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Independent filmmaker John C. Lyons' fourth film and first full length feature is an interesting movie. While on the surface you'd probably call it a drama, it definitely dips its toes into horror film territory though not in any way you'd probably expect. There are no monsters here, no knife wielding maniacs, nor any demons to contend with - merely a man who is losing control of his faculties as Alzheimer's disease begins to set in and take control.
The film follows a middle aged man named Neil Woodward (Terrance Smith) who has a nasty spill that results in a fairly serious hip injury. Woodward finds himself with no reasonable choice but to enter a nursing home, though like most faced with this type of reality, he's none too happy about any of it. Upon arrival, he's as typically crotchety and cranky as you'd expect, intensely defiant and determined that soon enough he'll go back to his own home. What soon sets in, however, is the harsh reality that Neil is no longer at the top of his family's list like he once was. They seem to have more or less given up on him and as he comes to terms with this, he seeks comfort from the kind staff and the home's residents, many of whom are in a similar boat and have already come to terms with their situation.
Soon enough, Neil starts to think there may be more to this than he at first realizes. His hip seems fine, yet he's not checked out of this hospital. While he thinks that there may be some sort of bizarre conspiracy afoot, we realize that his mind has stopped working the way that it once was and that because of his condition, he's dealing with some very serious dementia that won't ever go away.
Not an easy subject to deal with, Schism takes the unique stance of telling the story from Neil's point of view. This allows Lyons' picture to portray a fairly chilling experience by putting us in Neil's shoes and bringing us along for his inevitable downward spiral. As Neil's faculties start to erode, we're shown Lyons' interpretation of what it must be like to suffer from such a condition and it's here that the aforementioned horrific elements come into play. The film pulls no punches in this regard, it does not paint a happy picture for Neil and while it never comes across as exploitative or trashy at all, it can get more than a little freaky at times. And rightly so. This is not a condition to be taken lightly, nor is it something that results in a perpetual 'happy place.'
Thanks to Terrance Smith's completely believable performance we're able to feel for Neil as he goes through this inevitable, unwanted and permanent changes. We understand his fears, his misgivings, his frustration and his deep sense of loss and we also get a feel for the increasingly encompassing confusion that's setting it. This gives the picture some fairly tense moments of legitimate suspense, though in between are some appropriate moments of humanity and even a bit of humor. The film isn't all bleak, and it's well put together, very nicely shot, and quite competently edited. There are some pacing issues to deal with here and there but by and large this is a pretty compelling piece of independent movie making, and Schism is an entirely worthwhile effort.
Schism shows up on DVD in a 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. This low budget film was shot on video and so it has some of the mosquito noise in the background from time to time that you can sometimes associate with the format. Detail levels aren't bad and color reproduction looks nice and natural, not boosted at all. There is some noticeable banding in some scenes, and maybe a few minor compression artifacts, but otherwise this is a well authored transfer of some fairly good looking source material. It isn't a flashy presentation, but it doesn't need to be and the visual presentation matches the tone of the film quite nicely.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix gets the job done without any problems. Levels are properly balanced, the score sounds fine and there are no problems to report with any audible hiss or distortion. A few scenes are maybe just a tad flat but aside from that, the movie sounds just fine. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.
The first disc in this set is barebones, save for some menus, chapter selection, and a list of credits. The second disc has a bunch of extras, however, starting with a collection of twelve deleted scenes. You can watch them individually or through the 'play all' button, and there's just over eighteen minutes of footage here, mostly relegated to extended character bits. Complimenting this is about seven minutes worth of outtakes, some of which are moderately amusing but most of which are simple line flubs.
In the Questions and Answers section you'll find two Q&A sessions, the first of which was shot at Edinboro University on April 18, 2008 (31:01), the second of which was shot at Mercyhurst College on November 11, 2008 (41:49). Both of these feature not only writer/director John Lyons but most of the cast members as well. There's some good information in here including what it was like to play specific parts, where the inspiration for the film came from and how it was made independently. Given that there's roughly seventy or so minutes of material here, it more or less makes up for the lack of a commentary track on the first disc.
Last but not least is a Behind The Scenes section that features two segments: Fly-On-The-Wall (23:04), which is a collection of clips shot on set while the film was in production and which are presented without context or narration, and Crew Outtakes (5:32) which is just some bits featuring the crew prepping for various scenes, again presented without much of a context or with any narration.
Despite its low budget, Schism works really well thanks to some rock solid direction and a few really impressive performances. The transfer might not be flawless but it's certainly sufficient as is the audio and the disc includes its fair share of worthwhile extras as well. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.