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LISTEN CAREFULLY: New Parent Paranoia Reveals Its Potential

By Sarah Musnicky

There is a baked-in paranoia that comes with being a new parent. Always on edge, always listening carefully, at any moment's notice something can go wrong. Unfortunately, for Ryan Barton-Grimley's Andy McNeary, everything does, in fact, go wrong for the new dad in LISTEN CAREFULLY. As McNeary loses further grip on the situation and his sanity, viewers are left grasping alongside him as to what is real and what isn't.

Sleep deprivation couples with McNeary's anxiety in the opening scene. A frantic chase in an abandoned industrial part of the city culminates in some distorted editing, indicating that McNeary is having a nightmare. The first act of LISTEN CAREFULLY establishes the basics of who McNeary is and the fraught relationship between him and his wife at home. Things are undeniably tense for the home's breadwinner, and it will only get worse for the bank manager.

A missing child proves to be the nightmare of all nightmares for McNeary, and the nightmare is tethered to reality through Ari Schneider's voiceover. The levels in the voice acting in LISTEN CAREFULLY craft a capable villain. Schneider's voice also provides a more grounded approach that almost succeeds in leveling out  Barton-Grimley's more theatrical performance. Unfortunately, the two are an imbalanced pairing onscreen, with Barton-Grimley's performance proving more distracting in comparison.

Barton-Grimley bears the weight of this production, juggling multiple hats between acting, writing, directing, and additional cinematography work. His direction of others fares well here, as evidenced by Schneider's vocal performance and Simone Barton-Grimley's exasperation onscreen. In his own performance, he likely needed another directorial hand to provide more guidance. As McNeary, there are missed opportunities in levels and nuances that could have given more depth to the character. Particularly when it comes to the unspoken tension between McNeary and Allie.

While the loss of momentum from the opening sequence is noteworthy, there's a particular wielding of tension here that works. This is an unreliable narrative from the jump, and McNeary's sleep deprivation provides a naturally dysfunctional pace to play with. The execution isn't wholly successful, but the potential resonates. At least until LISTEN CAREFULLY transitions into its messily muddled final act.

Editing choices made as realities converge baffle rather than succeed in their attempts to distort. There is a glimpse of this towards the beginning that reads poorly in the final product. The intention is there, particularly with deep tones of green that might be more at home in a sci-fi production. As the pitch becomes more manic in its chaos, the editing choices in these scenes are almost a crutch. Without them, they may not have highlighted McNeary's decline as well. But with them, it distracts rather than adds positively to the atmosphere trying to be built.

The potential in LISTEN CAREFULLY is strong. There's ample horror to be explored in a new parent's paranoia mixed with sleep deprivation. With a little more finessing and a co-director to guide Barton-Grimley through McNeary's emotional journey, LISTEN CAREFULLY could stand on shaky toddler legs one day. Much like the newborn baby in the film, unfortunately, it's just not fully developed yet.

LISTEN CAREFULLY had its North American Premiere at the 2024 Dancing With Films Festival.


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