I've reviewed a fair number of Breaking Glass Pictures releases over the past year or two and, whilst like any distribution company, some of their movies work better for me than others, I have to commend them for the scope of their output. They have on their books some really stylish, innovative indie films and for that they must be commended. If companies like these didn't take a chance on new material, after all � who would? The new release of Scalene makes for a worthwhile addition to their books. Not a horror but a dark tragedy of errors, Scalene (meaning 'three unequal sides') refers to the format of the movie, as we are shown the viewpoint of three key players in a sad, engaging tale...

We start with a less than common antagonist, which in a movie landscape where all main characters seem to have to be college kids is unusual enough � a middle aged woman, not glamorous, and as we soon see, not infallible � arriving at the house of a young woman called Paige. When Paige answers the door, the woman begins talking wildly about 'wanting him back'. When she pulls a gun, her shambolic behaviour gives way to single-minded aggression.

Who is 'he'? Who are these women? The story works back from this point to answer our questions. The older woman, Janice, has a son � Jakob. He is key to this story, and the reason for the antagonism between Janice and Paige. He has been accused by Paige of raping her � something which is strongly contested by his mother, who believes that his mental condition makes such behaviour impossible. Paige has agreed to drop charges, so long as Jakob is taken to a rehabilitative institution. So, although it seems as though we are at the end of the line here, Scalene takes us back through the perspectives of Janice, Jakob and Paige to show us what brought them together. The resulting movie is impressive.

In the hands of a less talented team of writers (Brandon Owens and Zack Parker) and director (Zack Parker) then this could have been a disaster. The criticism would be obvious � if we already know the outcome, why bother with the rest? Happily this is not the case with Scalene. I was gripped. The way in which it moves sequentially back from a point in time, using the points-of-view of three characters whilst humanising them all, shows some real directorial flair. What we see here is normality cracking in reverse. The result is that the viewer is put in a position of great power � but what also feels like responsibility. We already know that terrible events unfold; finding out what causes them creates a sense of investment, a feeling that we need to get to the bottom of it all. To add to that, deft handling ensures that the plot segues together really well � there was nothing left out, nothing unexplained, nothing which would damage the overall choice of structuring.

I was pleased to see Margo Martindale appear in a starring role here; perhaps best-known to audiences as Camilla in HBO's work of brilliance, the series Dexter, she turns in a forceful, yet still deeply humane performance as Janice. Janice is a woman who has had her life turned upside down and inside out by the burden of caring for Jakob � now a twenty-six year old man who suffered something as a child which incapacitated him, also rendering him mute. All she wants to do is have a few hours of a normal life per week, but by the same token, she cannot cope without her son, and won't allow anything or anyone to come between them. Her world comes crashing down not just through one event but several at once and, as imperfect a person as she is, you really feel for her.

Jakob himself � well, at first I assumed his condition to be autism (which it is not, and you have to wait to find out exactly what he suffers from) but in any case, it is not easy to represent on screen, even less easy to show a personal point of view. The filmmakers do a reasonable job here, though perhaps they play their cards a little close to their chests, keeping us guessing about what he might or might not be aware of � though of course, as Jakob starts to figure in the lives of two women each trying to decipher what he does or doesn't want, we're on more of an equal footing with them in this respect.

The last touch-paper to add here then is Paige, a college girl who becomes part of Janice and Jakob's lives. To discuss her character too closely would be to spoiler, which is something I refuse to do, but the best summation would be that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Paige genuinely cares about Jakob, really seems to like Janice despite some serious misgivings, and behaves as she later does out of (what she believes to be) benevolent reasons. Coming back to our unique position of knowing from the outset that this situation will explode, it's hard seeing all these characters making mistakes, getting each other wrong � and yet trying so hard to do the right thing.

That the film takes adequate time showing us their motivations is probably the single reason I was able to take the twist in the tale in Scalene. This twist is extraordinary, extreme, and � yes � it may offend some viewers in how it is handled. It certainly pushes believability, but then, as the film reminds us throughout, people are flawed. People do stupid, harmful, misguided things because they're rarely (if ever) in the position of the viewers of Scalene, where they can see everything that is happening and make a considered choice based on that. 'Tragedy' is a clich� which is occasionally used to refer to films which are anything but, yet it's a term which works very well for Scalene, where its flawed few move seemingly inescapably to sadness whilst we watch. Where it comes bang up to date is by making us ask: what is selfless behaviour in our times? And are we any closer, even with everything at our fingertips, to understanding what truth is?

This is an outstandingly well-conceived, gripping indie drama. I shall be eagerly waiting to see what director Zack Parker does next.

My only major gripe would be with the quality of the screener: it was slightly clipped, jumped somewhat, and pixelated throughout, which was distracting (and makes it difficult to comment on the film and audio quality). Breaking Glass, you are marketing your product with these discs � please make sure they function!

Review by Keri O�Shea

Released by Breaking Glass Pictures
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review