The "mind-bending twist" has been a standard feature in thrillers for decades, but it wasn't until The Sixth Sense spun heads with its final reveal that the twist became a cliché all its own, a sideswipe of audience expectations that has since become an audience expectation in and of itself. The staple "gotcha" moment has served to seriously deteriorate skillful storytelling, with so many films built around the surprise that filmmakers forget it has to happen to people we actually care about.

Freshman Italian director Giuseppe Capotondi certainly builds his haunting debut, The Double Hour, around a twist that allows him to tell the story of a horrendous crime through the perspectives of the two people affected by it. But not content just to let the twist—which actually comes about halfway through the film—do the talking, Capotondi lets his narrative play out as a human story, and his film benefits from the extra care. 

The Double Hour follows Guido (Filippo Timi), a lonely former cop turned security guard who spends his evenings on an endless speed-dating circuit. He soon falls for Sonia (doe-eyed Kseniya Rappoport), a meek and trembling chambermaid with a mysterious past. When the two are suddenly confronted with violence, the plot spirals into an abyss, playing out the lovers' fates in separately unfolding narratives that become compounded with each detail we learn about their lives.

What could have been a cheap, Run, Lola, Run-style exercise in narrative possibilities—with Guido's and Sonia's stories unfolding differently based on one small coincidence—instead becomes a tender character study of loneliness, a frightening paranoid thriller, a gritty surveillance piece and a psychological mind-bender with shades of the terrific French thriller Tell No One mashed into Polanski territory. The leads do a remarkable job of making it real, with Rappoport exuding fear and malice as the conflicted Sonia, and Timi offering a solid examination of loneliness, apprehension, love and vulnerability. 

But the film belongs to Capotondi, whose strong debut is a masterful exercise in drama that uses The Double Hour's midfilm twist to delve deeper into his characters' psyches rather than as a tool to jab his audience and leave it reeling. While its second act can't top its jarring setup, Capotondi's rich character study is a solid debut from a promising filmmaker.

76 SEE IT: The Double Hour opens Friday at Fox Tower.