91 min., 2009
Written by Kevin Haskin
Directed by Ryan Todd
My rating: ★★★★
Ironically, the DVD is uncensored.
* * *
Robert Picardo plays an aspiring author of children’s books, with a dark past and an even darker present in this multilayered psychological thriller.
You’ve got two things you need to understand about this film; First and foremost, you have never seen Robert Picardo like this. Forget Star Trek, Stargate, or hell, even The Howling. This character isn’t funny or quirky, just deeply disturbed and severely out of place in the world around him. The second thing you need to know is that no matter how much you think you’ve figured out about this film, it seems to have a life of its own and will continually morph right before your very eyes. It is a mystery, a psychological thriller, a drama, and several things in between, but it never sits still long enough for you to figure out what it is. Even at the end of this film, you’ll be asking yourself if the conclusion was the reality of things or simply one perspective that you felt more comfortable hanging onto.
The best way I can say this film begins is with a very deliberate statement from our main character that he is “an evil person”. He goes on to talk about how his father left him at a fair, and seems truly regretful that prior to this he felt some deep loss over the fact that they did not spend very much time together. His father had a secret and highly important job. One in which his mother would have to lie to him and say his father was in the hospital or some such, even though he knew his dad was really on some type of mission. He meets a boy named Lucas at the fair, they become fast friends, and soon after he is abandoned by his father. With his sister’s health in further decline, Lucas seems obliged to push her wheelchair bound body into a swimming pool while our main character was forced to look on, paralyzed with fear. His sister’s face forever haunting his memory. Having this experience shape and mold him, he decides later in life that others should learn from this example of human suffering. A prime example of this is when in the next sequence of the film he is immersing a girl’s head in a large metal basin of water until she nearly drowns, and then he resuscitates her. This happens only a few feet from a man that is bound, with two sharpened spikes directly below his heels as he is forced to look on and potentially learn from this. You would think that this is following in the trend of mainstream torture porn similar to Hostel, Saw, or most recently The Collector. However, if you adopted this belief, especially this early in the film, you would be mistaken.
We are given a glimpse into what I would say is a very solitary life. We see a dishwasher full of only glasses, a very bare bones house, and a beautifully shot but very deserted feeling dining room. There is one scene where you see him sitting with these empty chairs all around him and you get a sense of how utterly alone he is in the world. Enough so, that you almost feel sorry for him, until he goes back to the basement and completely smothers this chick with a clear plastic bag so the bound man will learn his lesson, whatever that may be.
After this particular lesson, he lets us know that he writes books for children in an effort to give them something he never had, but he becomes distracted by a leaking faucet and while trying to repair it in the most completely wrong way possible, which by the way we aren’t supposed to notice, his recently divorced neighbor and future love interest, Gail, comes a callin’ to return a manuscript of his. She visibly makes him nervous but is equally as socially awkward as he is. Her awkwardness though, presents in the opposite manner of his; where he is introverted and withdrawn, she seems to speak and act as though she has no filter, which makes her seem sort of fearless.
Back in the dungeon, after he and the bound man exchange a few words, he carts in the next victim to be used to illustrate the next lesson. At the end of this second lesson where the victim is hanged, you see the bound man, whose name is Darren by the way, visually flash between this torture chamber and another room until the second location becomes all he can see. This is where the movie takes yet another turn. Darren is strapped to a chair being given IV fluids, having recorded audio played directly into his ears, and a very nice cocktail of drugs keeping him sedated. Despite everything we saw up until this point, our main character whose name is Wade, informs us that he teaches the art of coercive and non-coercive interrogation. All the people we’ve seen killed up until this point have been constructs of either Wade’s voice or Darren’s memories and imagination. It would seem he is employing these methods as either a CIA operative or asset, adding yet another twist in the chain of events.
After he exits the chamber containing his client, he receives a first print of his book with a letter from the publishing company. This is the first time we see him happy and also the first time we meet his handler, Jefferies, who very quickly dashes any hopes he has of being an author or even a real human being. Knowing that he is controlling another person while being controlled by Jefferies plays with a very interesting dynamic where one’s personal freedoms are concerned. Surprisingly Picardo plays this completely straight faced. Apparently Jefferies has been in his life since he was sixteen when he found him working in a crematorium.
Jefferies keeps him on a leash, but it seems like Wade has become dependent on that control. As Wade gets further into the mind of his subject, he allows the neighbor to get closer to him while his need for normality and to escape his systems of control become more prevalent. His work starts slipping as a result and Jefferies has to come in and clean up his loose ends. Since Wade can’t let that happen, he tries to ward his neighbor away with insults, but ultimately that fails and he falls in love with her. He would rather kill her himself than let the agency dispose of her or use her against him as a bargaining chip. He eventually lets his captive student go with the intention that Darren would kill Jefferies, providing Wade with the opportunity to escape and live in the real world as an author.
To his dismay, Jefferies kills Darren and lastly him. “How can this be?” you may ask. Well, he shoots him but he lives. All of his narration is happening in the office of a CIA appointed therapist. This is where things take another turn. It seems that Wade, like his father, is schizophrenic. All these people are creations of his imagination. His dead sister, his subject, Jefferies, all of it is just a grand illusion. At the beginning of this he talks about having the gift as an author to create whole worlds just by looking out the window. This shatters his perception of his father who was a schizophrenic after all, and never worked for the C.I.A. He really was in the hospital for months on end. At this revelation he decides that since he is a killer in his mind, he would be one in real life. He strangles his therapist and heads out into the world.
I have to say, if not only for the twists and turns, this movie is worth a watch. There are a few points where the pacing seems off, but it is beautifully shot, very well acted, and the performance from Picardo is so far off from his norm, that it keeps you watching from start to finish to see what he will do next. I have to say I enjoyed it, and I hope you will too. So be sure to read the interview I have posting with Robert Picardo and his other trips into the Terrorverse. So until next time, may all your films bring you fright.Have You Read...?