by Jason Coffman
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Zack Parker’s Scalene has been getting attention recently from horror web sites like Dread Central and Bloody Disgusting, which is somewhat confusing since it is not a horror film at all. What Scalene actually is, however, is considerably more difficult to define. While not quite as graphically violent as Simon Rumley’s recent Red, White & Blue, Scalene almost inevitably calls that film to mind with its three-character focus and depiction of extremely unusual and unpleasant human behavior. While Rumley’s film was about dismantling the concept of the revenge film, Scalene examines both the fallout from and the events leading up to an irrational act that changes the lives of everyone involved. This is definitely not a fun movie.
As the film opens, Janice (Margo Martindale) shows up at the home of Paige (Hanna Hall), forces her way in, and attacks Paige. From here, the film works backwards to show Janice’s life falling apart and the events leading up to her attacking Paige. Janice is the mother of Jakob (Adam Scarimbolo), a young man who suffers from brain damage that prevents him from speaking or communicating with anyone. The audience is clued in early that something has happened between Jakob and Paige, who has been acting as Jakob’s part-time caregiver, and the film runs on a parallel track back to that event as well.
The structure of the film is explained by its title: a “scalene” is a triangle of three unequal sides. The three principal characters each have a section of the film in which their story is told, and each story is structured differently. To say much more would spoil the film’s many surprises, but the film definitely demands careful attention to be paid. Some events happen differently in different sections of the film, which may reflect the characters’ state of mind or suggest that they may be an unreliable narrator. Scalene also seems to suggest that in situations like the one depicted in the film, perhaps there is no such thing as a “reliable narrator.”
The fact remains, though, that at its center Scalene hinges on an act so unbelievably bizarre and irrational that any motive the surrounding story may provide is insufficient to explain it. It is, in fact, so outlandish that it is possible that it is derived from a true story in that it is often impossible to imagine what could drive a person to do things that are completely insane to anyone other than the person responsible. The attempt at depicting the situations and events that could lead a person to this kind of behavior is at the heart of Scalene, but this may be a case in which the filmmakers have simply taken a shot at the impossible: explaining that which is truly, fundamentally inexplicable.
The film’s structure is certainly unique and ambitious, and luckily the film’s three leads are all excellent. Margo Martindale is devastating as Janice, the harried mother who desperately loves her son and cares for him at the expense of her own personal life. Honestly, she is often difficult to watch as Janice has more and more difficulties and misery piled on her already awful situation. Hanna Hall is excellent as Paige, and she has some traumatic scenes that she makes genuinely uncomfortable. Adam Scarimbolo has the unenviable task of making Jakob an actual character without using any dialogue, which he handles deftly. To his credit, director Zack Parker has unquestionably created a provocative, difficult, and unique film in Scalene. It’s certainly not for everyone, but for anyone looking for a film that gives them plenty to think about after it’s over, Scalene is worth seeking out.
Scalene is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Along the Tracks Productions. Special features include teaser and theatrical trailers, featurettes on the film’s reception at the Dances with Films festival, and the Blu-ray includes a 2.5 hour documentary on the making of the film entitled Perceiving Reality: The Making of Scalene directed by Jakob Bilinski.
Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He writes reviews for Film Monthly and “The Crown International Files” for Criticplanet.org as well as contributing to Fine Print Magazine (www.fineprintmag.net).
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