A dementia-stricken murder suspect isn’t the freshest character
to hang a thriller on, but Sharon Greytak’s Archaeology of a Woman is a decidedly well-made, unnerving film. Sally Kirkland plays Margaret, a perpetually confused old widow who may or may not be tied to the police’s sudden uncovering of a corpse dispatched thirty-odd years ago.
Her daughter Kate (Victoria Clark), a fortysomething top-rated chef, unsuccessfully tries to install Margaret in a senior home, then struggles to make sense of Margaret’s violent temper tantrums, chronic fender-benders, mounting paranoia, and ramblings about a pantheon of past lovers. Both actresses give explosive, wrenching turns. Kirkland leaves the audience at an utter loss as to whether Margaret is homicidal or just sex-deprived. (Greytak gives the 72-year-old actress several lurid nude scenes.)
Either way, she is genuinely scary, shrieking tonelessly when her favorite hairdresser is off duty, mumbling strings of numbers (which Greytak, wisely, never explains), and flailing at innocent people she’s convinced are antagonists. Clark is a marvel, holding her own against the capricious Kirkland. There’s a beauty of a wide shot in which Kate screams in exasperation for Margaret to get under the running shower; the scene is as hilarious as it is disturbing.
And the tacked-on subplot about an investigating police officer’s lusty pursuit of Kate, farfetched as it is, provides much-needed comic relief. The film grows more convoluted toward the end, and Greytak could have dispensed with the clunky voiceovers.
But in its small-scale, claustrophobic way, Archaeology delivers. It will be most remembered for casting two older actresses as sexually forthright — and sexy — individuals.