Static would be insanely easy to spoil if I just mentioned the two films it immediately reminded me of. The first (which isn't revealing much at all) is The Strangers with a young couple under siege by a group of masked intruders. The second (which shall not be named out of common decency) explains the why of it all. When all is said and done, Static's genre roots are laid bare but it entertains thanks to a breathless pace that keeps the midsection and finale trim and thrilling.
Before it ramps up though, the film introduces us to the central duo of Jonathan Dade (Milo Ventimiglia) and his wife Addie (Sarah Shahi). Jonathan's a successful author who moved his family out to a remote house in the countryside in order to work on his big follow-up novel. The peace and tranquility of their new surroundings was shattered by tragedy when their young son, Thomas (Oz Kalvan) drowned in a nearby lake. Now, Addie spends her days seemingly trapped in a house that fills her with despair and resentment while Jonathan tries to push through his grief and finish his manuscript. At the end of a long night filled with dinner, dancing and drunken accusations Jonathan and Addie are woken up by a stranger at their front door. Her name is Rachel (Sara Paxton) and she claims to have received a flat tire before being chased around the woods by a man in a gas mask.
While Jonathan goes off to investigate her claim, Addie tries to calm Rachel down. This is where things turn weird. Rachel quickly makes herself at home, asking probing questions about Thomas and the state of Addie and Jonathan's union. Given Rachel's strange familiarity around Jonathan, Addie starts to feel even less trusting than usual (especially given hints of past infidelity on his part). Just as the domestic drama threatens to boil over, the movie kicks into high gear. Rachel's boogeyman shows up with a few of his friends (all in gas masks) and snatches her. They then start terrorizing Jonathan and Addie in a bid to draw them out of the house. The rest of the night turns into a bid for survival as our duo tries to evade capture while attempting to solve the mystery of why they were targeted along with Rachel.
To say anymore would be criminal. This is a brisk film (approx. 80 minutes) told as efficiently as possible. Credit goes to director Todd Levin (who shares credit for the screenplay with Gabriel Cowan, Andrew Orci and John Suits) for setting the tone early and giving his cast the room needed to establish developed characters before putting them through the rigors of a home invasion scenario. Once the intruders arrive on scene, there are precious few character-building moments as Jonathan and Addie have to go go go in order to escape them. The early scenes with Milo and Sarah turn them into flawed individuals worth caring about. Sara Paxton has less screen time as Rachel but she performs well as the catalyst for the night's events. As soon as she appears, we realize that not everything is as it seems and there is something deeper going on than a simple smash and grab.
My quibbles all have to do with how the film handles its reveals. There is a huge shocker about the fate of our characters dropped into the opening scenes. One could argue that these shots set up certain expectations while deepening the morbid inevitability of what we're about to witness. While the filmmakers do a fine job of toying with us and ultimately prove a bit subversive, I wonder why any expectations need to be set at all. The film's final big twist, while derivative, works well enough on its own without the requirement of any foreshadowing. With that said, there's no doubt that the wordless opening goes a long way towards establishing the film's unsettling atmosphere of crushing isolation. The film is ultimately too lean and reliant on its seen-that-before twist to have much staying power but it grabs your attention and doesn't let go for its duration. That's more than I can say for some other so called thrillers I've seen.
The image is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. Early scenes look good with accurate flesh tones and an earthy color palette rich with deep greens and dusty browns. As soon as the night time comes, the image runs into a few snags. Skin tones occasionally look ashen (although this may be directorial intent). Dark shots suffer from a great deal of banding which is unfortunate but likely a byproduct of shooting at night on a lower budget. While noticeable, the effect isn't detrimental enough to ruin the film's impact.
The audio is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround. This is a film given to long stretches of silence and thankfully the audio mix capably turns the eerie quiet into a living, breathing entity. When dialogue does pop up, it comes through with clarity although it is occasionally mixed a bit low. Elsewhere, the spare and haunting score is effective at conveying the tone of isolation and despair. Altogether, this audio mix is perfectly acceptable for the material at hand.
The sole extra is a Writer, Producer and Editor's Commentary track featuring Gabriel Cowan, Andrew Orci and John Suits. I have to say, this has to be one of the most relaxed and engaging commentaries I have listened to in a while. All 3 guys are informative but have a goofy (and sometimes dark) sense of humor which comes through in a big way. Amidst tales of location scouting and casting the film, they'll make remarks like "he's a cute kid, except when he's looking all dead like that" or go on a tangent about the fact that Sara Paxton's dog is named Balls (the comedic possibilities are endless). This is a lively track and one definitely worth listening to (not something I can say about all audio commentaries).
Compared to other thrillers that withhold bits of information to deepen the intensity of their big reveals, Static almost plays too fair by laying a few too many cards on the table in the early scenes. One could debate the value of this approach (I had minor issues with it), but the filmmakers use it as a springboard to create a tense little film that wastes no time in tightening the screws. Once everything is out in the open, you'll probably notice the variety of genre sources that the film has drawn upon. This may take away from the film's novelty but not from its effectiveness. Recommended.