A fascinating debut from "Usual Suspects" director Bryan Singer, "Public Access" plays like a more subdued version of Singer's popular "Suspects". The film focused on Whiley Pritcher (Ron Marquette), a drifter who happens upon the town of Brewster one day. His first stop is the local public access cable station, where he finds a job instantly, putting together a small Sunday evening show that looks at one question: what's wrong with Brewster?
At first, none of the citizens seem to want to offer their suggestions. Then, soon enough, one call about unpleasant neighbors leads to a wave of additional calls, as the townsfolk suddenly find themselves freed to talk about what they had been holding back all these years. All the sudden, a previously peaceful town is in an uproar.
The film succeeds fairly well because of Marquette, who does a terrific job of making Wiley a charming, but mysterious and dark presence. Supporting performances are also quite good and John Ottman's fantastic score (and solid editing) really adds a layer of tension that the small production doesn't seem to be able to cover.
On that point, the film seems to suffer from the problems of a debut film and a micro-budgeted feature. The first half of the film really builds up the tension and mystery quite well, but things start to fall apart as the film attempts to rush an explanation of Wiley and never quite provides a clear reason for his actions. Technically, the film isn't half bad, as Singer's visual style (a couple of shots pop up once again in "Suspects") is certainly apparent.
"Public Access" is flawed, but it's certainly worth a view and will interest those who want to see where "Suspects" writer Christopher McQuarrie and director Singer started.
VIDEO: "Public Access" is presented in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen by Vanguard. Although certainly low-budget material, the transfer is still substandard. The film appears almost muddy at times, lacking in detail and looking consistently soft. I've seen the film before on home video (there's some noise present here that makes it seem like this may have been transfered from a tape copy) and remember it appearing somewhat crisper and cleaner looking.
Other issues are present, unfortunately. The print used does show some wear, with noticable specks, marks and a couple of scratches in a handful of scenes. Mild grain was also present in a number of scenes, although this film has always shown some graininess. Compression artifacts also appear, although they never became serious. On a positive note, no edge enhancement appeared.
The film's subdued color palette seemed decently rendered, with not much in the way of smearing or other faults. While this is certainly low-budget material and isn't going to have the more polished appearance of director Singer's later films, it's too bad that more attention couldn't have been paid to this transfer to have it appear a bit smoother and quite a bit cleaner.
SOUND: The film's soundtrack is presented in stereo. The quality is about what would be expected from the low-budget material. Dialogue-driven aside from John Ottman's score, the volume did need to be brought up to above-normal levels to clearly hear dialogue.
EXTRAS: Some basic notes on the interior of the cover, but nothing aside from that.
Final Thoughts: "Public Access" does have some issues in the second half, but its exploration of the anger boiling underneath the surface of a small town is worth a viewing, especially for fans of Singer's "Suspects". Hopefully, Singer will somehow get the film reissued in another DVD, because this one offers mediocre audio/video and no supplements. Rent it.