In the run up to its release, Philippe Audi-Dor's directorial debut Wasp couldn't have raised more red flags. With its amateurish poster, complete with a huge "love stings" tagline splashed just underneath the title, and the fact that the movie essentially didn't exist on the internet, it was looking increasingly likely that this supposed atmospheric character drama would end up a totally unremarkable disaster. Thankfully, that cynical assumption couldn't have been further from the truth.

From the film's very first evocative frame it's clear that Audi-Dor's flick has ambitions greater than that of your regular romantic drama. Opening scenes of quiet are juxtaposed with a beautiful French holiday home that acts as the backdrop for almost all of the movie, immediately establishing the dry tone for the cold, pessimistic movie that's about to come. While it's admittedly all a bit arty and trying a bit too hard, there's no denying that Wasp's killer opening doesn't provide an immersive and intriguing starting point.

It's not long after this effective opening until we're introduced to our three leads (and incidentally, the only three people in the whole movie,) Olivier, James and Caroline. Away for a romantic vacation, Olivier and James' idyllic plans are cut short when the latter bumps into recently dumped University friend Caroline. Hitching along for the ride, the three spend the summer in Olivier's beautiful but isolated French getaway villa. From there on out it all goes a bit Bret Easton Ellis by way of Lars Von Trier, as the three elites work through their rocky differences, with sex, identity and romance all being questioned over the course of Audi-Dor's brisk debut.

With such a small-scale and focused flick like this, it would have been an instant death sentence for Audi-Dor's film if the three leads weren't as engaging and charismatic as they are. While there are times where the feature could have benefitted from another take or two (a couple of dud line-readings kind of break the illusion now and again,) every single actor is given at least one moment to completely steal the show. Elly Condron especially, who plays the cold and calculated Caroline, shines in the more downbeat and unassuming scenes, effortlessly unveiling cracks of vulnerability in her character's mostly meticulous personality.

But it's not only the performances that resonate the most in these quieter instances, as the same minimalistic, quiet scenes stand out as the film's most memorable moments. The drawn out, awkward tension that arises when two people who don't know, or necessarily like, each other are left alone, or an uncomfortable car journey home after an argument make up the majority of Wasp's greatest tension-building set-pieces. Unfortunately, when the dialogue does begin to fly the flick kind of loses some of its cold mystique, devolving into a picture that closer resembles a more generic, run-of-the-mill character drama. A pretty good run-of-the-mill character drama, still, but one that's far removed from Audi-Dor's initial stoic art-house aspirations.

Ultimately though, considering just how much Wasp utterly failed at selling itself on its first impression, it was a delight to discover that the actual film's faults came nowhere near to the total disaster of its pre-release materials. Shining bright in moments of quiet and subdued character interactions, Audi-Dor's debut can be absolutely mesmerising when it wants to be. Unfortunately those flashes of genius can be lost in occasional dips in quality, both in the writing and the cinematography, but even in its lowest moments Wasp is never anything less than captivating. It's a bit patchier than it probably could have been, but given the restrictions Audi-Dor had to work with, Wasp still stands strong as an interesting and memorable debut.