At a casual glance, director Sean Garrity's film Blood Pressure might resemble the kind of tawdry erotic thriller so prevalent a decade or two ago in video stores and on late-night cable.
The ingredients: A respectable working mother. Anonymous messages from an unknown admirer. A series of "assignments" that carry a whiff of both sex and deadly intrigue.
It sounds like it's going to lead to lovingly-lit, not-too-explicit sex scenes. But Garrity, adapting a story by local writer Bill Fugler, is going for stimulation of a more cerebral order.
The woman in question is Nicole (Michelle Giroux), a pharmacist with a successful husband and a couple of teenage kids.
In a few elegantly rendered scenes, we can see dissatisfaction gnawing at the edges of Nicole's life. Her husband, Mike (Judah Katz), insensitively overrules her in an argument with her son. Her daughter (Tatiana Maslany) is boiling over with her own teen traumas and resentments. Nicole's employer (Kristian Bruun) is a boss from hell given to breathing down Nicole's neck (figuratively speaking).
So when Nicole gets a letter from an anonymous admirer telling her how special and unique she is, it seems a godsend. Her secret admirer bestows discreet gifts. She accepts a day at the spa. She shows up for pre-arranged, pre-paid self-defence classes and a course on pistol shooting.
Then she starts getting assignments, most of which involve observing or following a mystery man (Jonas Chernick) who walks with a cane and is given to carrying on desperate-sounding conversations on his cellphone.
Evidence of Nicole's secret activities start to infringe on her family and professional life. But she is determined to carry through on her secret relationship to its unexpected conclusion.
Shooting for the first time on location in Toronto, Winnipeg filmmaker Garrity (Inertia) has assembled a first-rate cast. Giroux, primarily a stage actress in Toronto, is obliged to sell us that an upper-middle-class Toronto mom would take extraordinary risks for a longshot at personal fulfillment. She does that with a dark intensity that is compelling.
The film was made with a minimal budget, but that doesn't register thanks to Garrity's intelligent direction and crisp editing, augmented by Ben Lichty's unfailingly tasteful cinematography.
While provocative and, yes, a little sexy, Blood Pressure does not offer the payoff of some erotic fantasy. It's actually about the lonely place such fantasies may lead.
Starring Michelle Giroux and Jonas Chernick
3 1/2 stars out of five