Directed by Zack Parker
Distributed by Breaking Glass Pictures
Chronologically fractured tales are nothing new to cinema, though they’re typically a bit of an artistic gamble. For every Pulp Fiction or Memento released, we get something along the lines of 21 Grams (a film with great acting, but the scattered timeline shenanigans never come across as anything more than a gimmick). The key to such a film’s success seems to lie with its reasoning for employing that stylistic choice in the first place. If it’s to underscore a film’s themes, it usually works out for the best. If it’s simply to shake up what would otherwise be a simple, humdrum tale, then it rarely works at all.
Director Zack Parker uses the device well in his new film Scalene, taking a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey approach in detailing the events of a single, tragic tale told from three different points of view (not unlike Rashomon). The film opens with Janice (Emmy® Award winner Martindale, fantastic as always), a woman seeking revenge for the loss of her son, a thirty-year-old mentally handicapped man named Jakob (a very good Scarimbolo). Jakob has been taken out of Janice’s care due to the claims of Jakob’s caregiver Paige (Hall, wonderful here). Paige was allegedly raped by Jakob when Janice was away, and the resulting trial and settlement see Jakob put into professional care.
The film begins at the very end of the story, with Janice showing up on Paige’s doorstep brandishing a gun. The film then works backwards through the events that led up to this moment, as seen through Janice’s eyes. The movie then shifts to Jakob’s point of view, where the audience is treated to his (understandably distorted) version of many of those same events. Then, the remaining bulk of Scalene is dedicated to Paige, as we witness her side of the story in a more chronologically straightforward manner as it winds down to its inevitable conclusion.
Buoyed by its interesting concept, strong story, and three superb performances, Scalene manages to overcome its low-budget limitations and occasional missteps to be one of the better indie films I’ve seen this year. Even for all of the stylistic tricks employed, Parker primarily focuses on story and performance, and he crafts a film which had me fully invested by its conclusion. As a result, I must say that I’m looking forward to his next film, whatever that may be.
Unfortunately, as noted earlier, Scalene does have the occasional problem. The opening sequence, which should be harrowing, is poorly staged and scored, and is wholly unconvincing. As this scene is repeated at the end, we are left with an otherwise great film that is bookended by a weak opener and conclusion. In addition, as good as the three lead performances are, most of the supporting performances range from so-so to quite bad (one such performance rendering a fairly crucial sequence almost laughable). Still, even for these faults, Scalene ultimately succeeds in telling a complex tale in an interesting way. Fans of dark, character-driven movies with no easy answers will want to seek this film out.
And now for the question that’ll have the comments section below hopping: Is Scalene a horror film? While part of me actually wants to say “no”, I can’t overlook the fact that it is a dark, depressing, and genuinely upsetting film that showcases some pretty horrific human behavior and details the figurative hell that can be created by the good intentions that lead there. Please keep in mind that this reviewer is a guy who proudly notes one of his favorite horror films of the last decade as being Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, a film which is bereft of monsters or the supernatural or bloodshed (mostly) or any of the more easily recognized hallmarks of the genre. I feel much the same way about Scalene. While it’s not at the level of Aronofsky’s film, it has a similar mix of drama and dread and features two scenes which were undoubtedly intended to scar its audience (one doesn’t work; one left me chilled to the bone).
Breaking Glass has put together one helluva package for Scalene with a super-sharp, vibrant image and solid audio. The bonus features include a teaser and theatrical trailer, a fifteen-minute featurette cut from footage shot at the film’s premiere at the Dances With Film festival (including a cast and director Q&A), and a photo gallery set to the film’s score. The standout feature is Perceiving Reality, a three-and-a-half hour documentary that is a Blu-ray exclusive. The doc is not only lengthy, it’s an exhaustive and pretty funny look at the film’s making. Those interested in a nuts and bolts look at the day-to-day grind of making a film, look no further.
Ultimately, as with most movies of this type, this film will not be for everyone. But for those seeking an original and deeply disturbing drama (and, yes, horror film) that will stick with you long after the credits have rolled, give Scalene a try.
3 1/2 out of 5
4 1/2 out of 5