What to Watch Verdict
'Flinch' isn't the deadshot combination of paranoid mobsters and bad-luck damsels that puts a thrilling underbelly twist on romantic narratives.
🔫 Daniel Zovatto wrestles with moral demons.
🔫 Tilda Cobham-Hervey puts up a fight.
🔫 Cathy Moriarty nails the stereotypical Italian mother.
🔫 Narrative details aren't always attentively handled.
🔫 Intensity never overtakes.
🔫 Leans heavier into romance, creating a tonal imbalance.
Cameron Van Hoy’s Flinch exists at the intersection of “Stockholm Syndrome” and The Sopranos: California Expansion. Staten Island transplants take their goomba schtick on the road to Los Angeles, still owning Italian accents and greasy slicked-back hairstyles. It’s a story about assassinations, betrayals, and love in an arena of marinara-makin' monsters. An identifiable independent crime thriller sets itself apart through hazy red-light cinematography and Miami Night 1984’s synthwave soundtrack beats, albeit heavier on the bond between kidnapper and loose-end witness than underworld shootouts. Even then, there’s suspense left to be desired as this Hallmark hitman meet-cute develops.
Joe Doyle (Daniel Zovatto) is an infamous hired gun who works primarily for Lee (David Proval) and Lee’s crime family. His next contract dooms a shady councilman (played by Tom Segura), which goes off with only one single hitch: the target’s assistant, Mia (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), is a witness. Joe decides to bring Mia home, where he lives with his mother Gloria (Cathy Moriarty), against better judgment. Why? “Because she didn’t flinch,” Joe declares, in response to shoving his gun in Mia’s face. According to Joe’s imprisoned father, that means she either knows something worse or has a “sacred heart” and isn’t right for death just yet.
At its core, Flinch is a performance showcase for Daniel Zovatto and Tilda Cobham-Hervey as their characters navigate mistrust, unpredictable tempers, and how a girl bound to a based-on-perception psychopath’s bed could fall in love with said psychopath. By including Gloria, there’s a warmth to Joe’s situation between mother and son, plus she fills in the blanks about Joe’s incarcerated paternal role model, whose debt forces Joe into the family business. Why doesn’t Joe just kill Mia? What’s Joe’s obsession with his tropical fish pet? Could Joe be a white knight thrust into an otherwise ruthless profession out of love for mamma? These are the questions Van Hoy latches onto, leaving subplots involving armed syndicate brats or sloppy “craftsmanship” a bit less impactful.
Plot advancements are predictable in their mechanics since Van Hoy telegraphs Joe’s dedication to Gloria and discomfort around Lee’s goons (including trigger-happy son James, played by Buddy Duress). Joe’s compassion towards Mia, Mia’s headstrong demeanor that accompanies her secrets, consequential fallout due to Joe’s merciful decision - it’s all unsurprising given how Van Hoy traces an outlined map for protagonist redemption from start to finish. Joe’s in-job dangers are minimal since he’s portrayed as the prodigal son of death-dealing, much like how red herrings are easily identifiable to even the least enthusiastic gangland fans. Zovatto grimaces and stone-colds his way through Mia’s accusations and James’ threats, in a characterization that lacks dimension but promotes detachment that numbs employed killers. It’s one-note with a punished purpose, but one-note nonetheless.
That’s why Flinch is at its best when Mia challenges Joe to be better than random violence and toe tags. Whether that’s opening her legs for the “Norman Bates” perv (living with mommy dearest) or begging Joe to lodge a game-over bullet, her forehead pressed against a pistol’s mouth. Under the glow of Joe’s decorative neon crucifix - religion guides the otherwise altruistic murderer - Mia continually dares Joe, but their relationship blossoms because he’ll either sleep on plastic covered furniture or respond with compassion. Ugh, I should kill you, but I think I’m sweet on you! The ultimate confliction, and as cheesily as Van Hoy might convey that dilemma, there are times when their struggle feels genuine. Then the third-act unfolds.
As corpses pile, allegiances crumble, and backroom whacks push Joe towards his inevitable cleanup finale, Flinch never realizes the full picture of its introduced themes. The titular concept about how Joe spares Mia’s life makes a better anecdote than character motivation. As feelings are questioned, Van Hoy permits Joe more distrust than Mia (a curious decision). Then, during a climactic scuffle, Joe’s stealth infiltration of Lee’s compound distracts from what I’d define as important details given how one minute that stakes are sky-high, the next, most of Joe’s obstacles have been handled for him off-screen. Van Hoy always envisions this title as a vehicle for Zovatto and Cobham-Hervey built on paisano familiarity, lacking clarity whether that's misinforming on the status of Joe's father (in question until proven) or Gloria's hasty turnaround on hospitality shown towards Mia.
Maybe that’ll be enough for the average lovesick henchmen who hopes to one day find his Mia while stabbing a crooked lawyer in the jugular. Flinch takes a less-traveled road to emotional vulnerability but is too narrow-sighted to realize its quirkiness - Joe’s adoration of his aquatic friend, for example - often lacks depth or explanation. Special effects splatter brain chunks with gruesome regards, soundtrack vibes spike the tempo, and cinematographer Kai Saul earns their paycheck. Cameron Van Hoy dares to humanize those forever washing blood from their hands, and admittedly, gets halfway there. Unfortunately, there’s far more potential left on the table and too many frayed wires that connect the film’s already stretched-thin plotlines.
Flinch will be available to rent on VOD as of January 21st.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.