Abigail Harm is a film about what happens when the lonely connect with one another—or, perhaps, about why they’ve learned not to. It opens with a reading of an excerpt from Alice in Wonderland exquisitely delivered by a mesmerizing Amanda Plummer, who director Lee Isaac Chung allows to roam the film’s oneiric world without much restraint. All we know about Abigail is that she’s an idiosyncratic New Yorker who volunteers her time reading books to the blind. We also sense a severe melancholy and general lack of inhibition driving whatever selflessness is involved in her charity, as in a scene where she describes the pictures from an erotic magazine to an older gentleman. There’s typically something quite selfish about selflessness, and for Abigail this is no different, as she reads to others to escape into another world.
Though Abigail can see, she still chooses to close her eyes and imagine things that aren’t there—things the words on the page evoke, like the deer that come to life and wander around her building’s hallways like stray cats. At times we hear a narrator’s voice reciting poetic musings on Abigail’s emotional state, as if her story were the subject of a book itself. The sparse voiceover, perhaps too sparse, is a wonderful device that mirrors, in the film’s very form, the multi-dimensionality of Plummer’s performance. Its more evident poesis is echoed by the even more poetic simplicity of Abigail’s words, delivered to a voiceless man she finds running naked in an abandoned building and brings home. “I used to wake up in the streets, eye-level with the curve…,” she says. “It was okay.”
At one point we get to see Plummer acting bravura explode in all of its tour-de-force magic in a very long take of a monologue about how Abigail was just in awe of her father’s ability to speak, and how he considered her a “mere mumbler.” Abigail’s recollection of how she’s come to think of herself as a bad speaker is so gripping because, given how she pronounces each syllable with such effortlessly poetic precision, it’s impossible to believe she ever had a problem speaking. Plummer’s performance is so riveting that one almost wishes the camera never left her in order to explore the film’s narrative commitments—as eccentric as those may be.
In one of Abigail’s flights of fancy, we’re treated to an impressionistic chase sequence in which she, with an Amelié-like sense of wonder, runs after the aforementioned naked man to offer him a scarf and say, “It’s only me.” When she brings him home, she clothes him and feeds him like a little bird. At this point, we see how her loneliness, or rather, loneliness in general, is so often attached to the erotic—or lack thereof. Abigail’s helping hand blurs into a maternal patting hand, which in turn becomes a lover’s hand—her head pressed against his shoulder, her nose rubbing on his cheek as she asks if he’s real. He remains motionless and voiceless. Chung’s approach is masterful here. He conveys the dullness and frustration of their sex by creating a kind of blindness in the audience. For a moment all we see is a blur: Abigail’s face, completely out of focus, no longer pressed against another human’s limb, but against the cold-hard mattress. Moments like this give Abigail Harm a sense of originality, a daring and organic playfulness rarely found in American indie cinema.