(2010) Written and directed by: Sevé Schelenz; Starring: Richard Olak, Amber Lewis and Robert Scattergood; Available on Netflix Streaming
Rating: *** ½
Full disclosure: When I was contacted by writer/director Sevé Schelenz to review his film Skew, I was apprehensive for a couple of reasons. First, Cinematic Catharsis isn’t exactly a “brand-name” blog, so I wondered what the catch was. Was this a legitimate film or some sort of prank? Being a rather trusting individual, I concluded that Schelenz was on the up and up, and that this was a sincere attempt by a filmmaker to spread the word about his movie by utilizing a more “grass roots” approach. With screener copy in hand, I soon faced another dilemma. What if I didn’t like his movie? Based on our email conversation, Mr. Schelenz seemed like a nice guy, and I’d hate to dash his hopes. I realized that my wee blog’s influence on the film-going public was probably infinitesimally small, but I couldn’t help shake the notion that my potentially negative review could directly or indirectly affect his career. I was relieved to discover that once I’d put my neurotic notions aside long enough to watch Skew, Schelenz had actually crafted a better-than-average psychological thriller.
Skew doesn’t start on a particularly promising note, looking a little too much like other found footage movies that involve one over-zealous character and his camcorder. We’re introduced to three 20-somethings, about to embark on a car trip. It doesn’t take a clairvoyant to anticipate that tensions will build between the characters, as they always do, and things will devolve from tentatively cordial to quarrelsome. While none of this portion of the story appears out of place, the film gradually gains momentum by toying with expectations. Akin to the film’s title, something in Skew appears to be a bit off, and you begin to wonder where it’s taking you.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the found footage sub-genre, which has always seemed somewhat contrived for my taste, but Schelenz does an admirable job of providing a credible explanation for the camera’s presence in the story. We learn that Simon (Robert Scattergood) is using his camcorder as an emotional crutch, helping to fill in the blanks of an empty childhood. He’s creating a new reality for himself with his camera, feeding his compulsion by documenting everything he sees. His single-minded hobby takes a dark turn when he begins to see distorted faces through his lens. When his fellow travelers fail to see what he sees, we begin to question Simon’s mental stability. To complicate matters, there seems to be a correlation between his visions and the deaths of people he’s filmed. But the question remains, why is it that only he can view their distorted faces through his lens? This reminded me a bit of the premise behind the classic Twilight Zone episode “The Purple Testament” (where a soldier identifies people who were about to die by looking at their faces), but Schelenz’s story evolves into something else entirely.
Simon’s best buddy Rich (Richard Olak) humors his friend’s odd behavior, although his patience eventually wears thin. His girlfriend Eva (Amber Lewis) seems far less tolerant of Simon’s eccentricities and his intrusive camcorder, shooting daggers whenever she stares back through the lens. At first, she just appears to be overtly hostile, but you begin to see that her behavior is probably justified. There’s obviously more to their contentious relationship than meets the eye, as Simon’s camera lingers on her a little too long in several scenes. It leaves the viewer feeling a little voyeuristic and unclean, which I’m guessing was Schelenz’s intent.
Skew falls into some of the traps of the found footage sub-genre, with its bickering characters and conceit that all of the key scenes just happened to end up on tape. I’m also left to question why someone didn’t punch Simon’s lights out or take his camcorder when he got too intrusive. I also found it a little difficult to believe that he could maintain an unbroken, in focus, shot when he was engaged in an emotionally charged discussion. While these scenes still work, taken in the proper context, it detracts from the film’s overall verisimilitude.
In the press kit, Schelenz cited The Blair Witch Project as one of the primary influences for his debut film, but I think that’s selling Skew a little short. While The Blair Witch Project was fairly straightforward, Skew toys with the subjective and the objective, asking us how much we can trust what we’ve just witnessed. The ending seems ambiguous at first, but begins to coalesce as our brain processes what has occurred and we reassemble the pieces. Skew is a pastiche of familiar elements, assembled into an intriguing whole that ultimately surpasses its parts.
* On a side note, Skew hasn’t been released on DVD yet, but for all of you Netflix users out there it’s available for instant viewing.