Scalene is the latest thriller from director Zack Parker, told in a unique narrative style that produces a shocking twist in the finale. The press pushes the idea it’s a thriller in the Hitchcockian mold, though it really is more of an independent drama that plays with the audience’s expectations as the final reveal occurs in the last act.
The story revolves around three people and the events surrounding an accused rape. Janice Trimble (played by Margo Martindale) is the working-class mother of a brain-damaged, adult son. Janice is looking for a caregiver to ease the burden for taking care of Jacob, her 26-year-old son who is mentally the equivalent of a four-year-old. In steps Paige (played by Hanna Hall), a smart 21-year-old college student looking for a side job and to build her resume. During one of Paige’s sessions with Jacob, she comes running out of the house battered and eventually accuses Jacob of raping her to the police. Janice is horrified that her son might be taken away from her.
The movie starts off with a bang, showing us the conclusion of the story in the opening scene. It then goes backward to tell us the events leading up to that teaser, as each of the three main characters have the story told from each of their perspectives. Anyone that has seen Rashomon will understand the narrative technique, though each character’s story is told in a different manner here. One perspective is told in reverse chronological order, one in non-linear fashion, and the final act is presented in a straightforward linear style.
Scalene is more a sober drama told in a careful and deliberate manner with a devastating emotional climax, than the thriller it’s portrayed as in the marketing materials. The unconventional narrative adds some flair to otherwise middling emotional peaks at times, because it’s hard to see where the punchline is going to end up for these characters.
At times the structure seems a little too clever for its own good, sapping a little of the emotional weight away from the central plot of the rape storyline. But the twist is hard to see coming until very close to the reveal, heightening the intensity. Scalene is not a perfect genre piece, but will strike a chord for many people.
Scalene looks impressive for a small-scale production, thanks largely to it being shot using the RED One digital camera. Breaking Glass Pictures has presented Scalene at its native aspect ratio of 2:35:1 in 1080P, encoded using AVC. The digital filming produces a naturally grain-free image that sparkles with brilliant clarity, often with top-notch fine object detail.
This disc likely would have garnered a perfect video rating if the video encode had been any better. The disc unfortunately is crammed with over five hours of HD material, mostly in the form of the long documentary. The main feature’s video bitrate greatly suffers from that decision, rarely topping 10 Mbps.
For a 2012 home video release, the compression is shockingly bad. The clean source still produces a large amount of macroblocking, chroma noise and banding; that shouldn’t happen on a new release at this point. Viewers on the largest displays will easily notice the compression artifacts, as they constantly intrude on the visual experience of the movie. Only due to the pristine nature of the digital video does the picture retain its decent quality.
Aside from a minor amount of edge enhancement, the image is largely free of ringing or other processing. The video is a sharp experience with saturated colors and wonderful contrast. The balanced color palette doesn’t play favorites and produces natural flesh-tones. High-frequency content in close-ups is quite good, though the poor compression seems to reduce visible resolution in a few of the scenes. The middle-distance shots seem to suffer more, where the overall detail gets lowered unnecessarily.
Two audio options are provided for the main feature, unfortunately both are in lossy form. The main choice is a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack at 224 kbps, while a dedicated 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack is also included. Scalene is mostly a drama that is replete with long passages of dialog and as an independent production does little to utilize the capability of modern sound design. The surround mix is one of the most restrained, conservative mixes in recent memory for a new release.
The dialog is clear and intelligible, but there are hardly any surround effects. The front-heavy mix also lacks punch and bass, producing very wimpy sound when a gun goes off. As good as the video looks at times, the audio is clearly a step down in quality and the movie’s independent roots show up. This can partially be forgiven as the movie has little action to it.
This disc has a number of significant extra features.
Perceiving Reality: The Making Of Scalene – An extensive, exhausting documentary that covers every single aspect of the production. It runs 209 minutes and is provided in 1080p, though it looks upscaled from a SD source. Practically every crew member associated with the film is interviewed and Zack Parker adds significant background on the entire project. It’s so long that I doubt all but the most hardcore Scalene fans will be able to watch the entire thing. Still, if you want to learn the details of an actual independent production, this is a great tutorial.
Featurette from Dances With Films – A 15-minute extra shot and presented in true HD. It details Scalene’s premiere at a film festival with some comments from the director, Zack Parker.
Scalene Teaser Trailer in HD
Scalene Theatrical Trailer in HD
Breaking Glass Pictures trailers – A number of other trailers from the distributor
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review and on a check disc which is identical to the official release. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.