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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This sounded like a truly fascinating concept. A motion picture
equivalent of the "choose your own adventure" novels. Instead, however,
it plays out like a regular film that has decided to skip chapters on
its own, and only occasionally give you enough control to tenuously
nail down and watch scenes before that very control is yanked away from
you and the film zips on to a completely different character with a
completely different story.
Right off the top, we've got a young girl holding a revolver to sleeping man, then shooting him in the neck and watching him die. Who are they? Why did she shoot him? Naturally, one wants to find the answer to these questions, though the presentation doesn't exactly help point the viewer in the right direction. Essentially, the film boils down to the interwoven stories of Faye, Kevin and Theo. All three attend "Restorative Justice Meetings" which serve as the nexus of the film, often coming back to the group leader mumbling about something as the film cuts between characters, giving the viewer the choice of who to follow next.
If left running, the film runs into loops of the same two or three shots (the previously mentioned "Restorative Justice Meetings"), forcing you to choose a path. At first, the best way to view the film is by just letting it run, then picking a character only in the loops. However, you'll be presented with a series of seemingly unconnected scenes from all three characters with little light shed on questions you'll obviously have while watching, chief among them, "Who are these characters and how do they relate to the opening murder?". Things do come together, with focus on whoever you choose to follow, but much of their stories require you to probe deeper.
I think the major error that the filmmakers made, and one that if fixed would truly make the film worth watching, is that left to run, the film will cycle between the three characters' stories until viewer input expounds upon the currently presented character. This is simply the wrong approach, and leaves the viewer confused and annoyed. When you become interested in one character's story, you tend to pay attention to what's happening. Then all of a sudden, the scene cuts to a different character. Oh no, you were supposed to hit enter in the previous scene! Go back! But no, you can't go back, the DVD has disabled that function for technical reasons, so you're left to dig through a complicated scene select menu to attempt to locate the scene you were previously viewing. I think I hit the MENU button on my remote more often than I hit ENTER. On top of that, sometimes hitting ENTER at different times within a single scene yields different results, so you're left watching scenes over and over to get the most out of that character's narrative, or simply to find the point you were at previously. It'd be nice if there was something in the subtitles that would tell the viewer when a new thread can be accessed, or warn them when a scene is about to end. The filmmakers no doubt wanted to maintain a transparent interface, but it simply doesn't quite work. Plus, skipping around from scene to scene robs you from fully viewing one scene. If you really want to follow one character, you're constantly jamming the ENTER button in fear that the scene ends and you won't be able to, but never really allowing the scene to play out.
Why bother make this film interactive in the first place? The "choose the story" method doesn't work for this film at all. It's not really a "choose your own adventure" - it's like you tore all the pages out of a novel and stuffed them back together at random, occasionally shuffling them as you go. This level of interactivity would better suit an action picture (three attack teams move in, who do you want to watch?), a comedy (what's going through the minds of the characters at the time?), a horror flick (which camp counselor do you want to follow through the dark?), a documentary (want to learn more about a specific subject, or extend an interview?), or a number of different genres. But for a film like this with its interwoven plots, a traditional narrative structure paired with a creative editor would suit the film much better, with possibly allowing the option to explore character motivations in certain scenes at the touch of a button (if you must have interactivity within the film).
Technically, the film is strong. Well shot, solid acting all around (though Faye's daughter is bit mopey and at one point tells a rather baffling fairy tale, though that's probably more down to the writing than her acting), and seems written quite realistically (despite that fairy tale). Music, however, is rather unremarkable with a lot of dull licenced music over varying scenes (including the opening, which I mute on repeat viewings). The rest of the score is rounded out with ambient tones and some guitar work, which is serviceable.
IN SHORT: There's a well-acted, quality movie in here, but it's buried under a broken structure. 6/10
(This is the abridged version - for full review: shambolicfrank.blogspot.com)
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