JANUARY 16, 2010
Like last year's (for me) Frayed, Shattered Lives owes a bit to the original Halloween, but in a way that I found refreshing instead of annoying. It's not a perfect film, and it gets a bit too melodramatic in its third act, but it's a step in the right direction for independent filmmakers seeking to put their own stamp on the slasher film, which is of course the most over-mired subgenre in all of film history, not just horror.
Instead of copying Halloween's structure, Shattered Lives merely finds a way to put a spin on its opening shocker (that our killer was a little kid) that actually works. After an opening slasher (and fairly splatter-y) segment, the film details Rachel, a girl of maybe 6 or 7 whose mind is cracking under the stress (for lack of an age-appropriate word) of her parents' failing marriage. She starts conversing with two imaginary clowns (living embodiments of two of her dolls), and they eventually convince her to stab her mother, in a scene that actually managed to shock despite being set up for at least 20 minutes prior to its occurrence. And there are other little references to Carpenter's classic, such as a scene played out through the eye-holes of a mask, or the 2.35 image (very rare for these things). But that's why a film like this works when something like Offerings fails - it obviously owes a debt to Halloween, but in a way that feels unique. Whereas some films seem like the director watched Halloween and took a few notes while saying "I can do this", this feels like the product of a filmmaker who saw Halloween as a kid, loved it, and is paying homage to it (possibly even subconsciously) when he goes off to make his own film years later.
I also dug the balls of Carl Lindbergh to start the film off with his biggest setpiece and then more or less present a character based psychological drama for the next 75 minutes. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the overlong and rather pointless hyper-edit replay of the opening massacre that comes near the end of the film was the result of a producer or distributor demanding more "action" in the finale. Not only that, but we discover the nature of the killings, which adds another layer of tragedy to it. It's interesting, early this morning (12:01 am to be exact!) I finally saw the French film Irreversible, and that film also shows us a brutal killing, and then later tells us why it occurred. It's not quite as justified here as it was in Irreversible, but it's the same sort of thing, playing with our ideas of violence.
Another ballsy move? Creating the most hateful mother I've ever seen in a film. Seriously, the mom from Baby Blues is a better mother than this (four letter word I shouldn't say but is really the only one to use here). She takes her daughter to the park so she can make out with her paramour (she even lets the kid watch) and then later has the guy over the house with her daughter there (dad's at work)! Then when the dad surprises her with plane tickets to Hawaii for just the two of them, she starts bitching at him for that too. At one point she even gets angry because her husband loves their daughter "differently" than he loves her. Uh, I think there are laws about a guy loving his daughter the same way he loves his wife, so that's sort of a good thing on his part. She also threatens to leave and tells the girl it will be her fault if their marriage ends. Honestly, it's amazing it took two rhyming and imaginary clowns to convince the girl to stab this bitch.
Ah yes, the clowns. They don't really do much beyond look creepy and rhyme, but they add a layer of quirky originality to the film all the same, and even though they get annoying, they are a huge part of what keeps this movie afloat. In fact, there are a lot of odd little moments throughout the film, such as when the girl has a tea party with her dolls and Lindbergh provides closeup cutaways of each one. Or the fact that the family's refrigerator inexplicably has a painting of a rooster on it. It extends to the technical side of things as well; the aspect ratio occasionally changes to 4:1 for some reason (yet it doesn't appear to be an anamorphic error - everything we see is scaled correctly).
The DVD has no extras, which is a bummer as I would have liked to have listened to Lindbergh talk about the process of making his film (which he wrote, directed, produced, and edited) and maybe explain why his child actor (who isn't the best in the world, honestly) looks nothing like her parents (though the grownup version does look a LOT like the mother, to the extent that I was momentarily confused). And of course, verify my beliefs about Halloween, cuz if it was just coincidence I'd feel really bad for chalking these moments up to homage instead of creativity. At any rate, it's more than just a notch or two above the usual indie junk LG puts out, and I look forward to Lindbergh's next film Bunnyman, despite the fact that it sounds a lot like a concept I had been cooking up recently. BUT maybe in 20 years I can make my movie and then some movie reviewer can theorize that I was influenced by Bunnyman. That'd be funny.
What say you?