Saturday, July 30, 2011

Fantasia 2011 Feedback: Victims

Victims (2011, David Bryant)

Sometimes the most exciting movies playing at festivals are not those movies buffs await with gleeful anticipation, but rather the ones that play in the smaller, half empty rooms because nobody really decided to pay attention to them. The budgets are smaller than on other projects and the premise far simpler, but because the director and his actors invested so much effort into crafting the best film they possibly could with what resources were available to them, the satisfaction extracted from the film far outweighs when seemed possible. Such was the case last week when myself and what literally seemed like a handful of people witnessed the world premiere of Englishmen David Bryant’s Victims.

On his wedding day, a man (John Bocelli) is brutality taken away before the ceremony and tossed in the storage section of a truck, where a masked women mercilessly accuses him of raping and murdering a young girl 20 years ago. Their goal is to exact proper vengeance for the sake of the little girl, without ever going into specifics as to how they shall go about the matter. The frightened and confused man naturally denies what he deems to be wild and unfounded accusations. His pleas for mercy are only met with feverish contempt from the women, fists to the gut courtesy of her right hand man, and the cold glare of the cameraman filming the entire event. The kidnappers know what they claim is his real name and virtually everything about him, including which football club he supports. Attempts to reason with them prove to be futile, but this truck ride is but the beginning of a hellishly draining experience for the captive. Upon arriving at their destination (a dusty and seemingly abandoned building), it is revealed that the terrorists have also have in their clutches the man’s wife to be. Who is the real victim here? The man, his wife, the little girl murdered 20 years ago? And up goes the ante...

The first thing most viewers will notice is that Victims is captured in a single camera take (unless there are any hidden edits, but it seems unlikely given the sort of picture it is). This quietly lends the movie with a genuine sense of tension. There are no ‘fake’ or artificial cinematic techniques employed to raise the stakes and push the narrative forward, and the fact that Bryant pulls off the trick at all is a feat in of itself. Never would I argue that all films should be make in one take for there is an art to editing that should never be overlooked, but the risk with the 1 take technique makes the rewards feel very special. Deliberately choosing to reveal the entire story in a single take means that the script and direction must pay unbelievably close attention to pacing, more specifically the time required to lay the stakes down on the proverbial table and then ratchet up the tension with revelation upon revelation. Things must be timed to near perfection, otherwise the audience loses interest and the strategy might end up merely calling too much attention to itself. Director David Bryant, who also took care of the script, has a solid grasp on how to handle the technique, aware of when exactly to reveal something new, and when to turns the screws a little bit tighter to leave the audience either suffocating or perhaps dumbfounded as to what they should start believing.

Which leads the author to another quality the movie displays marvellously, that is, its ability to play the audience as well as its characters. As might be expected, the treatment of John Bocelli’s character in the opening minutes naturally inclines the viewer to empathize with him. Who are these freak kidnappers and how dare they mistreat someone such? As the minutes tick by and the woman who leads the vigilante operation demonstrates how much inside knowledge she has into this frightened man’s life, it becomes increasingly plausible that she could be on to something. Her behaviour and that of the brute of a man who continuously intimidates the captive with his fists a is despicable, but what if...just what if this chap is in fact the same man who literally destroyed a perfectly innocent little girl two decades prior? There is therefore a section of film where that becomes a point of contention the audience must wrestle with. Bryant then turns the intensity level up a few levels by having the man’s bride enter the fray. She is just as appalled as her fiancĂ© about the treatment they are receiving at the hands of these thugs, but once again the perpetrators of the operation continue to show evidence, sometimes physical and sometimes not, to solidify their claim a little bit more each time. When the wife begins to ask questions to her love, albeit in calmer manner than the vigilantes, the audience knows that things are getting really, really, sticky all of a sudden. 

From that point on things only grow worse, in the best sense possible. Incredibly enough, the eventual revelation as to who is telling the truth and who is in error is only the penultimate event of the film’s plot. That’s correct readers, more is to come even after all that. What are the consequences of everyone’s action now? Who is to pay for what and how?  Watching the film, I was enthralled by the effortlessness with which the characters were whisked from one point of contention to another, as the stress level and emotional taxation continued to grow on everyone, including the viewers.  For someone who had only made a single film up until that point in his young career, David Bryant pulled off quite the coup with Victims. Just the fact that he takes the pains to explore every single facet of the event, from the initial capture when things are very confusing, to the aftermath of the final revelation when people must reconcile with what has transpired, is enough to warrant applause.

To return to a point mentioned briefly in the opening paragraph, there remains the fact that Victims is a tiny, tiny film. One has large studio blockbusters, medium budget films, independent films and then truly tiny films. David Bryant’s Victims firmly falls in that last category. This movie is once again proof that if the sheer talent and dedication are present, then how much a movie costs is absolutely secondary. The cast of unknown actors all deliver credible, truthful performances, with some of their best work, especially for central figure John Bocelli, coming in the latter stages of the movie when the emotional ride becomes very messy for all sorts of reasons. It is next to impossible to discuss the meatiest section of the movie without soiling the most critical revelation of them all, so unfortunately the review will have to end here. Regardless of whatever finer points may have been elaborated on in this article, the single most important one is that anyone who has access to Victims should watch it. The movie’s simple premise belies many intricate, psychological and emotional layers that make much, much more than meets the eye.


blahblahblah Toby said...

sounds like it could be my kind of movie. one take? thats some serious choreography.

edgarchaput said...

@blahblahblah Toby: Yes, one take. Unless there is some very subtle editing going on, but the film was advertised as having only one take in the festival program book, so I'd be rather disappointed if it proved untrue.

It really is a great little accomplishment of a film.

blahblahblah Toby said...

well i'm not gonna watch too closely for the hidden cut. that would ruin th enjoyment afterall. i think i read somewhere that even russian ark had some hidden cuts. but there wasnt much storyline to that one and no real need to do it.