DECEMBER 30, 2010
There’s a good movie somewhere in Killing Ariel, but the muddled and repetitive script keeps it from ever rising to the surface. The film boasts two directors, which is perfect for the film’s ultimate problem – it lacks a coherent vision. It tries to be a psychological-based tale AND a supernatural one, and in trying to combine both ends up succeeding at neither.
The main problem is that there are too many timelines. We start in 1933, then flash to the present day as our hero Rick is about to tell his psychiatrist something that happened in 1973. Now, actor Michael Brainard has the ‘unfortunate’ benefit of not looking his age, so this was a bit confusing – he’s supposed to be about 45 (and in real life he was) but he looked like he was in his 30s to me, so they probably should have cast an older actor or changed the opening date to 1943. I’d actually go with the latter, as Brainard’s actually pretty good in the role, and makes the character sympathetic despite the fact that the movie is basically about him cheating on his wife. Also, when he goes nuts in the 2nd half of the film, he reminded me of the best Michael Keaton performances, where he’s unhinged but still likable. Good work, sir.
But back to the timeline issues, it's not just the awkward transition from one to the other - it gets even worse. At one point, Brainard (in a flashback) reads a diary entry, and in that diary entry, the author has a flashback! So its 2008, and a guy is telling his shrink about the time in 1973 that he read a diary entry from 1933 about something that happened a few years before. Jesus Christ. Now I know how people must have felt if they tried watching a season 5 episode of Lost without ever having the show before.
Adding to the confusion is the old movie standby of “is he crazy or is this happening?”, exacerbated by the fact that the plot is, as the title suggests, about killing Ariel. It’s not a spoiler, Ariel just won’t stay dead. So he kills her over and over again (or DID HE?), and she comes back over and over in turn; sometimes as if nothing happens, other times taunting him, and eventually talking to him as a disembodied head. Also, sometimes it’s played for laughs (Evil Dead 2 came to mind more than once), other times it’s straight up psychological thriller. The tone in this movie is as erratic as its timeframe.
But then the twist (of course there’s a twist) came around, and it was a really good one that I neither saw coming nor can recall being used before, at least on a specific level. Unfortunately, its impact is lessened by the director’s insistence on closing the film with another “scare”, which renders the explanation potentially false. I can’t think of any off hand, but I know it’s not the first time I’ve seen this sort of “have their cake and eat it too” ending in a horror movie, and it annoys me every time. One or the other is great/acceptable; both is annoying.
Also, the girl playing Ariel is cute and unabashedly naked quite often, but is not the best actress. She’s supposed to be an exotic “perfect” woman and thus she has an accent and looks like she could be several nationalities, but her limited acting range and lack of chemistry with Brainard is damaging at times. It’s her first movie so I won’t hold it against her, but I couldn’t help but think if the movie would have improved with someone more experienced (if anything, she should be stealing scenes from Brainard, and not just with her breasts). They also could have used more scenes with Brainard’s family, since they are crucial to the film’s final scenes but largely forgotten about by the time they got there; I actually forgot he even had a son for a few minutes.
Another item for the "pro" column - it's a horror film shot in/around Los Angeles featuring a hospital, but it's NOT the Linda Vista. Thank you, filmmakers.
The disc’s sole extra beyond some trailers is a pretty decent behind the scenes that largely focuses on stuff we don’t see too often, namely the rehearsal process and how two directors work together (one handles the actors, one handles the technical stuff, at least they claim – we see the ‘actor’ director explaining where the camera should be at one point). Some of it is the usual boring stuff about applying makeup or whatever, and it could have used some interview pieces, but it’s a bit better than the average indie making of piece (in that it’s watchable).
It’s not a very long movie (85 minutes) so it’s not a question of editing; this movie needs “alternative” scenes to operate at 100% capacity. A little less time with the Killing Ariel stuff (or the pointless epilogue), and a little more time with the family and perhaps showing us “what really happened” in clearer detail at the end, and you’d have a really solid and fairly original flick. Points for trying though.
What say you?