There are people out there fueled by the pain and misery of others. They’ll press and push, poke and prod until they get their desired result. That is until their supply runs out and they must find their next source. In director Stephen Vanderpool’s TEARSUCKER, written by Sam Brittan, we see the horrifying depths a person will go to break down and exploit someone to get what they want. While not perfect in execution, it rattles.
The premise of the film is enough to facilitate interest. A psychopath named Tom literally consumes the tears of emotionally vulnerable women hence TEARSUCKER. This paints the picture of an emotional vampire. However, what we receive isn’t enough to inspire completely due to some issues here and there. That said, the type of abusive dynamic played out onscreen will likely feel familiar enough to some. It is eerily good in its execution.
There’s no holding back that this guy is the worst. The truth is that people like Tom do engage in self-help groups and end up absorbing the lessons learned to use for further abuse. In this regard, the emotional mirroring is done well and highlights a very real danger. But by showing Tom’s hand early on, there leaves little room for surprise or mystery. Instead, it becomes a waiting game that takes too long to deliver.
While waiting, Sam Brittan delivers an unnerving performance as Tom. He’s calculating yet his emotional, moral, and physical deficiencies are on full display for the audience. To the unsuspecting victim, he is a Prince Charming until he’s not. Tom takes his time to learn about his victims. With the emotionally vulnerable at their weakest and with Tom knowing what buttons to push, he is an effective villain.
TEARSUCKER & Questionable Decisions
Allison Walter gives a stellar emotionally captivating performance as Lilly. There’s a confessional monologue she delivers that is heart-wrenching. It also highlights how Tom twists and fixates on her emotional state to corrupt the moment. But a great performance can’t hide how questionable some of Lilly’s decisions are.
What further emphasizes both Brittan’s and Walter’s performances is the usage of uncomfortable close-up shots of the actors’ faces. There’s no room for error. The camera up-close reveals all. In Walter’s case, the ugliness of the raw emotion Lilly spews when she finally breaks down makes us want to cry with her. On the opposite spectrum, Brittan’s near-emotionless expression highlights the monstrous nature he keeps hidden from his victims. These shots produce the strongest emotions from the viewer and showcase what both actors bring to the table.
Walter’s Lilly could have benefited from a little more development, though. Her quick emotional attachment to Tom, especially given the circumstances of her own trauma, is suspect in its execution. This might be a point of polarization for some viewers. With the passage of time being unclear in TEARSUCKER and with Lilly’s friend’s observations to rely on, the quick leap to romance didn’t read as believable as desired. That’s not to say that this doesn’t happen in real life, but given Lilly’s oscillation between severe depression to being head-over-heels, a smoother transition might have helped ground it a little further.
Rushed endings bring mixed results
The build-up leading to the final act primes itself for a showdown. There’s no way around it. Unfortunately, the ending itself feels rushed. With audiences playing the waiting game to see when Tom reveals his true colors, the subsequent reveal, monologue, and then final minutes aren’t given time to digest. A moment of empowerment rings hollow due in part to this rushed nature, especially in moments of confrontation. Either a little more time given to allow these moments to have their respective beats or a reworking of the film’s final act would have enabled it to hit harder.
TEARSUCKER provides an intimate look at a toxic relationship. Certain storytelling decisions undercut the film’s success Questionable character decisions, the rushed ending, and showing their hand too early with Tom’s motivations and character deficits ultimately weakened the film. The true highlight of TEARSUCKER is the commitment that Sam Brittan and Allison Walter bring to tackling their characters. Brittan, in particular, plays a convincing monster, and you’ll likely never look at him the same way again.
TEARSUCKER had its world premiere at the 2023 Chattanooga Film Festival.
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