Directed by Zack Parker
Distributed by Along the Tracks
Every once in a while a film crosses our path that, while not strictly horror in nature, is so dark and twisted that we feel it warrants mention and a review on the site. Such is the case with Zack Parker's Scalene, which has enough "psychological thriller" elements that the genre crowd should appreciate and embrace it. Plus, it's sporting such powerhouse performances by the two leads that cinephiles in general should be aware of it so they can see this pair in action.
Scalene doesn't follow a typical narrative structure, instead moving back and forth in time and switching among three different perspectives, which can come off as pretentious and a bit like a film school project if mishandled, but Parker pulls it off admirably. And this is from someone who has been less then enthused by his prior projects. Let's just say that (as I told the young director himself) Scalene is an amazing improvement over his previous work.
So, what's the storyline? Without giving too much away -- since the film's twists and turns are really what keep the engine running -- it opens with Janice Trimble (Martindale) exacting revenge on a young woman for some unnamed offense against Janice's son. Just as things spiral out of control, the time frame shifts to a few days prior to the event, when we determine that Paige has accused Trimble's son of rape. Then we move to a few days before that, then a few weeks before that, and so on until we come to learn how Janice and the young woman (Paige is her name, played by Hall) met and the nature of their relationship. It turns out Paige is a college student who answered Janice's ad for a caregiver for her disabled son, Jakob (Scarimbolo), who is unable to speak or take care of himself. From there we see a few more flashback type scenes from Jakob's point of view this time, after which things begin moving forward from Paige's perspective until we wind back up at the beginning of the film -- or rather, the end of the story.
As I said at the outset, the film is an intriguing one based on storytelling technique alone (Parker co-wrote the script with Brandon Owens), but it's truly Martindale and Hall who deserve the lion's share of the attention being given to Scalene. The roads they travel down to bring their characters to life are winding and definitely not pretty (particularly in the case of Hall, whose Paige makes some seriously questionable choices), but there's never any doubt of how fully invested they are in their roles. Martindale, of course, recently won an Emmy for her remarkable portrayal of Mags Bennett in "Justified", and this is another feather for her cap. And while Scarimbolo obviously can't contribute much in the way of dialogue and interacting with the rest of the cast, he does make you feel for Jakob, especially as events unfold and the ambiguity of his situation becomes clearer.
In a nutshell Scalene deals with fucked up people and the fucked up things they do to each other. Again, it's not your typical horror film -- it's much more a straight drama about dysfunctional family dynamics and such (Paige's home life is far from sunshine and roses also) -- but in an indie scene crowded with various offerings clamoring for your attention, we recommend giving Scalene a chance to blow your mind and make you question everything you just watched.
3 1/2 out of 5