Eggs Splattered on the Floor

Never Saw It Coming
(Canada, 83 min.)
Dir. Gail Harvey, Writ. Linwood Barclay
Starring: Emily Hampshire, Eric Roberts, Tamara Podemski, Shaun Benson, Katie Boland, Nick Serino
Emily Hampshire and Eric Roberts star in Never Saw It Coming
Keisha Ceylon is a small town charlatan. She moonlights as a psychic, helping families of the small snowy town of Sorrow Bay find their missing loved ones, but only after she gets their cash. Five grand nets a few easily plucked clues and everyone generally leaves the transaction happy.

Emily Hampshire plays Keisha like a shifty, crafty, and calculating grifter. Decked out in loose flowing clothes and big jewelry, she has a true “Call me now!” Miss Cleo vibe as she exploits the emotions and vulnerabilities of families to provide peace of mind at a premium price. She’s a good actress, Hampshire, and the pleasure of watching Keisha wrangle fortune in her favour keeps this convoluted thriller from completely falling apart.

The other half holding Never Saw It Coming together is Tamara Podemski, who plays the film’s lawfully crafty mind, Detective Rona Wedmore. She follows the clues to Keisha when her case about a missing woman turns up an unexpected dead body. Had Keisha been a legitimate psychic, she might have foreseen the violence that would ensue if she offered her services to help said dead person contact his missing family member. However, her eagerness to play the short con comes in handy when Detective Redmore—does small town Canada even have homicide detectives?—shares far too many details of the case and enlists Keisha to help explain a few things.

The story unfurls without much suspense or tension. A large part of the problem is that the audience knows that Keisha is a cheat from the beginning. Revealing that Keisha isn’t a psychic helps one appreciate the playfulness of Hampshire’s performance, but it drains the film's potential for suspense and mystery, like when Keisha visits the Garfield family, played by Eric Roberts and Katie Boland, to make a quick buck by exploiting their need for hope. Roberts is astonishingly bad in his big scene with Hampshire and the results are far more comedic than one expects as things spiral out of control with ludicrous abandon.

Linwood Barclay adapts his own crime novel in a series of conversations that are staged unconvincingly in director Gail Harvey’s straightforward, somewhat televisual style. Some of the characters have no logical purpose in the film, like a young hood played by Sleeping Giant’s Nick Serino who pops up when things need a neat conclusion or a thin, mildly ambiguous explanation. (Why he exploits Keisha isn’t clear.) Barclay provides little context or backstories for the characters, which accentuates the sheer randomness of much of what happens. There might be the makings of a film equivalent to a good beach read with Barclay’s book, but Never Saw It Coming just provides some dimly lit exchanges. The lack of synergy between the performances makes for a bumpy ride.

Hampshire’s storyline with Keisha’s inept boyfriend Kirk (Shaun Benson, playing to the back row) adds Fargo-esque stupid criminal shenanigans to the self-serious potboiler. Kirk’s goofiness is outsnarled only by Roberts, while Boland fares better as Garfield’s emotionally conflicted daughter. She gets a plum scene with Podemski that punctuates Keisha’s aforementioned violent encounter with a prospective client, but neither scene delivers the dramatic impact that it should. The film is a juggling act of genres and tones that leaves all the eggs splattered on the floor.

Everything in Never Saw It Coming could simply be avoided by a mere explanation of facts as self-defence. The film draws out Keisha’s mess with twists that manage to entertain because everyone behaves so stupidly that one hopes there’s an allegory of sorts lost within the snow. It’s never quite clear if Never Saw It Coming is supposed to be a comedy, but Hampshire’s performance indicates that she at least is aware it’s all a big joke. If only everyone’s agents could see the future.

Never Saw It Coming opens in Toronto on August 17.