When a local house gets burgled, teenagers Lulu (Ja’ness Tate) and Gabby (Gabriella Pastore) decide to take matters into their own hands and investigate the crime during their summer holidays. As they attempt to discover the truth, secrets of their picturesque neighbourhood come to the surface and not everything is as it seems in Hidden Orchard.
In the vein of Nancy Drew, the two girls use their knowledge of the neighbourhood as well as their youth as they delve into the mystery of the seemingly simple burglary. Much is made of the various characters throughout the neighbourhood: there’s the woman who tends the roses in front of her house, but grows weed in the back, the nosey and insufferable leader of the House Owner’s Association, and the handyman with a heart of gold who has access to everyone’s houses.
Not one is free from suspicion as Gabby and Lulu ride around the neighbourhood, sharing one bike, looking out for clues. The friendship of the two girls is the heart of the film, and Tate and Pastore’s chemistry really sells this as they do everything from bicker over Gabby’s attitude towards her step-mum, to breaking into the library in order to hack the police database.
While the relationship between the two leads is solid, unfortunately the actual detective narrative is significantly weaker, as well as the plot points that it has to encounter along the way. Gabby’s photographic memory, for example, is mentioned consistently throughout the first act of the film, but then not used at all in any significant way. Director Brian Shackelford spends more time with transitional scenes of characters walking from one house to the next in slow motion— complete with a jaunty score— instead of developing key elements of the plot or any of the significant side characters.
It is this lack of recognition of the support characters that is one of the weakest points of the narrative; with so much emphasis on these weird and wonderful people that populate the quiet and tranquil neighbourhood, there is something generic about their positions in the plot. Instead of fully-fleshed out characters they are reduced to expositional devices without much else to add. There are also more unrealistic elements of the plot —two teenagers breaking into a classified police database by seemingly plugging in a USB stick into a library computer— that are completely bypassed without so much as a backward glance.
Hidden Orchard Mysteries seems more fitted to a TV show format than a feature length film— with perhaps this particular plot split into two episodes, there would be room to let the narrative and the characters breathe. Nevertheless, the performances from Tate and Pastore do elevate some of the more lacklustre elements, adding much needed heart to this low-stakes detective mystery.
Hidden Orchid Mysteries: The Air B and B Robbery will be available on VOD from June 16th
by Rose Dymock
Rose is a budding film critic, who graduated from the University of Liverpool with an MRes in Film Studies. She’s currently living back home in the Black Country in the West Midlands, juggling working full time and trying to break into criticism. She loves thrillers, great female characters, Al Pacino, and multilingual cinema. She’s not entirely sure if she’s a millennial and she wants a Lord of the Rings tattoo. Find her on twitter @rosedymock or on her website https://rosefd.wordpress.com/