Monday, September 15, 2014

The Scribbler: Do-It-Yourself Shock Treatment

Known as “Jumper’s Tower” to residents, Juniper Tower is the Arkham of mental health halfway houses. If you move in, you are unlikely to get much better or live much longer. However, Suki has an advantage over her new neighbors. One of her multiple personalities happens to be uncannily resourceful in John Suits’ The Scribbler (trailer here), which opens this Friday in select markets.

Considering Suki is undergoing radical therapy to “burn off” her excess personalities, she would presumably be an unlikely candidate for out-patient treatment. Nevertheless, she has been issued a portable burn unit and a room in the friendly tower. Upon arrival, she is met by the grisly spectacle of jumper. It will not be the last one.

Juniper is entirely populated by female patients, except for Hogan, who takes pride and pleasure in being “the rooster in the hen house.” One of Suki’s multiples had a thing for him when they were formally institutionalized together, so they naturally pick up where they left off. Frankly, he is somewhat saddened by her burn-off regimen, lamenting some of her multiples were his friends. Nevertheless, the treatment seems to work, even though it causes temporary blackouts and states of altered perception. Whenever Suki comes to, it seems like another resident has committed suicide and the so-called Scribbler persona has been busy modifying her décor and the burn unit.

Adapted by Dan Schaffer from his graphic novel, The Scribbler incorporates elements from several genres (science fiction, horror, dark fantasy) and generates some clever disbelief-suspending psychological double-talk. Until the third act collapses into a maelstrom of mumbo jumbo, it is a surprisingly effective noir psycho-thriller.

Arguably, the best thing Suits has going for him is the massively creepy Juniper Tower. Production designer Kathrin Eder and art director Melisa Jusufi truly make this film come together, while cinematography Mark Putnam makes it all look suitably ominous, in the tradition of its source material and Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum graphic novel.

The cast is generally pretty good as well, particularly Katie Cassidy and Garret Dillahunt as Suki and Hogan, respectively. Their screen chemistry is appropriately weird, but undeniably charged-up. Gina Gershon, Ashlynn Yennie, and Michelle Trachtenberg all chew the scenery with glee as various eccentrically macabre residents of the Tower, but Eliza Dushku and Michael Imperioli seem visibly confused to be playing their scenes as the cops interrogating Suki within the film’s framing device. Fans of Sasha Grey should also take note, her character quickly disappears after her entrance (its almost as much of a tease as her prominently-billed cameo in The Girl from the Naked Eye).

Granted, the ending makes little sense, but that is almost always the case in genre cinema. What is more important is how smart and stylishly sinister the film is as it works its way there. Recommended with surprising enthusiasm, The Scribbler opens this Friday (9/19) in limited release.