When it comes to the narrative twist, there’s the element of surprise and the element of effectiveness. The best and most memorable twists entwine the two, so we’re both caught off guard and emotionally engaged enough to care. With their short Point Mugu, director Francis Dreis and co-writers Amelia Jackson-Gray and Erin Ross get halfway there. The twist is certainly a tough one to predict and so the ending hurls us rather jarringly into an impressively unexpected explanation. But for all its unpredictability, the twist isn’t actually very effective because a rocky buildup and a collection of lackluster performances make the story a stiff and often silly endeavor.
Two sisters (Jackson-Gray and Ross, doing double duty) hit the beach for a healing, relaxing camping trip in the wake of a family tragedy. They’re both hurting and some time together seems to be exactly what they both need right now. But Point Mugu isn’t some treacly family drama at all. The sentimental setup is merely used for some broad strokes of character development, while the plot and tone opt instead for suspense and mystery, always teetering on the edge of horror.
An overheard radio broadcast announces that a killer is on the loose, fulfilling the need for some clumsily executed exposition, so the movie is clearly aiming for some Hitchcockian irony where we can see the danger that lies ahead well before the protagonists. When a brooding hitchhiker (Skeet Ulrich) shows up on the beach with his dog, it’s only natural that we suspect him and question his motives. The sisters flirt with him a little and he decides to join them around their campfire. Of course, we know that suspecting the hitchhiker is too easy, too simple, but Dreis, Jackson-Gray, and Ross give us few alternatives.
The truth lies in the twist and for a short movie with essentially one location and only a few characters, it’s somewhat interesting that the filmmakers have come up with an explanation that isn’t obvious and yet still makes complete sense in context. The pieces of the puzzle fit, but the problem is that they’re just not particularly compelling. Each character feels more laughable than believable and the little pieces of red herring conflict littered throughout are equally comical. It’s all about the twist in the end and so the success of Point Mugu hinges entirely on that little surprise. Technically, it’s a decent twist that you won’t likely guess before the big reveal, but it’s tough to care when the victims are such pitiful pawns just waiting for the final move.