If you're going to save yourself from self- indulgence as the writer/director/star/ composer of a shoestring indie, you'd better do something risky or odd with it. The tipping point for me came when Rohit Colin Rao, playing a tinnitus-afflicted musician named Simon, treats himself to a five-minute close-up—staring into the bathroom mirror as he tries to figure out what's wrong with his ears. Is that noise he hears—and only he hears—psychosomatic? (His wife is pregnant, and money is tight.) Has he been contaminated by his brother-in-law's paranoid schizophrenia? Or is the government actually broadcasting high-frequency mind-control signals from the telephone poles of Washington, D.C.? He slowly probes one ear with a Q-tip and . . . examines a small drop of blood. (The movie's in black-and-white with a few grace notes of color, but curiously not here.) If Simon had extracted a computer chip or an alien worm overlord or a tiny submarine containing the judges of American Idol, Ultrasonic might've gone somewhere interesting. What we have instead is a bland, mediocre actor who relentlessly overscores every scene of his film. If Simon is mentally ill, he's not interestingly mentally ill. In fact, it's the brother-in-law (Samuel W. Repshas) whose scenes convey some jagged pathos. Think back to Keane or Bug, and the filmmaking lesson is clear: Your protagonist needs to be the crazy guy, not the friend of the crazy guy. And make the blood red next time.
Are conspiracy theories contagious? Repshas (left) and Rao.
Runs Fri., June 1-Thurs., June 7 at Grand Illusion. Rated R. 93 minutes.