.

As he starts to panic, a voice (Ari Schneider, also from Hawk and Rev: Vampire Slayers) comes over the cute owl-shaped baby monitor and tells him that if he wants to get Abby back, he must do exactly as he’s instructed: secure $250,000 using unethical access to funds via his job and make it to a drop-off in a shady location.

Of course, this is much more difficult and fraught with obstacles and dangers than it sounds.

As nightmarish visions routinely infiltrate the screen, it becomes increasingly hard to know what’s real and what’s not.

In an interesting subversion of the heist/kidnapping subgenre, Andy is not particularly likable and sympathetic, and he’s not exactly a good guy. We know he’s done some unscrupulous things, and we get a sense we may not know the half of it.

Still, many of us can relate to or at least imagine the enormous stress and responsibility that comes with being a new parent and the crippling fear of failure. It’s also not hard to imagine the unthinkable terror of losing a child, especially under such anxiety-inducing conditions.

Thus, we care about Andy’s plight and root for him, even if he’s far from a perfect protagonist.

In the film’s final act, things get weird… REALLY weird.

Another baby monitor enters the fray, with another voice on the other end that promises to help him get his baby back. Now, Andy is torn between two competing directives: a good cop and a bad cop, an angel and a devil on his shoulder.

As confusion and chaos mount, one voice tells him he gets to be a new man when this is all over; he gets to choose his destiny.

As viewers, we are given the same choice.

The film ends in an ambiguous way that invites us to form our own conclusions about what’s actually happening and how we choose to interpret the events of the film. For some, that lack of definitive clarity may be frustrating. For others, a creative and thrilling “choose your own adventure” makes for a richer viewing experience.

I can’t tell you with certainty what was “really” going on by the time Listen Carefully concludes. I can tell you how I read the film’s frenetic events, which makes the ending quite satisfying and poignant.

Your mileage may vary, but even if you don’t love the destination, the road to get there is a hell of a fun and hypnotic journey.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 3.5
LISTEN CAREFULLY made its North American Premiere at Dances With Films: LA Screens on June 22nd.  

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