Based on a novella by W. Somerset Maugham, Up At the Villa finds Mary forced to take charge of her life after a one-night stand with an Austrian immigrant (Jeremy Davies) leads to tragedy. Sean Penn plays a cavalier American playboy who helps her out in the nightmarish aftermath. Both he and Thomas approach Haas's artful film noir with intentionally mannered performances that blur the line between internal and external experience. The result is a kind of midnight journey through minefields of the subconscious.
Still, the film is not without weaknesses: getting a fix on Penn's roughly sketched character, for instance, proves unsatisfying given his clichéd roguishness. And Haas seems to be plucking derivative ideas from everywhere: there's a strange stretch in the second act in which he goes out of his way to make a Hitchcockian film that really does look and sound like a Hitchcock film. While the result is eerie, you have to wonder why Haas would be so blunt about it. --Tom Keogh