Starring Tony Todd, Joseph Gilbert, Taylor Lipman, Rachel Haines
Written and directed by Kevin Shulman
I can think of few things worse than losing a loved one, especially when the loss comes after a long battle with an illness. To be forced to watch as this once thriving individual suffers and fades away can be devastating to the surviving family members. The feelings of helplessness and guilt can be overwhelming whether you are a young child or a grown man. Most of us find the strength to move on, but there are those who simply cannot forgive themselves for allowing even the most inevitable of deaths to occur. They refuse to believe that there was nothing they could have done to save the person they loved so dearly.
I.O.U. is the story of Jack Bruckner (Tony Todd), who is struggling with this very circumstance. Jack’s beloved wife has succumbed to cancer, and even though time has passed, he is still burdened with guilt over her death. He believes that he should have been able to save her because he is a doctor.
We watch as Jack coasts through his daily routines, barely a shell of a man, all the while doing his best to put on a brave face for his young daughter, Melissa. The relationship between the two is visibly suffering the effects of the loss of wife and mother, but they continue their lives as normally as they can. Melissa is sending out invitations to her upcoming birthday party, and Jack is planning his first meeting with a woman he met online.
Jack’s already bleak outlook takes another hit following a disappointing experience at the bar while waiting for his date to arrive. He forces his way through the next few days in the hopes that Melissa’s birthday will be just the distraction he needs to clear his head. Unfortunately for him, someone else has other plans for the day’s festivities!
The premise behind I.O.U. is brilliant in its simplicity, but I think it deserves more than its mere twenty-three minute runtime to do it complete justice. It definitely holds its own at the slighter length, but the story could easily fill a feature length timeslot. Given the chance, the tortured tale would be able to draw its audience deeper into itself before the gut-wrenching climax rears its ugly head.
In his role as Jack, Tony Todd comes across as a man at war with his own personal demons. Unfortunately there are times when his emotional outbursts seem more forced than genuine. Taylor Lipman, who plays the part of Melissa, does a pretty decent job of being a sad little girl who misses her mom. At times, though, it was hard to hear her lines, and she seemed a tad mechanical. I’m not entirely sure if it was a misstep in the direction or if it was something else, but Todd and Lipman didn’t appear to have any onscreen chemistry. They just weren’t believable as a father/daughter pairing, and it had nothing to do with the obvious difference in race.
There is a twist in the film that held no real mystery for me. I found it relatively obvious from the moment this particular plotline was set into motion. This didn’t detract anything from the film for me, however, because I often see such things coming far before anyone else does. I do have to say nevertheless that there is a scene later in the film when the secret is revealed that I found to be quite absurd and nearly insulting. There is a moment when a character looks directly into the camera, and this ridiculous image is accompanied by a sharp change in the musical score. It was corny, unnecessary, and nearly sucked all credibility out of an otherwise wonderful movie.
I often re-watch films while I write the reviews for them, and I.O.U. is one that I did this with. I cannot believe all of the subtle hints, clues, and details that I overlooked during the first viewing. Upon watching it again, I discovered even more things I simply didn’t catch. Most of these unnoticed bits came in the form of sounds and are brilliantly disguised or used when you are distracted in the midst of other goings-ons.
Kevin Shulman, who both wrote and directed the film, shows some serious cinematic chops in I.O.U. He’s got a great eye for detail and frames his shots well. I did feel that some of his efforts to convey certain moods or lapses in time seemed a bit too dramatic or drawn out at times, but this is easily forgiven when you take in additional viewings and can truly appreciate all of the complexities he included. All in all, I was truly impressed by this young filmmaker’s talents.
Although it’s not without faults, I found I.O.U. to be a truly haunting tale of a torturous, spiteful act perpetrated against an already broken soul. Its use of subtlety to capture the audience in its web of malice is outstanding. I.O.U. proves that you don’t need a huge budget and buckets of gore to be a real horror film and that man is the scariest monster of all.
3 1/2 out of 5
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