Monday, January 30, 2012

Skew

Skew
Directed by: Sevé Schelenz
Canada, 83min
Drama/Horror, 2011

I try to stay away from watching titles that people request me to watch’n’review, because of the obvious risk of getting into something that I don’t enjoy, hence making for a terrible review. But when I was approached by Schelenz to check out his flick – an effective Canadian Indie flick, currently doing great on the festival circuit – and during the same period of time seeing the trailer for Skew, I felt that this was a movie I really wanted to see… and as soon as possible!

Three mates, Rick [Richard Olak], Eva [Amber Lewis] and Simon [Rob Scattergood] who spends the most of the movie hiding behind his small dv camera, take to the road with a friends wedding set as the final destination. But what at first seems to be a fun filled road trip soon becomes a tension-building ordeal when Simon starts seeing eerie omens of things to come, through the viewfinder of his camera.

Skew has got me all excited. This is an impressive little movie which definitely play’s ball with the big boys. Taking a spin on the “Found footage” niche can be one of the most risky approaches to take today, as that’s a genre rapidly becoming watered down, for each day that goes. But Skew has something that manages to keep it above the many imitators that came in the wake of the phenomenal The Blair Witch Project 1999. Yes I love The Blair Witch Project, as it came right at the correct time in my opinion. When genre was becoming mainstream and repetitive, Blair Witch came with its low-key approach, presented its story in a new way, and scared the pants off its audience. But that was thirteen years ago, and god knows that the imitators have had a struggle taping into the innovation of that movie.

It’s not really fair to compare Skew to this early entry, but at the same time, any movie that takes the found footage approach will be compared to it – and the later movies that take the same approach. Although it should be mentioned that Schelenz did actually script and start shooting the movie way back in 2005, years before the success of Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield and Spanish success franchise Rec.

The main ingredient that Skew shares with them, is the first person narrative, everything we see is what Simon sees through the viewfinder of his camera. And this is where it really delivers the goods. I found that I was falling for the gimmicks and scares a lot easier in Skew than with others in the niche.

Right from the start an effective subplot is set in motion. It’s the morning of departure and where Eva and Rick are all giddy to set off, there’s an apparent schism between Simon and his girlfriend Laura [Taneal Cutting]. I get the feeling that she was supposed to come along on the trip, but something has happened that makes her skip the road trip. It’s all kept secret from the viewer, which makes for a splendid subplot that returns through out the movie, and culminates in the climax of the film. “What happened between Simon and Laura to make her bail out?”

Schelenz has complete control of the universe his characters live in and he knows exactly where they are coming from. This is evident in the backstories, which slowly seep out through the narrative. I hate when movies stop dead in their tracks due to tedious exposition. Schelenz weaves just enough backstory and dimension into his characters through camera observations and well-scripted dialogue to keep the interest alive and the intrigue flowing. I easily pick up that Rick and Simon have been pals a long time, that Rick may be a guy who likes his beer’s and that there’s a two sided tension between Simon and Eva due to her loyalty to Laura – where that subplot again comes into play. It’s an ordinary world that the audience can relate to and problems we all know form everyday life.

The Simon and Eva angle brings a tension to the movie in more than one way. Not only is Eva obviously Laura’s mate and holds some kind of grudge – as Laura didn’t tell Eva either why she decided to skip the trip – but there’s something brewing there. There’s more going on that first meets the eye.

I’m a big fan of the slow build. I don’t always find that an initial attack is necessary, as I choose movies in the genre I like. I don’t really need an initial attack to tell me what genre this is. But the slow build is the shit, when it’s done in the correct way. This is where you bring me into the characters world and spill exposition along the way, giving me something to hang onto, characters to understand and empathize with. David Moreau & Xavier Palud’s masterpiece Ils (Them) 2006, takes a whopping 35 minutes to establish the ordinary world before unleashing the terror that it’s main characters Clémentine and Lucas go through, and it never get’s tedious. Instead I get to know the characters, which makes me feel so much more the moment their fate is sealed. This is similar to the path taken by Schelenz in Skew. A slow build that slowly brings me into the world of Simon, Rick and Eva, so that I know them, I understand the constellation before the freaky shit starts to happen. And when talking about the freaky shit, I once again have to point out that Skew got me with it's shock moments on more than one occasion, and I've chosen to avoid using images of those moments here in this review.

When the strange events start happening on Simon’s footage it happens in various ways, sometimes sublime with an effective eeriness, and sometimes with a classic jump scare approach. But these jump-scares and shock moments not only affect me as the audience – as they naturally build tension for the next scare to come - but they also affect Simon. He is forced to question his sanity, and this in turn affects the constellation. Paranoia starts to run rampant as Simon’s anxiety starts to rub off on Rick and Eve. Not only have they indirectly witnessed a series of gruesome deaths, but also Simon claims that the images of the affected he shot previous to the deaths, where distorted when he initially saw them. This is where the stern reception of this reveal comes into play. If anything bugged me with Paranormal Activity it was the lead male characters nudge-nudge, wink-wink approach to the subject matter. Rick and Eva are obviously freaked by Simon’s strange behaviour and don’t believe a word he says. Simon becomes even more alienated from his friends and with no allies left on his side – an emotion also created through the complex Laura subplot – his only companion becomes the audience.
Now if you are a frequent reader then you will already know where I’m going here… yes I‘m playing the sceptic card. Unlike something like Ti West’s The Innkeepers where we need to move a lead character into the unreal realm with the use of her scepticism, Skew put’s a spin on it as the audience see the same things Simon sees. Whilst the others, Eva and Rick, don’t believe the truth, a truth that we know is real, we tend to empathise with Simon. It works similar to the classic child protagonist who nobody believes when he says there’s a monster in the closet. Instead the supporting actors scepticism strengthen the position of Simon, and we can relate through emotional recognition to the frustration and fear he feels when he finally tells them of the strange things his camera is registering.

One final note on Skew would have to be that I undoubtedly stand by the choice of never explaining the reason why Simon sees the things he sees. I’m certain that some explanatory moment that explained whether Simon is going insane, or that the camera is haunted due to some weird reason would have culminated in ridicule. It’s a wise choice to leave the audience with their own thoughts on this, and it makes the movie linger on longer in their minds. Sometimes an explanation can topple a really good narrative where scares have done their job and mystery is diminished. This is one of the reasons why the last part of James Wan’s Insidious 2010 becomes such an anti-climax. All that magnificent tension building is wasted when the reason behind the hauntings is explained, hence loosing the magic and mystery of the road there. Luckily Schelenz skipped the scripted bookend segments showing the camera in it’s pawnshop habitat, and instead stuck to the mystery and never let’s us in on what is really going on, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m certain that Skew is destined to become someewhat of modern horror cult classic. This is a movie that will find it's audience.

Right now you can catch Skew streaming on NetFlix in the US, but being patient pays off as the film will premiere on England’s The Horror Channel later this year and there’s a German DVD slated for a May release. You can also catch the movie on one of the many festivals that it’s currently playing at.

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