By James Kenney
Black Butterfly is a unexpectedly neat Stealth Cinema release, an engaging thriller that arrived unheralded in 2017 on Blu Ray, DVD and streaming from Lionsgate. Director Brian Goodman previously made the moody if dramatically conventional What Doesn’t Kill You, which suffered from being the lesser of brothers-in-crime films Ethan Hawke made in 2008 (the other being Sidney Lumet’s first-rate swansong, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead). Still, it’s worth a look, and this one is too, only more so.
Goodman is good with actors and gets a characteristically excellent if inhibited-by-design performance from Antonio Banderas as a despondent, once-successful writer now stuck with a remote dilapidated Colorado house he can’t unload after a divorce, despite the best efforts by potential romantic partner Piper Perabo, a rookie real estate agent. Banderas expresses the joy of acting even when he is giving a measured performance. His brooding has zeal to it. Perabo has little to do but act hesitant and self-doubting around Banderas’s writer, a character whose celebrity is rapidly fading, but she does it capably and appealingly.
The catch is someone is murdering women in the area, and that someone might be a loner prone to violent outbursts, played with frosty reserve by Jonathan Rhys-Myers (best known for Woody Allen’s Match Point and The Tudors television series). Rhys-Myers helps Banderas out of a jam, and in reward Banderas lets the drifter crash in his big old house for a night, which turns into three, then more, as Rhys Myers rather brashly inserts himself into Banderas’ life, fixing up the house and critiquing Banderas’ writing.
At this point, the film effectively shifts into a 21st century low-budget variation on Deathtrap or Sleuth for a bit, as we wonder what each of the main character’s goal is in this dysfunctional association, and await poor, pretty Perabo’s reinsertion into the drama as a probable victim.
Marc Frydman and Justin Stanley write the reasonably snaking script (based on a French original Papillon Noir), with some twists proving more nourishing than others, but I didn’t recoil from the final one, a fair accomplishment these days. Italian locations do a fair job subbing for Colorado, and indie legend Abel Ferrara shows up for an unanticipated, chatty cameo as a shopkeeper that doesn’t add up to much but is still fun. Black Butterfly is well worth the investment of time for thriller and suspense fans, with the cast and Goodman’s thoughtful direction making the most of a low budget and controlled setting. Give it a try.