Producers: Richard Barton Lewis, Veronica Ferres, Morgan Emmery and Jean-Charles Levy   Director: Vaughn Stein   Screenplay: David K. Murray   Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Sam Claflin, Veronica Ferres, India Eisley, Emily Alyn Lind, Vincent Gale, Hiro Kanagawa, Lilly Krug and Brendan Sunderland   Distributor: Vertical Entertainment

Grade: C

Vaughn Stein’s movie aims to be a slow-burning psychological thriller, but it never manages to raise the heat high enough to generate even a mild sizzle.  It doesn’t take much to realize that screenwriter David K. Murray’s desire was to tell  a “Cape Fear”-type revenge tale in a sleeker setting, but “Every Breath You Take” doesn’t come close to either version of that memorably nasty piece of work.

It does, however, mirror “Fear” in one respect—the incompetence of its protagonist against his evil tormentor.  Here he’s Philip Clark (Casey Affleck), a psychiatrist in an unnamed city in the Pacific Northwest (the picture was actually shot in Vancouver).  Philip reveals to a crowd of colleagues and students at the institute where he works that he’s violated normal protocols in treating one of his patients, Daphne Flagg (Emily Alyn Lind), a troubled young woman whose background includes a stint in a mental facility and several suicide attempts.  Now she’s trying to escape the hold of an abusive boyfriend.

Rather than maintaining a pose of objective neutrality as her therapist, Philip has connected with Daphne by telling her about his own traumatic experience—notably the loss of his son Evan (Brendan Sunderland) in a horrible auto accident.  The tragedy has also left his wife Grace (Michelle Monaghan), who was driving the car, grief-stricken, and shaken Lily (India Eisley), Philip’s daughter by his first marriage, so badly that she was recently expelled from boarding school for doing cocaine in the chemistry lab.

Clark’s boss and friend Vanessa Fanning (Veronica Ferres) tells him that the unorthodox treatment is dangerous, but Philip defends himself by saying that it’s worked—Daphne is much improved.  Then he gets a call from the girl one night: she’s distraught over the sudden death of a close friend.  The next day he learns that she too is dead, an apparent suicide.

Quickly appearing on the scene is Daphne’s brother James (Sam Claflin), recently arrived from England with the accent to prove it.  He worms his way into the Clark family affecting friendship, but his real intent is to destroy Philip both professionally and personally, which he accomplishes with surpassing ease.

There’s a twist at the close, involving a novel by James that Philip has Dr. Fanning’s bibliophile husband Stuart (Vincent Gale) acquire for him; it finally clues Philip into what has been happening, and the danger he and his family are facing.  Until then, the psychiatrist’s been a fairly dense fellow, and his wife and daughter have hardly been the brightest bulbs on the block either—all victims of emotional repression over their loss—though the emphasis is on the supposed cleverness of James in duping them.  Now Philip and Grace must take forceful action to save Lucy and fix their marriage.            

Certainly Claflin takes the acting honors here, crafting a portrait of smooth villainy until he goes berserk in the final reel.  By contrast Affleck is all dithery mildness, his withdrawn demeanor barely masking Philip’s intense sorrow.  Monaghan and Eisley go to histrionic heights in an effort to portray their characters’ emotional fragility, but the effort merely comes across as borderline ludicrous, while Ferres (who also served as a producer) seems uncomfortably stilted. 

On the other hand, the movie looks wonderful, with Jeremy Stanbridge’s production design focusing on the gleaming beauty of the two houses—Philip’s and James’s—that host most of the interior scenes, though the offices of Fanning’s institute and the deck of James’s yacht are attractive, too.  Michael Merriman’s cinematography creates an atmosphere of impending menace, abetted by Marion E. Espino’s moody score, by emphasizing continually overcast skies and drizzly landscapes, though he overdoes the sequences shot from above of cars gliding across damp roads.  (At times it feels as though Stein paid more attention to the composition of shots than to the action going on within them.  And Laura Jenning’s editing, like his directorial preferences, might charitably be called unhurried.)    

On second thought, the comparison to “Cape Fear” seems overly generous.  “Every Breath You Take” is actually more like a glossier, big-screen version of a Lifetime Network movie, down to the oh-so-tricky concluding twist and big final confrontation—though on Lifetime the psychiatrist would have been a woman, and the genders of other characters changed accordingly.  But otherwise things would be much the same.