Katie Cassidy stars as patient #107, a mentally ill woman with superpowers
Based on the graphic novel of the same name by Dan Schaffer, The Scribbler is a dark journey through the looking glass of a psychotic mind with multiple personalities. Schaffer pens the script for this adaptation, a unique mixture of trippy storytelling and stylish direction by John Suits. The marketing campaign for The Scribbler sells it as a superhero movie, which is a bit misleading. Katie Cassidy (Laurel on Arrow) plays a young woman living in a mysterious halfway house, suffering from multiple personality disorder. One of her personalities is known as the Scribbler, a costumed heroine with superpowers. The Scribbler takes you on a wild, mind-bending ride as the woman deals with an eclectic group of supporting characters.
The Scribbler begins with Suki, played by a virtually unrecognizable Katie Cassidy if you are familiar with Arrow, recounting her wild tale to a criminal psychologist, Jennifer Silk (Eliza Dushku). This film boasts an impressive cast for an independent production, featuring small roles by Gina Gershon, Michelle Tractenberg, Billy Campbell, Sasha Grey, and others, all in fairly memorable but brief scenes. Suki has been living at Juniper Tower, a halfway home for the mentally ill. She suffers from multiple personality disorder and is undergoing a radical new treatment by Dr. Sinclair (Billy Campbell) to cure her of it. He has invented a machine that “burns” through her alters, a term for alternate personalities. She hopes the machine will leave only her core personality intact. Will the cure be worse than the disease? Complicating matters is that residents of Juniper Tower keep showing up dead and it might be Suki’s fault. It is not until the end do we learn what is real and what is fantasy.
Suki’s only friend happens to be the only man living in Juniper Tower. Hogan (veteran television actor Garret Dillahunt) is seemingly sleeping with most of the residents in the halfway house. The place has quite a menagerie of strange women, including Cleo (Gina Gershon) with her massive snake and another woman with an aversion to wearing clothes. Did I mention the talking dog with a Cockney accent?
The Scribbler is firmly grounded in dark science fiction despite its pretensions of being superhero entertainment. The story and direction most remind me of David Cronenberg’s more twisted movies. Since the characters we meet inside Juniper Tower have mental problems and the central protagonist has multiple personalities, it is hard separating fantasy from reality in The Scribbler’s narrative. This is probably for the better, as it keeps interest up for at least the first two acts. The script does attempt some philosophical meanderings about conformity in society and what that means for a fractured mind.
The film does take a strange, almost unpredictable turn in its final act. Suki fully embraces the persona of the Scribbler, her super-powered alter, leading to an epic battle pulled from Hong Kong cinema. I would have had less problem with the hectic finale if the antagonist had been more fully developed, but instead the villain is practically pulled out of a hat, ready to do battle. It is one twist that should have been left on the cutting room floor.
Some cool, innovative ideas happen in The Scribbler. It definitely gets the tone and atmosphere correct for a trippy ride through the mind of a woman with hidden powers. Backward writing plays a pivotal role in the narrative, it is almost imperative to use the pause-button if you want to catch the only way Suki’s alter communicates with her. The visuals and production design are remarkably effective in conveying the shifting mental state of Suki. This kind of psychedelic filmmaking often goes astray, losing the plot. The Scribbler does not fall victim to that trend as it stays on a tight track. The performances are decent, especially Katie Cassidy’s lead role. Suki could easily have been butchered with all of her complexity as a character. Cassidy breathes life into the tortured woman coping with severe mental problems.
The Scribbler has a weird vibe, almost from its first moments. At times edgy with its violent and sexually provocative content, the R-rated film is not lighthearted superhero fare. It is a hard, dark, twisted fantasy, crafted with some care by the writer and director. Despite the occasionally suspect VFX, there is enough here to make it a solid recommendation for adventurous viewers.
XLRator Media has proven they are fairly picky about which movies get Hi-Def treatment in their brief time as Blu-ray distributor. The Scribbler is a natural fit with its vivid, almost intoxicating visuals. The 89-minute main feature is presented in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio at 1080P resolution, preserving its original theatrical exhibition. Found on a BD-25, the satisfactory AVC video encode averages a solid 27.99 Mbps figure. This is not a dazzling demo disc for picture quality, though it has been filmed with digital RED cameras.
The transfer was presumably taken straight from the raw digital intermediate at 2K resolution, untouched by notable filtering or sharpening. Much of the film showcases a raw, intimate style of cinematography, brimming with sharp detail and great high-frequency content during close-ups. It is sharp, vivid, and often tinted by extreme color gradings. Some of the freakier events inside Juniper Tower exhibit a strong green push, reminiscent of the Matrix’s color-timing on home video. Considering the psychotic nature of certain characters in this film, it greatly enhanced the moodiness of The Scribbler.
Softer elements include a number of VFX and CGI shots. They are the one thing about The Scribbler that scream independent, low-budget filmmaking. I guess all the money went toward the impressive cast. If you are familiar with the quality of CGI found in Hong Kong cinema you’ll know what to expect from The Scribbler, especially its wild, final battle. This is not the most fluid stunt-work seen on film.
Problems include minor fluctuations in black levels, including a few scenes near the climax that completely crush all fine shadow detail and delineation. The color palette is all over the map, as each scene seems to exhibit different lighting, possibly linked to specific characters. The video encode contains a few artifacts, The Scribbler leans toward a darker picture with heavy shadows. Mild noise and minor banding briefly pop up on occasion.
The Scribbler is a heavily stylized piece of filmmaking from its very first frames. The visuals do everything possible to play with one’s sense of space and light, befitting its central character with multiple personalities and possible schizophrenia. It is a raw, psychedelic experience that works for this film. It is not quite the pristine picture quality of bigger productions but still looks mighty fine in HD.
If you watch this film, it has to be with a surround system. Its 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is a critical element, one that heavily utilizes all five vocal channels to engage the audience. The soundfield swirls around the listener as one experiences the same voices as Suki hears in her head, coming from everywhere. It is not the most powerful mix but distinct cues are placed everywhere, including simultaneous voices. There is some decent LFE heard from the bass channel. I could not imagine finding this movie nearly as enjoyable without its surround presentation. It is much easier understanding Suki as a character when you experience her auditory hallucinations on a good system.
Optional English subs for the deaf and hard of hearing are included in a white font. They remain inside the widescreen framing of the main feature at all times.
A few trailers are the sole bonus material provided on this BD. The four other movie trailers all play before reaching the main menu, though they are skippable. It comes in a standard BD keepcase. An audio commentary by writer Dan Schaffer would have made a nice addition.
The Scribbler Trailer (01:45 in HD)
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.