Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bloody Nightmares #30: I Hate You (2004)

Nick Oddo has a vision. So often the collaborative nature of filmmaking can make it extremely difficult for this vision to survive the actual movie-making process, usually coming out the other end in a severely declawed form - or morphed into something totally different. It's the reality of bringing so many creative minds together into one spot. However, in the case of I Hate You, Oddo's vision - in conjunction with that of writer-star Marvin W. Schwartz - seems to have come through fairly intact. It's one of the things that make no-budget filmmaking so fascinating to watch as while financial and technical limitations will always play a factor, the final product generally hasn't been quite so twisted by outside influences or audience considerations. What's unfortunate is that this film's theme - that you can attain lasting fame and recognition through murder rather than hard work in your field of choice - is severely underdeveloped, and it's saddled with an ending that fizzles.

Early in the film, elderly (and awful) stand-up comedian Norman Bird (Schwartz) makes the dubious claim that Jack the Ripper has had more books written about him than all of the American presidents combined, and this statement (and Bird's repeated fascination with serial killers) informs the entirety of the film. We soon discover that Norman has begun murdering random people between stand-up sets, occasionally pausing to explain his thought process to his friends, a fellow comedian (Bill Santiago, whose bits of comedy provide the only moments of humor in the film), and his cat. He attends a writing class with the intention of eventually writing about his exploits but - perhaps tellingly - the instructor asks if his novel's protagonist will be caught in the end. Seemingly obsessed with his own mortality, Norman's world begins to fall apart once his increasingly dark material gets him banned from the comedy club, and even his murders get buried on the back pages of the newspaper. An attempt to reclaim some measure of youthful energy ends in a heart attack scare, and.. that's pretty much it. He performs in front of an empty room, walks around New York and then the credits roll.

Filmed in black and white, I Hate You is paced quite briskly with the credits hitting at 57 minutes, but even at this length it feels a bit bloated with 11(!) murders in that brief run-time. Not helping things is that these murders are presented entirely without tension and are choppily edited, and since the victims are entirely random they just end up leaving the viewer cold. Everything the film has to say could easily have fit into a 15 minute short film, and this becomes clear around the fifth time that Schwartz brings up Jack The Ripper, or the third time he bows to an imaginary audience after a murder.

The whole production has a very loose feeling, and Norman's interactions are very naturalistic which gives the impression that much of the film was assembled in the editing room. Occasionally these conversations are interesting - particularly the recitation of the titular poem - but generally feel like time-killers meant to hammer home the theme. Oddo chooses to avoid flashy camera moves, usually filming the scenes in close-up with few edits. He makes good use of the gritty New York locations - Oddo's previous film was about the changes to Time Square throughout the late 1990s, and he obviously knows the area well - but the photography is quite vanilla.

To the credit of Schwartz, his performance is quite strong throughout, though he makes for a less than convincing stand-up comedian. Of course, his character is supposed to be unfunny, so that his jokes seems more like cribs on George Carlin's later, bitter material (without Carlin's wit or timing) is somewhat appropriate. All other performances are either in the form of conversations, or the few minutes of a victim before they are inevitably bashed and/or stabbed. By design, this is a one-man show, and I'm glad that at least that man is a pretty decent actor.

The music (by Robert Bowers) isn't intrusive, but it's also synthy and generic. There are some attempts to build tension during the murder scenes, but you won't mistake this for a John Carpenter soundtrack. Worse are the film's sound effects which are obviously taken from a library of generic effects and call attention to themselves when used repetitively. Other technical specs are fine, with less glitching than many of the films in this collection and solid audio and video throughout.

I Hate You is presented in its original fullscreen aspect ratio, and appears to have been shot on DV with - I'm guessing - the color being removed after the film was completed. While the black and white photography allows for a nice noirish feel to the proceedings, there's no attempt in the cinematography (performed by director Oddo) to use the light or shadows in any sort of interesting way. As mentioned the music is fine if unremarkable, while audio is clear and consistent throughout - likely a result of few dialogue scenes being filmed outdoors.

We have a first for the Bloody Nightmares collection! No, not chapter stops (I don't think we'll ever be seeing those), but actual special features! Oddly, they are simply added on to the end of film's run-time. First is the film's trailer, which did nothing for me - but, then again, I've actually seen the whole thing. Then we get two alternate endings! Since the actual film really doesn't have an ending, either would have been preferable. The first has Norman hang himself - predictable, but effective - while the second has him walk through a cemetery. Next we get a title card which promises DELETED SCENES, but it cuts off before we actually get to see any. What a shame!

An occasionally interesting but usually trite artistic exercise, I Hate You could have used a bit more complexity and diversity in its plot, which once established seems to go absolutely nowhere. A good lead performance and a few interesting ideas make for a brisk beginning, but once it starts in on the seemingly endless number of murders the whole thing starts to feel monotonous. There's a clear vision here, but unfortunately it's not worthy of even the hour that it runs. A disappointment.

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