FEBRUARY 7, 2010
It doesn’t take much to get me to want to watch a Rachel Nichols movie, but something about For Sale By Owner kept making me pause and get something else at Blockbuster, despite it being on the shelf for a few months now. But I got a screener copy from my friend (along with several others - she gives me a batch every couple of months) and figured it was high time to see what the complete lack of fuss was about. For a movie sporting a pretty prolific cast (Nichols, Kris Kristofferson, Tom Skerritt, Skeet Ulrich) and written by the same guy (Scott Cooper) who wrote/directed current awards darling Crazy Heart, I thought it would have more presence. But no - I can’t even find too many reviews, which is a bummer as I have no idea what the hell I just watched.
If I had to guess, I would say that Cooper’s script was either never filmed properly, or the film itself was tinkered into incoherency in post production. How else to explain the myriad number of scenes that come and go out of nowhere, the ending that manages to make the movie even MORE confusing than you could have ever suspected, and a final version of a film in which one of its credited stars (Friday Night Lights’ Aimee Teegarden) doesn’t even appear, or does so quickly that I couldn’t even spot her?
I would also guess that Cooper’s script was personal on some level. Maybe he doesn’t know his family’s history, like the character he plays does, or maybe someone in his family suffered from schizophrenia and/or was an obsessive preservationist. It just has that FEEL that it was coming from a personal place, and if nothing else, the movie is at least unique - I can’t remember ever seeing ANY movie about the toil that preserving historical locations can take on a person, let alone a horror movie.
And don’t let the “psychological thriller” claim on the DVD fool you - this IS a horror movie. We get the “room suddenly filled with insects” freak out scare scene, the dripping blood from the ceiling scene, ghostly kids, many jump scares caused by loud noises, etc. Hell, they even step up the horror generic cliché game by combining the “faucet begins pouring blood instead of water” gag AND the “pan back to a mirror and see someone standing behind the hero” gag in a single shot! Way to circumvent the unending dullness of such moments!
To be fair, the film is, on a technical level anyway, above and beyond the usual DTV fare. In addition to the aforementioned cast, there are real songs on the soundtrack (Dave Matthews!), it’s shot in scope 2.35:1, and while the bulk of the film is set in the house, it’s A. a good locale and B. they use the rest of the town, as well as a college and Nichols’ apartment. This type of movie usually tries to confine itself to one location for pretty much the entire time (Deadline comes to mind), but this one feels expansive. I could even see it playing in theaters (maybe if P2 was a hit it would have - the movie was shot in 2007 and just hit stores in late 2009).
But it’s all a waste, because the maddeningly vague and confusing ending tells you that everything you saw was a dream (or, more correctly, a depiction of the hero’s fractured psyche), but it comes out of nowhere, which makes it feel like a deus ex machina explanation that they came up with to avoid coming up with answers for all of the potential plot holes that were raised in the earlier parts of the film. A film like Stay (which has a very similar structure) had some puzzling moments as well, but the answers were fairly hinted at throughout the film (multiple shots of the car crash), and the “dream” story was self-contained and fairly coherent. For Sale By Owner’s is nothing of the sort - there are multiple minor subplots that not only have no bearing on the ultimate reveal, but they never seem to have any connection to the “dream” story either.
Worse, it ties into a real legend (Roanoke), but seemingly assumes that the viewer will be more than just familiar with the story. I know (think?) that it’s about a colony that disappeared and that the word “Croatoan” has something to do with it, but the specifics are forgotten. So how can someone with even LESS knowledge of the story be expected to understand the significance of a news reporter at the end of the film saying that a 400 year old tree with the letters “C-R-O” had been found? Most viewers would probably just look at the credits to see which character had those letters in his/her name (though not if they were also watching this screener, as there ARE no ending credits for some reason, just a few stills from the movie and then a long black screen where they should go). Again, I assume this all made sense in the script at some point, but the finished product is just a giant head-scratcher.
I entertained the notion that my screener was simply a rough edit (there are several odd edits where they seem to be establishing someone driving somewhere, only for the next scene to occur in the same place we just were), but the officially listed running time is the same as my copy and the IMDb board was filled with folks who were just as baffled by the film. So that’s not it - it’s simply a mess of a movie. Maybe Cooper can shed some light on it over the next couple months as Crazy Heart makes its way around the awards circuit, since the DVD (unsurprisingly) lacks extras. Good luck to him on that, by the way.
What say you?
P.S. If you missed the post, today is the 3 year birthday of Horror Movie A Day - February 7th, 2007 was the first time I watched a movie with the intention of doing the same thing the day after, and the next day after that, and so on... Happy Birthday, HMAD!