There are movies that draw you in, and there are movies that draw you in so much you forget the world around you. 18½ is so riveting and immersive that I forgot I was making a cup of tea and found a cup of cold, over-steeped leaf water after the final credits rolled.
The iconic opening shot is of Connie Lashley (Willa Fitzgerald) in her car, listening to an announcer on the radio talk about how theories are continuing around the missing 18½ minutes on the Watergate tape. The world around Connie pans in an impossible direction behind her and Luis Guerra’s music swells in the background, enveloping us in the world of a 1970’s political thriller.
18½'s intricate plot is set up in the opening scene between Connie and Paul Marrow (John Magaro, an established reporter she’s asked to meet her. The paranoiac web of taped conference rooms maintained by the Nixon Administration has created a copy of the missing 18½ minutes that hard-working Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transcriptionist Connie has in her possession. Connie’s tape not only includes Nixon (Bruce Campbell) telling his Chief of Staff General Al Haig (Ted Raimi) that the tape of his June 20th 1972 discussion about the Watergate break-in with his prior chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman (Jon Cryer) needed to be destroyed, but it also contains the 18½ minute discussion itself. Connie tells Paul that no one knows the tape that she has with her exists and that she needs to return the tape by Monday morning. In other words, Connie has the missing 18 and a half minutes that everyone is talking about on a tape that’s in her purse.
Connie and Paul negotiate, outlining a plan that will allow Connie to feel safe and maintain ownership of the tape while also allowing Paul to establish its veracity by listening to it, which requires a reel-to-reel tape player. They decide to check-in to the nearby Silver Sands Motel, a beachfront motel on the Chesapeake. As Connie and Paul introduce themselves as married couple Archie and Ruth to fellow cyclops and innkeeper Jack (Richard Kind), each lie they tell raises the stakes and notches up the tension.
It is in this surreal other-world of the Silver Sands that we spend a majority of the film in, and the location served as…