I’ve said before that there are some movies where the credits are the best part. Usually I’m saying that the movie sucked, but sometimes I mean something entirely different. As much as I hate to sully the good name of a flick I liked by bringing up an M. Night Shamwow film, do you remember the first time you saw The Sixth Sense? Once you found out that Bruce Willis was dead, you went back over the movie in your mind and started picking out the clues. You’ll be doing the same thing with Skew. As much as I dug the movie, the most enjoyable part for me was during the credits when I began to go back and process the film in light of the final twist, putting all of the pieces together. That’s the sign of a well written film.
In Skew, Rich, his girlfriend Eva, and their friend Simon set off on a road trip to a wedding. Laura, Simon’s girlfriend, has decided at the last minute not to go. Simon brings his new camcorder and is constantly filming, much to the annoyance of Rich and Ava. Tensions begin to mount as we slowly discover that there may be more to the three friend’s relationship than meets the eye. Further complicating matters is Simon’s camera. It distorts people’s faces. Then those people die. Then the camera shows their ghosts. Is Simon losing it, or is the camera, which he just can’t put down, really showing him these things? As nerves fray and people die, can the three friends survive? Who’s next? What happened with Laura? What’s up with that camera? Is it still under warranty? Did Simon keep the receipt?
According to the press kit, Skew was filmed in 2005. That fact is very important to my enjoyment of the film. I have made no bones about the fact that I am absolutely sick of found footage movies. It’s like any cinematic or musical genre. The first wave was mostly good. Then we got the imitators, which were a mixed bag at best. Now we’re seeing the imitators of the imitators, and in some cases the imitators of the imitators of the imitators, and their originality and quality have suffered accordingly. Since this was filmed in ’05 however, that puts it way ahead of the curve. It was after Blair Witch in ‘99 but before Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield in ‘07. In fact, the only FFFs I can think of made between ’99 and ’05 were The Last Horror Movie and the August Underground flicks. Watching the conventions of the subgenre, like night vision or the slow pan around the room culminating in a jump scare, is incredibly irritating when watching one of the third or fourth generation flicks. Watching this and knowing that it was innovative at the time makes these things impressive. It’s a damn shame that post production and distribution took 5 years, because if this had beat the FFF glut it would have been a big hit.
The best thing about this movie is that it’s smart. Extremely smart. It has the kind of plot that you get on a surface level while it’s going on, but you really get when you ponder it later. The way we slowly find out about the underlying tensions and sub-plots between the three main characters keeps the tension high and the revelations coming. This is the only time I’ve ever seen a found footage movie where the audience is not sure if what we’re seeing is real. We see the footage being rewound, so are we seeing through the camera or the eyes of the cameraman? The strange stuff is gone when it’s rewound, so was the camera really showing it or was it just what Simon was seeing through it. It would seem that questions about visual identification wouldn’t lend itself to this subgenre, but this flick plays with the concept perfectly.
This would probably be more accurately described as a psychological thriller than a straight ahead horror flick, as it focuses more on the story and less on visceral shocks. When the film did go for a jump scare, however, they were great. There’s one in particular that is one of the most original “startle shocks” I’ve seen in a long long time. I’d much rather a movie show me a few scare moments done well than rely on constant cheap jump scares throughout. One performance stood out as particularly good, that of Amber Lewis as Eva. She came across as very genuine. She kept an air of mystery about her character that helped the subplot of…wait…I’m not giving that away. Almost slipped up there. Anyway, she’s very good, Taneal Cutting is good (and really hot for the record) as Laura, and Rob Scattergood does some good voice acting as Simon, who we never really see. Richard Olak, who played Rich, was pretty good for the most part, but there are a few moments where he’s looking into the camera while Simon is talking, and I have no idea what emotion he’s supposed to be conveying. Honestly, he looks like he’s taking a dump a couple of times there. At the end when he confronts Simon, his performance felt kinda restrained.
I did have a bit of a problem with the pacing of this movie. It’s slow. I mean really slow. I have no problem with a slow burn, but there were parts of the movie where it drug. The back of the DVD describes it as “steady-paced.” I think that’s stretching it a bit. It does a good job of holding the tension about 85% of the time, but I think a couple of minutes trimmed from certain parts would have kept things moving at a steadier clip without sacrificing the deliberate pace. The movie could have benefited from being tightened up a little. A couple of these spots that could have been tightened up involved the camera being put down pointing at nothing while we hear the action going on off camera. I see and dig what they were going for here, basically turning it into a radio drama and making us imagine what’s going on, but I think that technique would have been more effective if it had been used more sparingly.
This flick has been making quite an impression on the festival circuit, and I can see why. Smart storytelling like this is, sadly, getting more and more scarce in the horror genre. Skew rises above the POV-shot pack to deliver an atmospheric, intelligent, well made independent thriller that’s definitely worth seeing. I know, I’m burned out on found footage flicks too, but don’t let that stop you from seeing Skew. It’s damn good. It’s one of those movies where you realize just how intricate the seemingly simple plot is after the finale. Pay attention, just about everything in this movie means something, from major occurrences to little seemingly insignificant lines. It does get a little slow in places, but the payoff is worth the wait. Just don’t watch the trailer before you watch the movie. I’m serious. In fact, I IMPLORE you not to watch the trailer. Remember those really good shock scares I was talking about? The trailer gives most of them away, and they’re too good for you to want to spoil. Trust me. To tell you the truth, the production stills and press photos reveal too much. In fact, just avoid any press about this flick until after you see it. Well, except for this review. It’s a little late now, isn’t it? Oh well. I don’t believe it’s available commercially on DVD yet, but it is available on Netflix. One and a half severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.