With this premise -- a respectable pharmacist gets a series of letters from an anonymous admirer that compel her to ever more dangerous assignments -- Winnipeg director Sean Garrity's new thriller, Blood Pressure, is a film that might be dubbed a puzzler.
But for local audiences accustomed to his body of work, which includes the relationship comedy Inertia, the surreal thriller Lucid and the raucous sex comedy My Awkward Sexual Adventure, it is especially puzzling that, minutes into the film, a character is struggling to recall the most famous intersection in Winnipeg: Portage and Main.
That's one puzzle easily solved: Unlike his past features, Garrity's film is set and was shot in Toronto, although the original story by local writer Bill Fugler staged the action in Winnipeg.
Garrity explains during a phone interview from Toronto.
"My wife Yumi earned her PhD a few years back and got a two-year post-doc position at York University," he says. So Garrity, Yumi and their daughter all moved to Toronto, while Garrity moved his production company, Bedbugs Films, to temporary accommodations at his mother's house.
He had still intended to shoot Blood Pressure in Winnipeg.
"It wasn't until we were out here, when I realized the gig was going to be a six-week shoot and a three-week prep period, that I thought: Do I really want to leave my wife as a single mother for nine weeks while we go back to Winnipeg to shoot this? Is there a way to possibly shoot it in Toronto?"
Turns out there was.
With his successful micro-budgeted drama Zooey and Adam under his belt, Garrity assumed he could shoot the film with very little money. Unlike Zooey and Adam (a rare Canadian feature film that actually turned a profit), he could splurge on hiring personnel for camera and sound.
But, having made all his previous features in production-friendly Winnipeg, the experience proved to be an eye-opener.
"Nothing makes you appreciate shooting a film in Winnipeg like shooting a film in Toronto, let me tell you," Garrity says.
"Once, we were shooting in Richmond Hill, in the house of the producer's parents. He calls the city of Richmond Hill to get permission to park on the street after hours or something, and they said, 'Ooh, you're shooting a movie in Richmond Hill. You have to pay us $1,000 as a permit fee.'
"He said, 'But we're shooting in my house!' And they said: 'We don't care. Your house is in Richmond Hill. That will be $1,000, please.'"
"With our budget, that was huge. He tried to fight them, and they threatened him," Garrity says, exasperated. "Are they trying to chase films away? I don't get it."
The Richmond Hill address was an example of Garrity's admitted Winnipeg mindset going into production. When scouting locations, he was thinking of the kind of modern, spacious abode that would house upper-middle-class Winnipeg characters, la Linden Woods.
"He's an actuary and she's a pharmacist, they're pulling in $270,000 a year. So my producer says: Let's look at Leslieville."
Garrity checked out the neighbourhood, sandwiched between downtown Toronto and The Beaches. "It was these little tiny brick houses stuck together. Really? And my producer says, 'Yeah, these are, like, $2-million houses.
"If you lived in Toronto, you would know that, but everyone else in the world would be asking: Why are they living in that slum?"
At least casting the film proved to be advantageous, and not just because Garrity got to work with his frequent collaborator Jonas Chernick, a former Winnipegger.
"Actually, the casting was the only part that was a bonus," he says. "I wouldn't want to intimate that there are better cast in Toronto because I don't think that's true, but certainly there are (actors) in Toronto who have a bigger profile, and who are more well known, that find themselves sitting around between gigs, interested in doing a little movie.
"But everything else was challenging and twice as difficult and twice as expensive and took twice as long," he says.