DVD Review - Scalene

Margo Martindale in "Scalene"
Scalene is a geometry term. In plane geometry, it refers to a triangle with no two sides being the same length. In solid geometry, scalene might also refer to a conic surface with an oblique axis or a vertex that isn't directly above the center of the base. These ideas of a triangle with no equal sides or a cone with an off-center axis are subtly present in this movie. An early review from Variety compares this to Rashomon (1950) and one from the Village Voice compares director Zack Parker's eye to Hitchcock's. I would agree that the structure of this story borrows from Akira Kurosawa but not to the same effect. I would agree that Parker's eye is like Hitchcock's in that he steals some of the most famous camera moves from Psycho (1960), taking his style but certainly not Hitchcock's substance.

Parker and co-writer Brandon Owens kick-off with an inciting incident that asks one basic question. Why did this just happen? The narrative proceeds in reverse, chronological order like Memento (2001). It only does so for about thirty minutes and then breaks. It starts to move in normal, chronological order but from a unique point-of-view that is bizarre and perhaps untrustworthy. We're led to the inciting incident again but jump back to tell that same sequence of events from a different point-of-view. By doing this, Parker answers that one basic question, but along the way he creates another question that he then completely ignores or overlooks.

Emmy-winner Margo Martindale stars as Janice Trimble, a woman who works at a grocery store but who is also taking care of her 26-year-old son Jakob by herself. Jakob is suffering from brain damage and requires round-the-clock supervision. Jakob isn't an invalid but he can't talk or speak in any way and his behavior and intelligence are no better than a five-year-old with no signs of getting better. There is some confusion as to what caused the brain damage. Janice says it's one thing but a flashback indicates another.

Adam Scarimbolo plays Jakob who doesn't utter a single word. He's not as captivating as Jean Dujardin or Max Von Sydow who were both Oscar-nominated this year for playing characters who don't speak. Scarimbolo invokes some Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, which has been the template for many actors doing such characters. The most he gets to do though is spill hot coffee all over the place.

Hanna Hall co-stars as Paige Alexander, a college student whom Janice hires to help take care of Jakob. Paige is studying this kind of healthcare and social work, so she's happy to have the job. She notices, however, that Jakob has bruises on his body. Paige is concerned, so she confronts Janice about it and Janice tries to brush it off. Paige suspects that Janice might be abusing her brain-damaged son.

This is the other question that Parker's screenplay asks. A large chunk of the story hinges on this question, but Parker is content on never providing an answer. It's a little frustrating. He does answer the first question and he does so in such a powerful and effective way that I'm willing to forgive his dropping of the other question. The fact that we don't get an answer to that one question might be part of a grander point that Parker is trying to make. Yet, it still does not take away the frustration.

Parker and his cinematographer put the camera on a turntable or Lazy Susan and spin it a full 360 degrees. Parker does this twice. The first instance introduces a character. The second is used to purvey a passage of time. Parker concocts a sequence, which is entirely first person p.o.v. and the camera is the eyes of a character. It's a technique that hasn't been used in this context or this well since Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007).

Parker also crafts some other very striking images and visuals. The rest is buttressed with great character moments by Margo Martindale who like her role in Justified swings from terrifying to heartbreaking. Hanna Hall also offers a great performance. Her role of Paige becomes a victim, and, whether or not she deserves the horror she faces and in many ways she creates is the crux of it all.

Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated But Recommended for Mature Audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 37 mins.


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