Director: Sevé Schelenz
Starring: Richard Olak, Amber Lewis, Rob Scattergood
Released: 11th June 2012
Three twentysomethings are going to a mutual friend's wedding and turn the journey into something of a road trip. Simon has brought a camcorder along and is videoing everything for posterity, to a point that his companions, Rich and Eva, find increasingly obsessive. However as the trip progresses, odd events begins to occur and the camera appears to the source...
Considering the synopsis above and the poster tag line “On July 19, 2005 three friends went on a road trip. They never came back”, you may well be thinking that Skew is yet another low budget found footage movie. And certainly to the casual viewer, that's exactly what it will appear to be. However appropriately enough for the plot and themes of this little flick, appearances can be deceptive.
Unlike a true found footage flick, there is no title card at either the beginning or the end that gives you a context for the movie's material, i.e. this film was recovered by police at yadda yadda yadda, no trace of the makers has ever been found. And most importantly, the crux of the plot is actually the camcorder itself, that Simon has picked up cheaply on a whim. It soon starts to exhibit some distinctly odd glitches; every now and then, a stranger who Simon films appears in the viewfinder with creepily distorted features. But when Simon rewinds the footage, they appear perfectly normal. And events take increasingly sinister turns when the three friends discover that whoever Simon sees in this skewed manner will die shortly after.
As anxiety and tensions begin to rise between the three friends, the camera begins to start showing Simon stranger things, that also do not appear when the footage is replayed. So then, despite appearing very like a found footage film, Skew can be more accurately defined as a point of view movie. For what we are being shown on screen is not discovered recorded material, but what Simon is actually seeing through the viewfinder, hence the moments when we get him rewinding scenes.
Furthermore, despite the central plot hook being the spooky images the camera appears to be revealing, the main thrust of the plot is exploring the effect this weirdness is having on Simon and how this affects his relationships with Rich and Eva. Is he really seeing these sinister visions? Is it all a series of macabre coincidences? Or is Simon's sanity slowly crumbling?
And with this focus on deteriorating friendships, in this respect Skew is closer to one of those indie flicks where a physical journey becomes a metaphor for a psychological voyage into the personalities and relationship dynamics of the travellers than either the found footage frights we've seen since The Blair Witch Project or the various post-Ringu supernatural curses via technology chillers.
Now while those expecting a more conventional fear-fest may well be turned off by this focus on emotional dramatics and find the slow-burn approach frustrating, tedious even, those who appreciate solid characterisations and subtlety will find much to enjoy in Skew. Both the script and the performances are very well executed, generating a convincing naturalism and neatly balancing a building atmosphere of creeping dread with the rising tensions of the character drama.
In interviews, writer-director Sevé Schelenz has said that his aim with Skew was to create an intelligent and subtle horror movie to counter the slew of tired remakes and Hostel-style gore flicks. And it has to said, he has succeeded in creating a thinking person's chiller. However I'd also have to say that I suspect that Skew is actually too darn subtle for its own good. And this potential problem is most clearly evident in the film's ending. Now I'd stress this isn't one of those enigmatic movies like Primer in which the whole point of the exercise is to present the audience with a cinematic puzzle, but neither is it one of those flicks that rests on a final almighty M. Night Shyamalan-style twist.
But the last scenes are crucial - for depending on how closely you are watching, you'll either be left frantically scrambling for the remote to rewind the last moments, eager to see if you saw what you think you saw, or you'll be sat scratching your head and filled with a sense of anti-climax. Now if you're in the latter camp, as I suspect many will be, you'll come away with the impression that Skew is an interesting film that fumbles its ending.
But for those who do pick up on a certain shot in particular, the final scenes are something of a game changer, and will prompt a swift rewatch to reassemble the plot in the light of the last frames and to looking for further clues. And your humble reviewer was certainly in this camp, playing the movie through again and then searching online to see what other folks had made of this final puzzle. Now without giving any spoilers away, there appear to be two main theories as to what is really happening in Skew, based on two different interpretations of the last shots. However neither quite fit the facts of the case as it were, with the main problem for both hypotheses being the inclusion of a scene that isn't from Simon's through-the-view-finder POV.
So then I dug deeper, and eventually through some cunning Google-fu, found a web-page containing an email correspondence between a similarly puzzled reviewer and director Schelenz in which he reveals the definitive real truth behind what's actually going on in Skew. Now obviously I'm not going to repeat these revelations here, however I will say that the scene from an anomalous viewpoint is a serious ball-drop because it is only there to deliver a plot point which could have, and indeed should have, been revealed by another means that doesn't break the movie's POV conceit.
For the real problem is that as this scene does break the conceit, the riddle of the story isn't actually solvable, prompting additional questions, which thanks to the above mentioned emails from Schelenz, I now know are impossible to answer with what is presented in the film. And while setting up a mystery without an definitive answer can be fun and provide movie fans with material to endlessly discuss and debate, you do need a fighting chance of interpreting the film correctly.
And furthermore, now I know the truth behind Skew, to be honest I'm not entirely sure it's worth the effort of untangling it. The trouble is by the time you've searched and scoured to work out what the last scene signifies, the subtle chill that I believe was intended just isn't enough to justify all the detective work most viewers are going to have to do.
However all that said, I would still cautiously recommend Skew, for despite the troubles the ending brings, the film itself is solidly made and very carefully crafted. Perhaps the best way to approach the film is to remember the old Buddhist maxim that states it is the experience of journey and not arriving at the destination that counts. Furthermore while some viewers may find that the climax of Sevé Schelenz's little movie to be either frustrating or underwhelming, I've got to give him massive credit for attempting to make a horror film that has such a cerebral and emotional core. After all, it's all too rare these days to be critiquing a movie for being too intelligent and too subtle for its own good.