Sunday, March 25, 2012

Film review: Skew (2011)

Directed by: Sevé Schelenz

Starring: Rob Scattergood
Amber Lewis
Richard Olak

 Synopsis: When Simon, Rich, and Eva head out on an eagerly anticipated road trip, they bring along a video camera to record their journey. What starts out as a carefree adventure slowly becomes a descent into the ominous as unexplained events threaten to disrupt the balance between the three close friends. Each one of them must struggle with personal demons and paranoia as friendships are tested and gruesome realities are revealed...and recorded

Attention Australian readers!! Skew will be playing at the Fantastic Planet Film Festival on Saturday the 31st of March, with a Q&A afterwards. For more info about the showing or the festival itself, follow this link!

My thoughts: Skew is a found footage road trip movie that is clearly a labour of love. Written by Sevé Schelenz back in 2004 and then produced in 2005 for a measly $25,000, the film shines with the dedication of the production team and the trio of actors who carry the story.

Three college friends, Rich (Olak), Eva (Lewis) and Simon (Scattergood) bundle into their car to head across country to a friend's wedding, and, it seems to me, to take some well-needed time out from their regular lives. The trip begins well, with the three of them laughing and mucking around while Simon films them all on the camera he bought for the trip. The trip takes a turn for the worse when Simon starts to notice strange blurs on people's faces when he films them through his camera, and starts to notice that the blurred strangers are dying soon after being filmed. As the film progresses so does the paranoia, tension and barely contained chaos.

The pacing in Skew gradually ramps up, but there is a sense of unease and anticipation from the earliest scenes. Though this is definitely a horror film with supernatural elements, there is also a great deal of story devoted to the personal trials and horrors of each of the three characters. They're all troubled by something, and these issues cause friction that is only amplified by the visions Simon is seeing through his camera lens. Had the cast not been as strong as it is, these personal threads would have been lost amongst the A story, but instead they tangle and build and add an element to the film that is crucial to its overall success and cohesiveness.

I'm generally not an advocate for found footage/POV films; however I really try to judge each one on their own merits. Some films just make me feel nauseated with the shakiness of the footage, while others make some of the most tenuous links as to why there needs to be the found footage element to it. Happily though, I can say that the found footage/POV style worked well for this particular film, perhaps owing to the fact that it isn't found footage in the Blair Witch Project sense of the term, instead it is simply using that personal viewpoint as a way of telling the story. I have to attribute this success to three points. First, although the actor Rob Scattergood (Simon) is not a cameraman, the shots were level, smooth and balanced. That in itself is enough reason for me to give a found footage film the thumbs up. After the vomit-inducing, headache-building camera work in The Devil Inside the other week, I can't even tell you how much I appreciate a watchable, yet still realistic, personally shot film. Second, the camera is a crucial part in the story. It is tightly connected to the story progression, to the development of Simon's character, and is the key instigator in the tension that builds between the three friends. Finally, along with the camera and POV shots being crucial to the story, it was used creatively in the film. One of the things I loved in this film was the use of rewind to add to the paranoia and tension and to finish the film. At points I wondered whether the POV shots could have been combined with traditional camera work to eliminate the scenes where you see little except a blurred friend across the room, or stare at the floor after the camera was knocked over in fear, however because of the relevancy of the camera to the story, I found it didn't bug me as much as it might have in another movie.

The ending may require a couple of watches, and judging by the myriad of reviews and blog posts available online, the ambiguity has lead to several very different interpretations. I really enjoyed the way the film concluded, but if you don't like ambiguous endings you may find it a little confronting. Personally, I had absolutely no idea what to think when it finished, and even now I'm not sure that my personal interpretation even comes close to lining up how Sevé Schelenz intended it to be read. That being said though, your interpretation very much will influence how you look back on the events of the film, and it's been really interesting to see how people have interacted with the story on their blogs and in reviews, and joined some dots I never would have thought to connect. It's almost like a conspiracy theory, and all of this eagerness to discuss the minute details of the film speaks volume on how the general public has received it.

Skew is a little bit of things you've seen before. There's a little of The Ring, The Blair Witch Project and even some Goosebumps mixed in there, however it is definitely it's own film. It takes the elements that made those films interesting and twists them to create a film that is fun, tense, creepy and nothing like what I expected. Enjoy!

3.5 out of 5 dirt smudged cameras.