The Tattooist
Sony Pictures // R // $24.94 // June 24, 2008
Review by Ian Jane | posted July 2, 2008
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The Movie

Jason Behr, best known for his work on the cult hit TV series, Roswell, stars as an American tattoo artist living in the south pacific named Jake Sawyer whose 'shtick' is that his tattoos supposedly have healing properties. He's a fake, but when he steals an ancient Samoan tattooing needle his life takes an interesting turn. The people he applies his skin art on start to experience strange, painful transformations eventually resulting in a fairly grisly death. While the people that Jake tattoos are dying off, he's making time with a cute local girl named Sina (Mia Blake) who works at the church. Of course, by the time that the movie starts to wind up, it all closes in on Jake and it turns out that everything all ties in with Jake's own actions, specifically stealing that old tattoo needle.

The Tattooist is a reasonably interesting effort from director Peter Burger that teeters between a straight horror film and some sort of theological/mystical suspense film. There are a few grisly gore scenes that keep the picture firmly mired in genre territory while a few of the subplots and some of the symbolism and ritualistic elements give the picture some interesting local flavor and a unique cultural spin. The romantic part of the film doesn't really win us over, but it does give context to a couple of key moments in the film so as a plot device it's necessary even if it could have been fleshed out a little more. The same can be said for Jake's background, which isn't given much of a work out at all leaving him a fairly one dimensional character.

In terms of the visuals, however, The Tattooist is quite well made. The cinematography from Leon Narby does a great job of capturing the interesting locales where Burger's film plays out. The visual effects, which are almost entirely rendered in CGI, lack any real depth, however, and as such, some scenes don't carry the impact that they probably did while the film was on the drawing board. A couple of scenes, where a black ghostlike creature manifests, remind us very much of The Eye and it's hard not to think of the Pang Brothers' film (or the American remake for that matter) when these scenes play out in front of us.

Jason Behr may look the part well enough to play the lead but he lacks any significant screen presence and while his performance isn't terrible, nothing about it is particularly memorable either. Mia Blake makes for nice eye candy but she too offers little to the role to make it her own. The background characters all turn in sufficient, if fairly standard work and overall the acting in the film is sufficient, though completely unremarkable.

In the end, The Tattooist is a better idea than it is a movie. The cultural quirks and interesting themes ensure that the picture is completely watchable, but the flaws ensure also that it's a rather forgettable effort.



The 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks a little tight in some spots but is otherwise quite good. There aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts nor is there much in the way of edge enhancement to complain about. Color reproduction is strong and the black levels stay nice and deep. A bit of aliasing shows up here and there but there isn't any obvious print damage to complain about. Detail levels are usually strong though a couple of the more effects heavy scenes are softer than others. Aside from that, the movie looks quite nice.


You can watch The Tattooist in your choice of French or English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound tracks with optional subtitles provided in English, French and Spanish. Audio quality is strong throughout with some nice channel separation and rear speaker action complimenting a few key scenes quite nicely. Occasionally the dialogue is a bit low in the mix but thankfully this is the exception and not the rule. Levels are more or less properly balanced and the score has some nice bounce to it. Overall, there's little to complain about with the audio on this release, Sony has done a nice job in this department.


Director Peter Burger and leading man Jason Behr provide a pretty generic audio commentary for this release. They talk about the location shooting and about what they like about the picture and they do paint a very general picture of the production's history but somehow never manage to engage the listener. Those who really enjoyed the movie might get more use out of this track than those who weren't exactly blown away by the film.

Up next is a twelve minute The Tattooist: Behind The Scenes featurette that takes us on set of the production and gives us a look at what went into making the film through some brief interview snippets. This featurette is marginally more interesting than the commentary track but the most interesting featurettes on this disc are also the shortest. Behind The Tattoo Designs, The Colors Of The Tattooist, Real Life Samoan Tattoo and Becoming A Chief run roughly ten minutes combined but they offer some interesting cultural context to the story and the importance of tattoos in the world where the film plays out. Had the commentary gone in a similar direction it probably would have been more interesting but at least these important aspects of the film are covered here, if briefly.

Rounding out the extra features are just under five minutes worth of deleted scenes (none of which really add much to the picture at all), trailers for a few other Sony releases, and a digital copy. Animated menus and chapter stops are included and the keepcase is housed inside a shiny slipcase cover featuring identical artwork.

Final Thoughts:

The Tattooist is far from a modern horror classic but a few interesting ideas and twists make it worth a watch if you need something to kill some time. The film has too many flaws to really recommend it but a couple of interesting ideas and scenes combined with a decent presentation from Sony make it worth a rental.

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