DVD Review - Tumbledown

At first, I thought this movie might turn out to be a gay Rashomon where a crime or a heinous event is told from various points of view or from various persons, and those persons would just happen to be gay. Ostensibly, that is what this movie attempts to do. Except, director and co-writer Todd Verow immediately removes all sense of mystery and intrigue. If his purpose is to analyze or examine a real crime from multiple perspectives and stay faithful to that, he loses his way. If his purpose is to be like Michael Haneke and depict something horrific in a stark and unflinching way with occasional direction shifts, Verow somewhat succeeds.

Verow opens the movie with a graphic sex scene between Brad Hallowell and Brett Faulkner, both totally nude but in the cover of night, when Todd Verow, also totally naked, enters as clearly a terrorizing presence, one that supremely frightens Hallowell, possibly believing himself to be in imminent danger. Verow's silhouette might as well be that of Freddie Krueger or Michael Myers, as this moment is played for horror and Verow is obviously cast as the villain.

Verow then flashes us back to May 17, 2010 when Hallowell's character Rick meets Verow's character Jay and Faulkner's character Mike. Yet, thanks to the opening scene, the audience already knows what the relationships between the three men will be. Verow has removed any sense of discovery.

Later, Jay invites Rick into his life to spice up his relationship with Mike who appears bored. Instead of a happy threesome, Rick and Mike partner up and start to exclude Jay who begins to feel like a third wheel in his own home, which is near  the Tumbledown Mountain. In an act of revenge, jealousy or just sheer insanity, Jay drugs Rick and rapes him while he's unconscious.

Like Irreversible (2002) and Skoonheid (2012), Verow depicts the rape in real time, mostly all in one continuous take. Verow does his best acting here. He's desperate and disgusting. His acting is clunky everywhere else, but his acting is great in this scene. Yet, the placement of this rape scene seems clunky as well. While the man-on-man rape in Skoonheid was difficult to watch, at least it had a purpose. A man with so much repressed homosexuality and pent-up longing and lust for a young man finally explodes.

In Tumbledown, Verow is too confusing. Verow puts the audience in Jay's shoes and mind, with a close-up of his eye, as Jay expresses that he didn't think it was rape. Jay even says that Rick wanted it. Verow even has a moment when Rick is flirting with Jay, initiating sex in a very overt way, which contradicts the depiction of that same moment earlier from Rick's point of view.

The intimation is that Verow wanted us to question whose version was correct, either Rick or Jay. Yet, only a few seconds later, Verow launches the audience into the rape and removes all doubt that Jay is a rapist and that he is a twisted guy. It makes me wonder why Verow even bothered trying to put us in Jay's shoes. Jay's version of events matches Rick's version.

If Verow had intended to have a mystery over whether Jay raped Rick, he undermines it completely, but, perhaps Verow never intended it to be a mystery. Maybe his goal was simply to portray a male rape, outside a prison scenario, but, in a bold and unflinching way but not as brutally as in Skoonheid. It's just unfortunate that Verow gives us next to nothing to help with character development for any of the three.

Aside from liking to eat ice cream after sex, little is learned about Rick. Aside from having blonde hair and wearing glasses, little is learned about Mike. Aside from being a rapist and knowing how to use a video camera, little is learned about Jay. No clue is given as to why Jay and Mike are together or what any of the two do for a living or felt or experienced prior to any of this.

There also seems to be an assumption that the story here is one that people would already know, which wasn't the case for me. The fate of the characters is left open. As a result, we don't know what becomes of them.

One Star out of Five.
Not Rated but contains graphic sexuality and full-frontal nudity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 20 mins.


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