Psychological thrillers often involve split personalities and/or twist endings. There was a time when I loved them, but lately we seem to have been inundated by cheap imitations of the classics. Hitchcock was definitely the master of the genre (Psycho comes to mind), but I’d be hard pressed to come up with a contemporary director who has it down as well. Or maybe I’m just jaded after sitting through the many missed opportunities and cinematic clichés we horror fans have been subjected to in recent years. Now along comes indie director Zack Parker’s first feature, Inexchange, and while it’s obvious Parker’s no Hitchcock yet, I believe he could have a bright future . . . if he finds himself a good editor.
Inexchange tells the story of college student Maury, a bookish loner (a.k.a. loser) type. His roommate Jay uses and abuses him. Maury has a crush on Lara, part of Jay’s circle of friends, so one night he decides to take Jay up on his invitation to meet up with him at a party Lara will also be attending. Things start off well enough, but it isn’t long before Jay and his buddies are yet again pissing (literally!) all over Maury and his good time. However, Maury has an ace in the hole – a blindfolded friend in a long wooly coat that only he sees, who has offered to provide his “services” to Maury in his quest to even the score with Jay and his cronies and win the love of Lara. The lone catch is an undisclosed price that Maury must pay when the job is done.
It’s a story we’ve all seen before, but Parker, who both wrote the script and directed, does have a flair for creating believable characters. Maury was sympathetic enough to make me wonder what was going to happen to him, and Jay was such a perfect asshole that I’m sure I’m not the only one who cheered when it was his turn to say hello to Mr. Blindfolded Stranger. And the banter among Jay and his friends was straight off any typical college campus. However, it takes more to make a good movie than just characters you can relate to.
Most important to me are pacing, sound design, and editing – areas where Inexchange misses the mark completely. Scenes drag on interminably. The dialogue is, for the most part, fine; but the actors’ delivery is so misdirected that I was rocking in my seat and tapping my feet to keep things moving along. Telling your actors to deliver their lines as line . . . beat, beat, beat . . . line . . . pause, pause, pause is not the way to build suspense. It’s the way to put your audience to sleep. Many times, particularly when Lara was speaking, I could barely hear what was being said. The score, what there was of it, was a terrible fit for the film. The end credits list at least ten songs, none of which do I have any recollection of hearing at all. The only things I remember are a horrendous static sound when the menu came on that made me dive for the remote to turn it off, a droning Moonlight Sonata during the unnecessarily drawn-out opening credits (that should have been my first clue Parker still has a thing or two to learn about setting a mood and tone), and another overly melodramatic classical piece during the “collage of death” finale that somehow turns into something so peppy and out of context with the rest of the movie that I thought my boy friend had taken the DVD out and put in something else altogether.
Another disappointment in Inexchange is its big sex scene. It was very interestingly intercut with the best gore in the film, but the actress’ obvious no nudity clause detracted from the emotions we should have been feeling. It could have easily been shot to show her only from the back and side, but at least then we’d have the satisfaction of knowing her partner had the enjoyment of her naked body pressed against his. Having her wear her bra in that and the next scene seemed out of place with the overall edginess the filmmakers were trying to achieve.
Even with all those negatives, there are some things in Inexchange that warrant a look. The acting is quite good, even more so when one considers that all the leads are unknowns. Sean Blodgett (Maury), who also served as Associate Producer, and Todd Richard Lewis (Jay) share a natural onscreen rapport. Tiffany Wilson (Lara) reminds me a bit of a young Uma Thurman, and I think she has a decent career ahead of her. The remaining cast members were fine too, especially Jennifer Lynn Fisher as Jenny, Lara’s long-lost childhood friend with whom Lara reconnects after having an epiphany about what a bitch she’s been lately.
There are also a handful of better-than-average shots mixed in with the more mundane nature of the rest of the cinematography – notably the scene of Maury and Lara on her couch, some hallway views, and especially the parting shot of Maury.
Best of all for splatter fans, though, are the effects. Although few in number, they were quite effective, and I commend the FX makeup artists Erica Haws and Matt Jenkins and fabricator Tony Thompson for doing a lot with very little. I can only imagine what they’d come up with if they had a bigger budget to work with and look forward to seeing their names in the credits of more films.
Brain Damage Films is supposed to be releasing Inexchange this spring (although it's not yet listed on their website), and according to ReelChicago.com Parker already has a second film lined up: The projected $2 million Quench, a “gothic drama.” He will be taking his mostly Chicago crew to his native Richmond, Indiana, this September for a five-week shoot. Hopefully he’ll take a better sound designer and editor along this time as well.
(Brain Damage Films)
Directed by Zack Parker
Starring Sean Blodgett, Tiffany Wilson, Todd Richard Lewis, Adam Lash, Samantha Eileen Deturk
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