15 years after her son Jakob (Adam Scarimbolo) became brain damaged huffing chemicals in a school locker room, Janice (Margo Martindale) continues to devote most of her life to him. Jakob has impaired motor functions and can no longer speak, so Janice rushes from her job at a local grocery store to come home and care for Jakob, which leaves her lonely and frustrated. She puts flyers up around town looking for someone to help watch him a few times a week, and she gets Paige (Hanna Hall), a bright young college student who hopes to assist the elderly at a home or a hospital in the future. She agrees to care for Jakob, but one day, when Janice is not home, an incident threatens to destroy the lives of all three people.
Scalene is one of those films: the kind where the gimmick and the film's delivery of heavy-handed material gets in the way of whether the filmmakers actually have something to say. The film presents a morally intriguing question, and the performances by all three leads are pretty good, but producer/director Zack Parker's half-hearted "multiple perspectives" concept and the heavy-handed way this technique reveals the movie's story to the audience really detracts from the overall experience.
For starters, this is less Rashomon than it is just a non-chronological narrative, with a couple of fantasy sequences thrown in for good measure. We rarely see a complete sequence from two different perspectives, at least not in a way that would not have simply cut together if that was the intent. My expectation was that Jakob's perspective would be the crucial one, because Jakob can't speak, but all Parker gives us is a non-linear mash-up of flashback, memory, and fever dream that takes up maybe 10 minutes in the middle of the movie. Since Janice is not present for the movie's big moment, there is actually nothing for perspective to reveal except what actually occurred, from the one person whose experience is at all meaningful.
Worse, when the perspective does make its way into the movie, what it adds is mostly confusion and red herrings. The movie opens with a scene told from Janice's perspective, which ends in a way that doesn't match up with what we see later on, and the film does not resolve which one is more accurate, which hardly makes sense. One part of Jakob's memories almost suggests some sort of bizarre deception on Janice's part, but since it never comes up again elsewhere in the movie, I have to conclude that it must just be a creation of Jakob's imagination.
Margo Martindale's performance as Janice is very good, but the movie tries to undermine it by refusing the viewer the opportunity to "side" with her. The moments in which we would relate to her stress the most are tainted with the knowledge of what she will do before she does it. A traditional narrative would've placed Janice's and Paige's actions on the same level, giving them each a reason to act and a fittingly devastating outcome, but we're only left with some of that. It's an interesting lesson on the power that editing has over the viewer's perception of what's happening on screen, but I don't think that was the point that Scalene was intending to make.
Scalene has one of those kinds of covers that does admittedly convey some element of the movie, but it does so in a way that feels overly affected. Maybe the broken glass was a nod to the distributor. Overall, the cover is a little font-heavy as well. The disc comes in a square-ish Blu-Ray case with an old-fashioned painted Blu-Ray logo on it, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
This 2.35:1, 1080p AVC presentation of Scalene is an uneven experience. The early sequences offer weak contrast and obvious posterization on dark the dark walls inside Janice's house. In a few of the later scenes, contrast improves, but posterization is then replaced by mild artifacting. There is also one shot in Paige's room where the whites are obviously blown out, perhaps moreso than I've ever seen on any DVD or Blu-Ray, although it only lasts for ten or fifteen seconds. Throughout, fine detail is very strong, picking up even the slightly raised pattern on Janice's couch.
Breaking Glass' Blu-Ray does not offer high-definition audio, just a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track that serves the experience well. There are a couple of flashback sequences that play with the audio, from eerie ringing to a haunting echo, but this is mainly a quiet, atmospheric, dialogue-heavy presentation with very little music. English subtitles are provided, but the formatting is distracting, with arrows (<< / >>) provided on dialogue (to note when a character is off-screen), and the use of caps lock, which I personally find annoying.
Well, let's start with "Featurette From Dances With Films" (15:18), which takes a look at the film's world premiere at the Dances With Films Festival. The clip consists of red carpet photos, an introduction by two of the festival organizers, interviews with Zack Parker, co-writer Brandon Owens, and producer Carlos Jiminez Flores, and post-screening Q&A by Parker, Margo Martindale, Hanna Hall, and Adam Scarimbolo. Sound is hit-or-miss. There is also a photo gallery.
The main extra, though, is "Perceiving Reality: The Making of Scalene", a making-of documentary about the film. I didn't like Scalene that much, but if you did, you're going to get all the bang for your buck you could want with this documentary, which runs three hours and twenty-nine minutes (3:29:33, to be precise). I admit it: there are films I love with extensive documentary features I haven't watched, so I did not sit through this documentary. However, a survey of the first 10 minutes suggests that this is a case of enthusiastic filmmakers who just weren't willing to make the painful cuts to their documentary masterpiece: even the introduction is almost three minutes long, and the behind-the-scenes material that follows is good but could easily be trimmed down. It doesn't help that sound is just as poor on this extra as it is on the other one.
Two trailers for Scalene are also included.
Scalene is a perfect illustration of style over substance; in fact, the style of Scalene actively gets in the way of what the film might be trying to say. If you rent it and it turns out you like it, however, be sure to spring for the Blu-Ray over the DVD, as the documentary extra is an exclusive.
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