LOOK (2007)
Starz / Anchor Bay // R // $26.97 // May 5, 2009
Review by Tyler Foster | posted May 19, 2009
Highly Recommended
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On CHUD, they posted an article about a postcard they received that suggests the recipient has already been caught on camera more than a hundred times that very day, complete with photographic evidence. It was sent to promote director Adam Rifkin's LOOK, a movie shot entirely from the perspective of security cameras, and obviously it isn't real -- the snaps are the same on every postcard, taken from the movie itself, and the logistics of attempting something like that, even staged months in advance, instead of on the day, would be a nightmare -- but the concept is still instantly gripping because the idea is real, and you might start to get a little paranoid thinking about all the embarrassing little tics you've done that day when you thought nobody was watching. I first read about Rifkin's movie on Ain't It Cool News way back in 2006 or 2007, and surprisingly, despite the long wait, it manages to live up to the potential of this clever concept.

The movie follows several groups of people, on the air, unaware, across LA, over the course of about a week. Their stories develop, intertwine and play out, as mentioned, entirely through the eyes of fixed security cameras in workplaces, on ATM machines, in stores and apartment buildings. If the concept wasn't tricky enough (it'd be easy to annoy the audience with the idea), the movie has to dodge a pothole right off the bat: LOOK could also become another in a long line of contrived, "convenient" ensemble movies like Crash or magnolia, a gimmick which audiences seem to have become increasingly tired of. Yet this is where the style works in the movie's favor: by stripping away any distractions, the film becomes a bit of an actor's showcase, and Rifkin's fairly anonymous cast is up to the challenge.

The only real recognizable face here is Guiseppe Andrews, from Rifkin's own Detroit Rock City and Eli Roth's Cabin Fever, as a convenience store clerk who writes terrible songs with his friend Carl (Miles Dougal) on the overnight shift. Their subplot is the most entertaining (its scope slowly expanding to include a suspicious Middle Eastern man and two escaped convicts) and Andrews gives the best performance in the movie (perhaps the most realistic, non-stereotypical minimum-wage cinematic slacker since Clerks.). The other central story focuses on a local teacher named Mr. Krebbs (Jamie McShane) and advances by a superficial temptress student (Spencer Redford), and while their arc isn't overwhelmingly original, the actors (also including Kimberly Quinn as Mr. Krebbs' pregnant wife) really knock the plotline out of the park, especially near the end.

Rifkin has had an interesting career: he's done weird, obscure cult films like The Dark Backward, mainstream projects like already-mentioned Detroit Rock City and recently starred in an apparently awful movie called Homo Erectus, which was bought by the now-depressing National Lampoon brand and retitled The Stoned Age. Yet LOOK fits right in to his whacked-out oeuvre, in its own weird way, because Rifkin really sticks with his concept from beginning to end. There is the occasional zoom, and sometimes cameras are available in places where it seems unlikely (although facts about this subject are addressed in the DVD commentary), but Rifkin always finds ways to avoid breaking with the film's conceit, which makes it so much easier to become absorbed by the movie. It may seem silly to compliment a movie for doing what it's using as its big "hook", but there have been several first-person movies shot on handheld cameras, a similar idea, that can't sustain themselves all the way to the finish line without cheating.

If there's something that's holding me back from awarding LOOK a perfect score, I'd have to admit that the movie is interesting for reasons almost entirely set apart from the stories it's telling. I don't think Rifkin's writing is lacking, but some audiences are going to call some of LOOK's developments predictable, and that's probably true. There are a couple plot threads (like the recurring Middle Eastern man) where it was pretty easy to tell how things were going to turn out, and it might have been more interesting to see a character appear in a repeated fashion without anything notable happening to them (I imagine most people show up on the same security cameras every day without any disasters or drama occurring). All in all, though, it seems like a weak nitpick to have to make: I certainly thought more about the things I liked about LOOK than minor quibbles like this.

A movie like LOOK is likely to be dissected and debated over what point the movie might be trying to make. Rifkin says on the commentary that he wanted to capture things that people do and say that aren't necessarily meant to be seen by anyone else, but are probably going to end up in someone's hands anyway, completely unbeknownst to the people in question, at which point the people with the footage can do what they want with what they've seen. It's a statement about the world in which we're currently living, but it doesn't intend to send a message or offer a solution, and while people will argue that this makes the movie's concept pointless, I'd argue that it doesn't matter. Whether we like it or not, LOOK is a slice of 21st century reality: every time you call a customer service line and learn your call "may be recorded" for training purposes or pass by a stoplight camera, someone's probably got their eye on you on that very moment, and whether the movie does or doesn't moralize about that fact doesn't make it any more or less true; LOOK just wants to remind you that someone could be watching you right this second.

Now, don't you feel a little bit safer?

Yeah, I thought so.

LOOK comes in a standard case with a clean and strikingly designed cover that should catch people's attention, sitting on the shelf. There's a nice slipcover that goes over it with the same artwork. The disc is cleverly designed to look like a camera lens, there's no insert, and the menus look similar to the DVD front cover.

The Video and Audio
As this is a movie shot on "security cam"-style footage, the image quality of this 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation varies wildly literally on average of every thirty seconds. There isn't a single piece of the movie outside of the credits that looks like a quality digital presentation of your average movie, but it's intentional and obviously not particularly important. It's no surprise Anchor Bay hasn't opted to release LOOK on Blu-Ray, because there's no feasible benefit to be had.

In the sound department, Dolby Digital 5.1 is provided, but it too is designed to sound like low quality camera footage (even though most security cameras are silent), so there's usually the hiss of ambient "silence" during the majority of the scenes. Every once in awhile there's something that will activate the surrounds somewhat, and the score is well-presented, but this is not a movie that's going to deliver any sort of top-notch audio and video presentation, and it isn't important to enjoying the film. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are included.

The Extras
Rifkin, producers Paul Wyman and Barry Schuler and actor Hayes MacArthur provide an audio commentary that's low-key but full of technical information about the struggles of producing the film. Since LOOK is seemingly easy to replicate, any filmmakers who admired the movie and are looking to do something similar will find all the information about the film's technical challenges here. Rifkin also has several funny stories, including the terror of a police helicopter stumbling upon the making of an inopportune scene and degrading the image using VHS tapes, and provides distressing factoids, such as the fact that it's legal in almost 40 states to put security cameras in dressing rooms. He also addresses questions he's gotten from audiences after the film, including a couple of thoughts about the movie's ending that fans will want to hear.

"A LOOK Behind the Scenes" (29:46) is a solid making-of featurette, which chronicles Rifkin trying to figure out the logistics of problems during his 15-day shoot, and miraculously there's almost no footage from the movie. There's intriguing teases about the bleeped-and-censored actress that he initially wanted to play Sherri and talk of a mysterious Mr. Krebbs who had to be replaced, underhanded bartering tactics on the part of a convenience store owner, Rifkin's impromptu casting techniques, missing glasses, African drums, inventing a bomb robot and appearances by John Landis and Ron Jeremy (who Rifkin calls "The Gene Shalit of the porn world"). Rifkin also ends up walking home from the set when his poor assistant Shane gets locked out of a parking garage. Them's the breaks...

Alternate and Deleted Scenes (47:31) are an interesting collection of snips and trims. Most of the scenes here are extended versions of what's in the movie, but you get to learn a lot more about the pair of criminals through their visits to fast-food restaurants and see the lost Ron Jeremy appearance. Eagle-eyed viewers will also spot Rifkin's cameo, and there's a really great excised scene where Mrs. Krebbs visits an art gallery with her best friend.

The package is rounded out by "Director Adam Rifkin: Outtakes" (13:44), which are more odd than funny, and the movie's original theatrical trailer (1:45) and TV Spot (0:32).

An automatic trailer for While She Was Out plays when you load the disc. No subtitles are included for the bonus features.

LOOK is a great, creative little movie that remains engaging all the way through despite a central concept that could easily become overly gimmicky or annoying, and the DVD special features package makes for an excellent compliment to the film, explaining the process and enhancing the experience. I don't know that everyone will have the patience for it, but I wholeheartedly highly recommend it to anyone looking for something a little different.

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