I usually watch movies knowing as little as possible about them beforehand, as I like to be surprised and not have expectations as I do for ones I have heard a lot about. Static is another example of a movie I've gone into blindly and been pleasantly surprised. Milo Ventimiglia stars as famous writer Jonathan Dade, working on his next novel in a large but remotely-located house with his wife Addie, played by Sarah Shahi. Within the first few minutes we learn that they're grieving from the recent loss of their young son (whom we see in flashbacks and home videos, played by Oz Kalvan), who drowned in a nearby lake. Jonathan seems determined to keep on with life but Addie is depressed and becoming resentful that they moved from the city to this remote home in the first place. Jonathan tries his best to console her and get both their lives back on track.
While Jonathan and Addie are in bed at night, they hear a knock at the door. Addie automatically fears the worst but Jonathan is more trusting and answers, finding Rachel (Sarah Paxton). She says "There's someone out there" and begs to be let inside. She tells them she was driving and suddenly got a flat tire, and when she stopped she saw a strange-looking man and ran to their house. Jonathan tries to call the police but has trouble with the phone, and soon after that the power goes out completely. Rachel convinces them to let her stay at their house until morning as she's afraid to go back outside. Addie suspects that Rachel will try to seduce her husband, but before things become too much like a soap opera the man who scared Rachel earlier shows up at the house with two of his friends and grabs her, with more coming for Jonathan and Addie. From here they wander through the dark hiding from these intruders and try to figure out who they are and what they want.
Seems like a rather simple plot, but Static gets the mood just right. The first viewing had me on edge most of the time. Most of the action is in the dark, lit just enough so that you can see what's going on, and minutes at a time go by with little to no dialogue and then only whispering. The ending is a surprise as well- the movie's opening tips viewers off to it, but in a way that I didn't notice on first viewing. (The tagline on the front cover is a bit of a spoiler also.)
Static is presented in a 2.35 ratio and also in 3D, shot with a dual-camera rig. This was one of the most interesting uses of 3D I've seen in a recent movie, as there are no ‘pop-out' effects and hardly any shots that try to exploit it at all- watching this in 2D one might not think it was shot in 3D. Most of the time it feels like you're just looking in on the action but the depth greatly enhances things, appearing to go deeper into the screen than many recent 3D productions and many shots force your eyes to focus on the primary objects (some 3D detractors complain these type of shots are headache-inducing, but I like when 3D makes my eyes ‘work' a bit.) It's also usually difficult to get good 3D imaging in the dark, but here it's pulled off with no shots being too dark to see anything and the sense of depth is always maintained. The atmosphere is further enhanced by the use of muted color with a mostly blue tint.
Now for the bad news- there is much annoying digital artifacting in the dim and dark scenes which make up the bulk of the movie. Although I could not find out for sure whether Static was shot on film or digitally, it appears to be the latter and the artifacts I saw may have been inherent in that rather than the Blu-Ray disc's encoding. While it's a bit difficult to describe, it looks almost like a monochrome version of "heat-vision" photography- basically the different shades of darkness take on a pattern rather than seamlessly blend into each other, and I noticed this not just during the pitch-dark scenes but those in dim light as well. (Since writing this review, I've learned that the technical term for this is "gradient banding.") I've noticed this on a few other Blu-Ray discs, the effect always being more noticeable in 3D, and thought it was a result of a low bitrate on the disc but it may be a by-product of the technology used to shoot the material in the first place. Regardless of how it got there, it was the one thing that really detracted from my enjoyment.
Three discs are included, with 3D on the first disc with an option for 2D playback. Strangely, a second Blu-Ray is included with the movie only in 2D, which at least casually looks the same as the first disc being played in 2D. The third disc is a standard DVD, obviously in 2D only, which looks adequate enough for standard-definition but no match for hi-def in 3D. I checked this disc for the scenes whose artifacts stood out on the Blu-Ray, and they were still there- as I have never seen these type of artifacts on a standard DVD from poor encoding, I suspect the fault lies with the source material.
Static is a very quiet movie- you will likely want to have your volume turned up higher than usual (and refrain from talking) as dialogue is very soft and even more so when the characters are forced to whisper. The audio mix is in 5.1 (DTS-HD Master Audio on both Blu-Rays and Dolby Digital on the DVD), with a good front soundstage and occasional but not blatant effects from the rears. Tim Ziesmer provides a minimal but tense music score, with just a few loud punches at key scares to break the quietness.
SDH subtitles are included on the Blu-Rays but not accessible during 3D playback, and standard TV-decoded closed-captions are on the DVD.
Audio commentary is included during all presentations from co-writers and producers Gabriel Cowan, Andrew Orci and John Suits. They keep a mostly humorous tone which is a bit of a relief after the movie's tense atmosphere, talking about the usual things you hear about on commentaries such as the locations and cast but also pointing out a few details that foreshadow the movie's ending. They mention the 3D only briefly, talking about the camera rig used and saying that the 3D was tweaked a bit in post-production to make it look as good as possible. They spend a few minutes wondering who will actually listen to the commentary track- at one point we hear one of them bring up "Siri" and ask her to find out how many people listen to commentaries, but we never hear the answer- either it was edited out or just forgotten about during the commentary.
I found Static to be a great thrill ride, getting just the right amount of tension with a different yet effective use of 3D, despite the sometimes less than perfect picture quality. Watch this one in the dark, alone with the sound turned up!
Jesse Skeen is a life-long obsessive media collector (with an unhealthy preoccupation with obsolete and failed formats) and former theater film projectionist. He enjoys watching movies and strives for presenting them perfectly, but lacks the talent to make his own.