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Victims
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by Jay Seaver

"Arguably the victim of its own ambition."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Victims" has as good a stab at making the zero-cut movie work as any, and while it does have a clever idea and some great moments, the shooting gimmick doesn't necessarily do it a lot of favors. The ability to compress time and get multiple angles are some of the most useful tools a filmmaker has, and director David Bryant doesn't get the greatest return on trading them for real-time, first-person immediacy.

"Record everything." That's the order a masked woman (Sarah Coyle) gives to the cameraman just as Chris McMann (John Bocelli) is being snatched off the street an hour before his wedding. She and a masked man (Andy Cresswell) handcuff him to the inside of a van and start off. Chris, they say, was not born with that name, but that of Neil Adams. Twenty years ago, at the age of eleven, this Neil Adams committed a horrible crime, kidnapping, molesting, and murdering a four-year-old girl. They mean to get a confession, and then...

In some ways, Victims has a remarkably tidy set-up; it initially short-circuits the need for there to be any strong evidence of what Chris's abductors claim by letting the audience know that hte film will be focusing on the moment as opposed to the steps needed to get there. Putting the backstory at arm's length also helps make the situation work in the abstract. The movie can't just be about what Chris McCann would or should do in this situation, because even without the accusations, we don't know who Chris McCann is. We have to put ourselves in the characters' shoes (all of them, including and perhaps especially the masked and anonymous ones).

It can be a double-edged sword, though - early on, the film doesn't need evidence to go along with its explanations, but as soon as Bryant introduces characters aside from Chris and his accusers, the case suddenly seeming flimsy becomes a problem. Of course, once that happens, the theme of the movie shifts, and then shifts again, and while every part of the movie has interesting ideas, they often feel a little less than fleshed out. The transitions between the ideas can be awkward as well - the movie wanders off rather than make an authoritative jump, and the real-time pauses can paradoxically make the situation seem more artificial - it's not always a tense, pregnant moment; sometimes it's just hte wait while a theatrical company changes its scenery.

There's nothing to complain about where the cast is concerned, though, particularly with Bocelli. He is on-screen nearly the whole running time as Chris and has to go through quite a bit. He makes the character confused to the point of panic but keeps it from being a hole he can't escape from to be angry or resourceful. The movie doesn't work at all without him carrying the load, and he carries it despite Chris having the least power to influence events of anybody. Other unmasked actors do show up after a while, with Nina Millns pretty darn good as the bride-to-be, while Sharon Lawrence and Bradley Cole nicely essay confliction reactions to the situation. And while they spend the film with their faces covered, Coyle and Cresswell do quite a bit with their voices and body language to give the audience an idea of who they might be and the dynamic between them.

Shooting a movie like this is no small trick, and though there are spots where hidden cuts may have been possible, Bryant stated during the Q&A that there is only one. The filmmakers do manage an unusually good job of shooting in the very cramped conditions of the van and keeping the camera going where it needs to be . They find a happy middle ground between the footage looking like it was shot by a non-professional and not making the audience nauseous.

"Victims" is good enough to rise above just being a gimmick movie; indeed, it's actually ambitious enough for its gimmick to get in the way. Still worth watching, but it would be great if a director's cut wasn't completely against the spirit of the thing.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=22665&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/26/11 14:45:09
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.

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Directed by
  David Bryant

Written by
  David Bryant

Cast
  John Bocelli
  Sarah Coyle
  Andy Cresswell
  Nina Millns



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