I admit, as The Mistress began, I confidently (cockily, even?) believed after the first five minutes I knew what would happen. Not so.
Maddie (Chasten Harmon) and Parker (John Magaro), newlyweds, move into a fixer-upper Victorian mansion in Los Angeles. Their first guest is their intrusive neighbor, Dawn (Kat Cunning). They keep finding hidden boxes with weird letters, recordings and photos, mostly letters to William, the first owner of the house, from his mistress, Rebecca (Aylya Marzolf ), who killed herself after he abandoned her. Parker and Dawn would have an affair, was my guess, either Dawn being possessed by Rebecca, or because Dawn was secretly a sociopath in an indie, low budget Fatal Attraction or the films of Zalman King. I was wrong enough that was happy to follow and see where this leads.
Writer/Director Greg Pritikin both keeps the film’s reality shifting and evokes questions whose answers seem to shift. Is the house haunted by a vengeful spirit, or is this all the product of human imagination? Are certainly characters really dead, and if so, who killed them? Maddie’s mom (Rae Dawn Chong) shows up. Maddie starts digging and learns the truth about Rebecca, their house, her husband, and the danger she finds herself in. To Pritikin’s credit, the twists and reveals continue throughout and never really let up.
Pritikin and cinematographer Antonio Riestra know when to move the camera and when to keep it still. The Mistress may be low budget, but Pritikin and Riestra effectively use the primary location, the rambling Victorian, to great effect, making it both Parker and Maddie’s exciting new home, but also a place of hidden secrets, things in the shadows, and hidden and not-so-hidden danger.
Solid performances from the likable cast anchor The Mistress in a reality that is believable. It’s overall well-constructed and well-performed, and viewers will not ever be bored. Each set piece leads to the next, but, as noted above, cliches and tropes are mostly avoided or exploited to lead the viewer down a different rabbit hole.