Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Girl He Met Online (Lance Entertainment, NB Thrilling Films, 2014)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2014 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I turned on a Lifetime movie having its “world premiere,” The Girl He Met Online, which turned out to be surprisingly engaging even though it was very much to the Lifetime formula — one of those in which Christine Conradt was not involved directly but it’s clear the people who were have absorbed her plot templates and situations and know how to crank these things out at least as well as the Old Mistress. The directors (plural) were Curtis Crawford (in previous productions he’s been Curtis James Crawford) and Anthony Lefresne (though CRAWFORD’s name was in BIG LETTERS across the screen and Lefresne’s was in tiny type below it) and the credited writer was David DeCrane, but overall it’s pretty much a chip off the old Christine Conradt block. When the movie starts we see the girl some poor sap is going to meet online, Gillian Casey (played by Yvonne Zima as a blonde, though otherwise with the same kewpie-doll appeal of Rose MacGowan in the first Devil in the Flesh movie from 1998 and Jodi Lyn O’Keefe in the 2000 sequel), trashing the home of her previous boyfriend, spray-painting everything in sight she can’t render totally nonfunctional (like his TV — she sprays the letters “TV” behind where it used to be — and his stereo). We get the point immediately: this is a girl that doesn’t take rejection well.

What’s most interesting about The Girl He Met Online is that David DeCrane gives Gillian such a hellish background — her real parents died in a car accident when her age was still in the low single digits, and she and her sister Bethany (I presume she’s played by Tara Spencer-Nairn, who’s listed by as playing “Beatrice Casey,” but this wouldn’t be the first time was caught short by a filmmakers’ change in character name between scripting and actual shooting) were adopted by Agatha Casey (Mary-Margaret Humes), who made it clear to Gillian throughout her childhood that she never loved or cared about her and the only reason she adopted her was she wanted to raise Bethany and the adoption agency insisted that the sisters come as a package deal. Gillian has literally slept her way into a nice job as receptionist with an OB-GYN, Dr. Harris Kohling (Gary Hudson), who insists on her performing sexual services for him whenever his wife is out of town, which seems to be a lot. But that hasn’t stopped her from trying to land a rich guy whom she can get to marry her and Take Her Away from All That. Her current target is Andy Collins (Shawn Roberts, at least marginally cuter than most of Lifetime’s leading men), who works for a software company founded by his father and managed since dad’s death by his mom Susan (Caroline Redekopp), and whose sister Heather (Samantha Madely) is also a major player in the firm.

Most of the film is taken up by Gillian’s intense pursuit of Andy and her ability to look normal and even genuinely charming when she’s on her best behavior, though as the plot progresses the obstacles start to trip her up and writer DeCrane seems to go out of his way to put Gillian in contact with people who can expose the worst sides of her character: a clerk at a high-end boutique from which she shoplifted a blouse and who happens to come to a charity event that Andy has taken Gillian to; her ex-boyfriend Tony (Scott Gibson), who wants $10,000 in blackmail money for her having trashed his place and destroyed a $15,000 painting in the process; and ultimately Heather Collins, who spots her with Dr. Kohling in a fancy hotel where Heather has gone to wine and dine a potential client and Gillian has gone to give Dr. Kohling a weekend-long sexual joyride in exchange for the $10,000 to pay off Tony. Heather confronts Gillian while on a hotel staircase — big mistake, as Gillian pushes her down the stairs — and then drugs Dr. Kohling for reasons DeCrane doesn’t make all that clear but seem to have something to do with trying to meet up with Andy and salvage the situation — only Andy is already onto her because Heather left a message on his cell phone before her untimely demise. Eventually, of course, all Gillian’s lies unravel and the cops, to whom Andy reported his suspicions about her involvement in his sister’s death, catch her in the act of strangling her adoptive mother and arrest her — and for once there isn’t a coda, as there’s been in several other Lifetime productions on this basic theme, hinting that the villainess from hell (or at least from heck) is going to get out of it by batting her eyes and seducing the arresting officer into letting her go so she can leave town and continue her criminal activities elsewhere.

What I liked about The Girl I Met Online was the writing of Gillian’s character — though Curtis Crawford and Anthony Lefresne are hardly in Alfred Hitchcock’s league as masters of suspense (nor is DeCrane anywhere nearly as good as the writers Hitchcock used), they do manage to play the double game Hitchcock pulled off in a number of his films: making the villain, if not sympathetic, at least attractive and put-upon enough we’re kept hoping he — or, as here, she — will get away with it even as we know his or her actions are evil and she deserves arrest and punishment. I also give DeCrane kudos for ending the film with a quite normal-seeming arrest; Gillian may have her mom in mortal danger but at least she’s not wielding a gun or a knife, and she’s taken down by one police officer instead of half the U.S. military. I found The Girl She Met Online quite nice and sleazy fun — though Charles liked it less than I do because the points of sympathy DeCrane and the directors were trying to build for Gillian’s character totally eluded him; Charles read her as a black-hearted villainess from the get-go. Incidentally, the official Lifetime synopsis refers to her as “bipolar,” but though there are hints of that in the film itself (notably Bethany’s and her husband’s determination that Anna needs “help”), this is not the sort of “psychological thriller” that was big in the 1950’s in which Freud’s ideas (then considered timeless truths and now almost universally rejected) were trotted out to “explain” the bad guys and make us wish they could be treated, not imprisoned or killed.