Scalene promises that "the truth is just a point of view" in its advertising, a tagline that represents the film's jagged narrative. It's a film that shows us one thing in the beginning, then works backwards to explain how we got to that point. By bouncing from the perspective of one character to another, the film intends to create intrigue by drawing us in to what might have happened as it reveals the lives of its three main characters.
The description above is a little wordy, even for my tastes, and I never mean to get in to "rambling critic" mode so quickly. But Scalene is a more ambitious film than a lot of the independent thrillers that come my way, and I wanted to point out the lofty aspirations of the film - before I move in to the things that bugged me endlessly about it.
The disjointed narrative follows the mother (Margo Martindale) of an invalid adult son (Adam Scarimbolo) who has been locked up for some sort of violent behavior involving his college-aged caregiver (Hanna Hall). The film literally opens with a bang as the female leads go toe-to-toe over whatever has occurred, with Martindale assaulting Hall in her home. The film backtracks from this point showing us how all of these characters got together, but I struggled to keep myself too interested in in their journey.
For starters, there's Ms. Martindale, who is certainly the central attraction of the film. She's an actress who has shown a lot on much bigger stages - her work in the second season of TV's Justified is borderline amazing - but her work here seemed a little too far over the top for my taste. The film aims for extreme realism - the setting and low-budget aesthetic remind me of Steven Soderbergh's experimental drama Bubble - but I couldn't shake the feeling that the actress was a little bit past the point of restraint that would have best served the film.
Though her character may be a little much for me, I can't say that Martindale wasn't interesting in the film. The same can not be said for our other primary characters. Hall is serviceable as the young woman charged with caring for the son, but she stands out as an actress against the members of the cast who look more at home in the "everyday" setting of the film. On the other hand, Scarimbolo is an actor I had seen before - he had a memorable bit part in last year's Stake Land - but I did not recognize him as the affected young man. Unfortunately, there's not a lot that stands out aside from his physical commitment to the role, and I at times wasn't sure if I was annoyed by the character because I was supposed to be or because the role was grating to view.
Scalene tries to be a lot of things, but I just couldn't find much to love about any of it. The Memento-style narrative feels forced and predictable, and the cast just doesn't feel right. There is nothing that stands out technically (though that may be the fault of the DVD screener sent out by the distributor, which made the film look like a blurry copy of a VHS tape), and the final reveals don't inspire a lot of thought. Scalene is a film with grand aspirations, but I felt like it missed the mark too often for me to recommend it.
Scalene will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on July 31st, so you'll have your chance to see if I'm wrong then. If you want to learn more, check out the official site and the trailer below.