Something’s amiss from the start about the Amaranth, the luxurious retirement community which Albert Chi’s directorial debut takes its name from. “There are endless opportunities,” proclaims Patsy (Susan Sullivan), its director of customer services, alluding to amenities such as round robin Tuesdays on the tennis court, pizza making classes and the equestrian center the mountain retreat has to offer, not to mention the eerily intuitive temperature controlled housing which keeps the rooms precisely at 71 degrees unless told otherwise. It’s enough to widen the eyes of Richard (Jeffrey DeMunn) even while he’s still recovering from a recent surgery while his wife Lily (Melora Waters) is a little more skeptical, eager to check her husband in for his health but uneasy about staying there herself. She is significantly younger than Richard, so being put out to pasture doesn’t hold much appeal, but her selflessness precludes her from such thoughts, leading her to grow curious over the weeks to follow about why her husband suddenly seems even more spry than the brochures for the Amaranth promised.
In fact, Richard is hardly the only one who gets more than he bargained for in “The Amaranth,” which doesn’t surprise as much with where it’s going so much as how it gets there. When Lily doesn’t get any more comfortable with her surroundings trying out the various services at the Amaranth, noticing in her yoga class that others far older than her are also far more flexible, she begins to wonder about the yellow pills Richard is receiving from Dr. Campbell (Christopher Denham), who runs the on-site anti-aging clinic and tends to all of the residents’ medical needs, from plastic surgery to recovery from cardiac arrest. Although Lily vowed to spend the rest of her life with Richard when they wed, screenwriter Eileen Shields finds a particularly clever hook for a paranoid thriller in suggesting that’s could be far longer than either of them ever could have anticipated.
Lily’s uncertainty about what she’s gotten herself into and her distrust of everyone around her becomes completely destabilizing, making every day feel like an eternity anyway, and Chi does well to make the physical world of the Amaranth so sprawling that it seems to have no end, constantly unfolding as Lily and Richard partake in all the seniors center has to offer and never repeating the same activity twice, even if it feels as if the walls are closing in on Lily when can’t have an honest conversation with anybody but the help. The film operates with a bit of a smirk that becomes infectious as it starts to appear as though Lily and Richard, being among the few who could afford this heaven on earth, have seemed to secure their place in hell, yet beyond having a cast that gives the world credibility at every turn, the notion of privilege gives “The Amaranth” unexpected weight, provocatively identifying health care as a finite commodity that can be hoarded by the rich as much as any other status symbol. While the prospect of immortality clearly has its downsides in “The Amaranth,” Chi’s first feature is as full of life as its characters would seem to possess.
“The Amaranth” will play once more at the Austin Film Festival on October 31st at 3:45 pm at the Alamo Drafthouse Village.