Lisa (Sascha Harman) returns home to investigate the untimely death of her sister, Melanie (Kim Lyzba). Although Melanie’s death was ruled a suicide, Lisa can’t believe Melanie would ever end her own life. It feels like an impossibility. She meets with friends and family who were in contact with Melanie in her final days, and all of them encourage Lisa to try to face reality. One person agrees to help her, though: Rich (Fintan Shevlin), a young man who apparently died six months ago and can only stay within a certain geographic area. A ghost, of course, dead from an overdose of a drug he’d never taken before, and he can’t seem to move on. How does his death connect with Melanie’s? Is there a sinister conspiracy afoot or is Lisa just holding on to delusions and fantasies in denial of a tragic reality?

Lost Angel is, thankfully, a tightly wound thriller that meshes its ideas on grief with a very decent conspiracy plotline. There’s a lot going on here, and many smaller-budget films would satisfy themselves with being either a thriller or a character piece, rather than both. Usually, these types of stories risk undercutting the complexity of a grief narrative by introducing clandestine villains or rejecting the more concrete evil by saying it’s all in a character’s head. Director / co-writer Simon Drake (collaborating with Louise Hume) effectively balances those two plotlines. The grief that drives Lisa doesn’t just go away because she uncovers the truth.

Everything is held together by a very grounded visual aesthetic that makes use of shadows, close-ups and the dreary environs of Lisa’s home. The visual desolation gives it a feel. This is accomplished photography that maintains its mood throughout the entire story. Of course, no character study is complete without characters. Harman does an exceptional job conveying Lisa’s difficult emotional journey, particularly as the story gets more intense. Shevlin sells Rich, too, a man gone too soon and not sure what he needs to do next to move on. This is a compelling, intelligently told thriller from a team of independent filmmakers that hopefully has more projects ahead.