When Simon, Rich, and Eva head out on an eagerly anticipated road trip, they bring along a video camera to record their journey. What starts out as a carefree adventure slowly becomes a descent into the ominous as unexplained events threaten to disrupt the balance between the three close friends. Each one of them must struggle with personal demons and paranoia as friendships are tested and gruesome realities are revealed...and recorded.
As the 'quick-of-wit' among you may have deduced from the above synopsis, SKEW is a hand-held/found footage film....
I just wanted to get that straight right away. Now, I make no secrets of having a love for the handheld sub-genre, even though around 90% of the outcome of such ventures results in shit. When it works, it makes for a brilliantly immersive experience. And SKEW works.
Before I get into what makes this film so unique among its peers, I should first point out that the film was complete in 2005, and was in production for a number of years before that. Its not part of the current trend that our genre is awash in. Director, Seve Schelenz, has stated that THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was an inspiration, but this is in no way yet another cheap cash-in. There is very little that could be labelled 'bandwagonesque' about this little slice of horror. While the influence of BLAIR WITCH is clear, the path that SKEW takes is very, very clever, and makes for a surprisingly tense experience to boot. Seve has clearly taken the time and the care to craft a film that stands completely on its own terms. He never sacrifices intellect for scares, and he uses his miniscule budget to enhance the work, not allow it to hinder it.
SKEW has been receiving praise, (and awards), on the festival circuit for some time now, but has suffered from the timing of its release, as 'Asylum' and countless other cheap 'n' cheerful studios vomit out rip-off after rip-off, its easy to understand why yet another found-footage film could pass its audience by. Even those who are enthusiastic about this style of film-making, are very wary, and I'm no exception. So, what makes this little number worth your time?
At its core, SKEW ts a very effective and genuinely frightening horror movie, it brings all the goods that we require of the genre while making them feel fresh, but its more than just another shaky-cam horror flick. It asks its audience to use their brains, in fact, it demands it. SKEW is a first-person head-fuck that builds slowly and surely into a disorienting and unsettling nightmare, which will have you questioning its narrative from the edge of your seat.
The premise blends psychological horror, the supernatural and a pitch black playfulness to fuck with your head until your just as damn confused, (and freaked out), as its unseen protagonist. There are ideas and themes here that have never been explored in this sub-genre before, and its all the more impressive that it was made before the Tsunami of hand-me-down concepts and ideas came crashing in, on PARANORMAL ACTIVITY's wake. I'll give you an example...
Whereas most handheld films either consist of film footage that has been recovered later, or follow a documentarian blueprint, SKEW tries something new. For the whole movie, we're always viewing events through one characters eyes, and occasionally, the footage is rewound and viewed again with different results. So, who the fuck is watching, and rewinding, the footage, 'after the facts'? Is it our hero, Simon? Is it the cops? Is it us?
You'll get no answers from me. SKEW is an interactive horror movie that screams to be watched more than once to find all the clues that could lead you to the answer. Its secrets are written into the script, they permeate the imagery, and the require that you take a perceptive look back at what you've just watched. There are no easy answers, and it has a, (possibly?) open ending that baffles and teases just as much as it satisfies. Its not a film for everybody, but for those who like to enter into a state of nightmare logic, not unlike much of David Lynch's work, SKEW is a treat.
I will admit, when the film reached its conclusion, I felt like a fucking moron. I'm usually all over these movies. Any given Sunday you'll find me wearing a shit-eating grin as I explain, (in condescending tones) the meaning of MULHOLLAND DRIVE to an uninterested audience, but this film left me lost at sea without my water-wings, and I fucking love that. Right after viewing, I dragged my carcass into what passes for my bed, and then proceeded to lie there, in the dark, going back over everything I has just seen, trying to re-arrange the pieces of the puzzle into a cohesive whole. Needless to say, I failed miserably.
I'm still dwelling on it a day later. And that is a surefire sign of excellent film-making.
In terms of frights and suspense, SKEW delivers in spades. There's some very effective, jump scares here, and a plethora of nightmarish imagery which takes its cues from J-horrors finer moments. SHUTTER and RINGU come to mind, yet the way Schelenz utilizes their influence brings a unique feel to proceeding. Its a fucking unnerving movie. The build up is slow, and may try some audiences patience, but those who appreciate a slow burn approach and character depth will appreciate the pacing. When the suspense does ratchet up, your invested in these three, and you cant say that for those dipshits in CLOVERFIELD, can you?
The supernatural scares are bolstered by some fine suspense work. One scene in particular, which features its female lead drifting in and out the frame, is among the most nerve-jangling moments I've seen in many moons. The moment comes mid-way through the film, and by this time I really cared about this gals fate. I wont give the reasons as to why an out-of-frame hottie is so disturbing, but trust me, its a prime, top-tier example of suspenseful film-making. Schelenz clearly knows how to draw maximum tension with the minimum of tools.
Performances range from solid to decent. We really only have three pals on this fucked up journey, but they're well drawn personalities with admirable hidden depths. As Simon, our hapless, perma-freaked cameraman, Robert Scattergood is really impressive, especially since hes off-screen, (or is he?) for the duration of the film. His vocal inflections are perfectly convincing in portraying his fear, confusion and anger. It should be noted that his camera, (in another smart move from Schelenz), perhaps gives more insight into his psyche than his words, as it lingers too long where it shouldn't, prods and probes at inappropriate times, and acts as a shield from whats happening in his world.
Super-hot Amber Lewis, as Eva, is a standout. She's not only very easy on the peepers; shes a very accomplished actress and never feels less than entirely real. Alas, Richard Olak is the weak link in the chain, as Rick. He's fine for the most part, but has some trouble conveying emotional beats, especially in the more intense moments. He's far from terrible, not least considering his lack of experience, but his reading sometimes falls flat. Also, the fate of one character left me a little underwhelmed, though that's something that may be remedied with further viewings.
Overall, though, SKEW is one of the best hand-held horrors out there. Its as smart as it is scary, and for that reason alone, will perhaps alienate the more casual filmgoer, but its well worth your time. If you enjoy a good scare, and a really compelling mystery that will stay with you for days, this is the film for you. I'm still undecided as to what actually went down in this little gem. I'm in touch with its director, though, and I'm half tempted to contact him quick-sharp and demand answers, but I don't wanna give him the satisfaction of having me beat! Dammit!
8 Portents of Doom out of 10