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The First Toll
The first world encountered in this film is enveloped in the mood of suspicion, silence, clues that have no meaning and acts that have no agent. A sax player named Fred hears a strange message on his home intercom informing him that Dick Laurent is dead. But who is Dick Laurent? He looks out the window but there is no one. He and his wife Renee occupy their Los Angeles home like mutual suspects, double agents in a film noir script. He feels that he is not quite himself and that his wife is unfamiliar. Their silence locates the infinity between each unique, isolated individual. Each word that passes between them roars out into a void like a lighthouse beacon.
On three successive days they find an anonymous unmarked envelope containing a video on their front steps. On the first day they watch the video together and it seems that a terrible secret involving one of them is about to be revealed to the other. But the first video is not yet narrative. It is merely a single shot of the exterior of their home. On the second day they watch with horror as narrative develops. The camera repeats the first image and follows with a second shot that has entered their interior, traveling up their staircase and into their bedroom where it looks down from an unlikely angle at the two of them sleeping. After informing the police they attend a party where Fred is approached by a sinister and ghastly man in black who claims to be both at the party and inside Fred's house simultaneously. When Fred resists the impossible, the Nameless Man pulls out a cellular phone and insists that he call to verify. When the Nameless Man answers on the other end followed by an echoing double laugh, Fred flees for home with Renee. This dialogue between Fred and the Nameless is one of several scenes throughout the film in which all exterior action and sound is suspended, placing the foreground into an ominous, displaced space of time.
On the third day the anonymous package has lost its sinister edge and become simply routine. Fred casually flicks the tape into the VCR before his wife can respond to his 'aren't you going to watch the tape honey?' To his horrified surprise the final image discloses a scene of himself over the bloody dismembered body of his wife. 'Noooo' he screams, but yes, he's tried, condemned to death, and locked in a cell. His casual gesture becomes a causal one.
In his cell Fred suffers from excruciating head pain coupled with black-and-white memories of the murder scene that simply correspond to the video sequence. Documentary 'truth' becomes memory as doubt and forgetting. One night he reaches unbearable levels of pain and sees frantic images of the yellow dotted lines of the highway, a stranger approaching the road, and a windowless house in the desert that explodes into a fiery mass and then miraculously implodes back into its original form. This is the scene of the first exchange.