Pat Healy is a sick, sick bastard. Look, it takes all kinds, but odds are that he doesn’t need to go through his career playing characters fated to have abuse heaped on them, whether at their own invitation or for the twisted pleasures of others. (See: 2014’s excellent and deranged black comic delight, Cheap Thrills.) He could probably take roles in movies and television series that don’t require him to have injuries both physical and mental inflicted upon his person. But where would that leave the rest of us? We’re all culpable in the encouragement of his fascination with self-brutalization, but the man has a gift for it, so who are we to question his proclivities? It’s not like he’s bad at getting his ass beat on screen or anything, after all. He’s great at it.
As if to drive that point home, here’s Take Me, Healy’s latest endeavor. He directed the thing, thus marking his first time making a movie, and also serves as its nominal star, though in truth he’s outshined by co-lead Taylor Schilling, known best for her work on Orange is the New Black, and perhaps for 2015’s sex comedy The Overnight, too. Healy is terrific, as Healy usually is, but by crafting Take Me pretty much solely around himself and Schilling, he creates a series of opportunities for Schilling to make an impression. Healy’s good; Schilling’s superb. Together, they make a hell of a team, he the wide-eyed schlemiel, she the hysterical but thoroughly capable victim who would naturally rather not be a victim in the first place.
Healy plays Ray, the type of misguided entrepreneur who could only be spawned from the loins of America. He runs a business that orchestrates highly realistic simulated kidnapping scenarios for its client, developed, in Ray’s words, using “nuanced psychotherapeutic techniques.” His idea of subtlety is about as delicate as a hammer to the balls: During Take Me’s opening credit sequence, he snatches one of his customers, Stuart (Jim O’Heir), whisks him away to a dank old basement, straps him to a chair and force-feeds him a bag full of greasy fast food as a deterrent to Stuart’s horrible eating habits. It isn’t pretty, but apparently Ray’s methods work, at least if we take his Polaroid wall of jobs well done at face value. But then Ray gets a call from Anna St. Blair (Schilling), who promises him a sizeable payday so long as he agrees to bend, or possibly break, a few of his cardinal rules, such as “no slapping.” Ray can’t say no. He needs the money.
All goes downhill for poor Ray from there, but uphill for us. Healy handles bodily harm with a morbid, compulsively watchable artistry, a Mick Foley for the big screen if ever there was one: It seems unlikely that there’s anything he won’t do for a laugh, including, but not limited to, taking two pellet gun shots right to the chest, swallowing a key fob, or getting smacked upside the head with a fire poker. But gifted as he is at absorbing trauma, he’s nearly matched by Schilling, who spends big stretches of the film bound in one fashion or another and on the receiving end of all manner of verbal maltreatment. They’re a stand-up duo demonstrating the finer merits of doing unto others as you would have others do unto you, habitually reversing roles in their dynamic as kidnapper/mark throughout Take Me’s 80 minute running time, often within the same scene. Ray has all the power, sure, but let’s face it: He never really has all the power.
Ray and Anna being the two major characters in Take Me, the film has to suit them as characters and Healy and Schilling as actors. For Healy, the movie lets him exercise his skills as a sad sack willing to do whatever it takes to succeed—anything, even if it means committing a felony. You want to root for Ray in spite of, well, Ray, because of Healy’s innate empathy. He buries Ray’s insecurities and anxieties under a hideously obvious wig, portraying himself as a reasonable man caught in an unreasonable situation.
Schilling, by contrast, plays Anna like a wild woman; she, too, is innately empathetic, so to root for Ray is not to root against Anna. In fairness to Healy, he probably meant to create an imbalance between his material and Schilling’s, giving her increasingly more chances to dig into Anna and mine gold, but in fairness to Schilling, she’s the one who does the digging.
She is, in a word, amazing, deftly walking the line between Anna’s victimhood and something more ambiguous. Is she really quite the innocent that she seems? (Is Ray? That’s an easier question to answer, but one worth chewing on regardless.) When she screams in fear, her voice transcends human pitch, such that you expect dogs to come running from all over the neighborhood. When she turns the tables on Ray, she looks like a bonafide badass. TV is nice and all, but Schilling has a personality that begs for the cinema, for a stage that’s as big as her charms. In Take Me, her stature has two effects: First dwarfing, and then ballooning, Healy, emphasizing Ray as a chump before lifting him up to her level.
You can say a great deal about the film’s various subtexts—Ray proclaims that “helping people” is the key to what makes America great, which should set bells a-ringing in your head if you’re not yet over America’s most recent election—but its greatest pleasures are its performances. Appropriate for a story about two people essentially acting around one another.
Director: Pat Healy
Writer: Mike Makowsky
Starring: Pat Healy, Taylor Schilling, Toby Huss, Alycia Delmore, Jim O’Heir, Mark Kelly
Release Date: May 5, 2017
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing about film and television online since 2009, and has been contributing to Paste Magazine since 2013. He writes additional words for The Playlist and Birth. Movies. Death., and is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and the Boston Online Film Critics Association. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected writing at his personal blog. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.