Scalene is the latest directorial feat from Zack Parker. If the name sounds unfamiliar to you… well, you’re not alone. This is the first of Parker’s features that I’ve seen and I do this for a living. Sadly, for most, Scalene will be yet another Zack Parker film that will go unnoticed. Not because it isn’t worthwhile, but because it’s the kind of quiet thriller that slips under most people’s radars.
Hailed as a “perceptual thriller,” Scalene is the type of film that defies definition. At first I was expecting something akin to Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, the same events but seen through a different set of eyes. Furthermore, the word “thriller” calls to mind exciting car chases, gunplay, and the occasional gratuitous sex scene. Scalene is not that film. It’s a unique experience, entirely its own.
It honestly feels like it would be more accurate to call the film a multi-perspective sleeper. We are never treated to the same scenes, except for the finale which bookends the film, so for those afraid of the repetitious nature of “perceptual” movies, allow me to put your fears to rest. The film subtly bleeds from one perspective to the next, rotating among mother Janice, her son Jakob, and caregiver Paige. While the transitions from one perspective to the next are subtle, what makes Scalene so refreshing is that each character is given a distinct voice.
Scalene begins with Janice, played by the talented Margo Martindale, as she dances between rage, depression, and ultimately, love for her son. Even though the film starts quite abruptly, her compassionate tale of care for her son is a soft lead-in to some of the heavier elements that the film has to offer. Scalene then shifts perspectives to Jakob, who suffered an accident and has been rendered mute and mentally handicapped. This is where Scalene shines as a perceptual movie. Even though Jakob has no real lines in the film, Parker manages to create a fully-formed character through what he shows us with Jakob. Jakob’s story is disconnected and sometimes incoherent, but it captures the fractured psyche of this innocent young man with painstaking beauty. However, chaos erupts as the movie explores Paige’s understanding of events. With Paige, we are finally given an outside perspective and one that completely alters our understandings of the characters that we thought we knew up until this point. Simple lines that sounded so sweet coming from Janice are now spat with a venomous rage, unleashing a side of Martindale I’ve never seen before.
Honestly, even through the convoluted story and the discontinuous editing of the film, Scalene shines as a well-acted character study. Margo Martindale, who is consistently phenomenal, is unrecognizable as she completely embodies this character. However, the most impressive performance of the film belongs to Hanna Hall, who plays Paige. Although her motives remain unclear for the majority of the movie, Hall captures a sense of naivety even as we watch her somewhat misguided story play out. Ultimately, she has the kind of tender grace and virtuousness that makes her absolutely captivating to watch, even in moments that you wish you could look away.
Although a bit scattered at times, Scalene is the type of film that filmmakers should be striving to make. A slow-burn thriller with only one or two gunshots, Scalene is truly a marvel in modern genre filmmaking. Beautifully choreographed and exquisitely acted, this is the type of film that, unfortunately, most people will miss out on. Not because it isn’t good, but because it is the type of film that defies categorization and all expectations. Scalene is a remarkable exercise in the “perceptual thriller” and one that must be seen to be believed.