Directed by John Suits
Written by Daniel Schaffer
Starring Katie Cassidy, Garret Dillahunt, Eliza Dushku, Michelle Trachtenberg, Sasha Grey, Kunal Nayyar, Michael Imperioli, Gina Gershon, Billy Campbell, Ashlynn Yennie, and TV Carpio
Review by Joey Braccino
Listen: The Scribbler is bats#!t b-a-n-a-n-a-s start to finish, upside-downsides willy-nilly all over. From the premise to the cast to the script to the cinematography, this graphic-novel-turned-indie-thriller is an absolute trip from the opening gates, and each and every party involved is totally, 100% invested in this crazy little future-cult-film.
For a reference point before I launch into my manifestical musings, think Donnie Darko meets Buffy with the visual flair of a Matrix comme ‘90s video game cut scene aesthetic.
Got it? Alright. Let’s go.
The Scribbler is based on Daniel Schaffer’s 2006 graphic novel of the same name from Image Comics. The story follows Suki, a mental patient with Disassociative Identity Disorder (multiple personality disorder), who moves into Juniper “Jumper” Towers, a residence for out-patients designed to transition between their ward experience and the “real world.” Suki, as played by Arrow’s Katie Cassidy, is a non-conformist punk (is there any other kind???) with piercings, tattoos, combat boots, and a wicked denim vest/hoodie combo and one hell of a bad attitude. She rejects the need to transition into the real world and struggles with deciphering which of her identities is the real her. Suki undergoes an experimental treatment called “The Siamese Burn,” which is an electro-shock therapy that “burns off” each of personalities. Ultimately, Suki’s inner conflict is her inability to decide how she feels about her mental disorder; does she want to be “normal,” or is “normal” just as crazy as her cocktail of voices in her head? This conflict manifests itself in the primary mystery of the film: Suki fears that one of her personalities, “The Scribbler,” is killing off the other residents of Juniper Tower. Can she stop The Scribbler? And how can she stop The Scribbler if they are part of the same person???
Well, actually, we know somebody murdered someone, because director John Suits frames the narrative as a series of flashbacks told from Suki’s point-of-view during a police interrogation. The interrogators? Eliza Dushku and Michael Imperioli. And that’s only the beginning of the frankly astonishing assortment of character actors that Suits acquired for this film.
Over the course of the movie, Suki interacts with her strange menagerie of neighbors. There’s Emily, played by Human Centipede’s Ashlynn Yennie, who has an acute phobia of clothing and therefore walks around naked all day every day. There’s the violently sociopathic goth-chique Alice, played by divisive Buffy star, Michelle Trachtenberg. There’s Cleo, played by the ineffable Gina Gershon, who sports a snake and what I assume to be several sexual fetishes. There’s Bunny, played by porn idol turned actress Sasha Grey, who… well, wears bunny ears. TV Carpio (Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark), Billy Campbell (The [f**king] Rocketeer), and Kunal Nayyar (The Big Bang Theory) also show up as mysterious medical staff in a series of videos chronicling Suki’s “Siamese Burn” treatments.
Hogan is Suki’s only friend and he is also the only male resident of Juniper Towers (he “checked the wrong box”). Played by Raising Hope’s Garret Dillahunt, Hogan is the “sane” one in the building, only insofar as he doesn’t necessarily have a real, tangible mental disorder. Comically (and also creepily), he “provides a service” to the all-female bloc of Juniper Towers… which I’ll leave to your imagination to decipher. Still, it was nice to see Hogan fill a sort of damsel/mary-sue-esque position in the film, as Katie Cassidy’s Suki is the real hero of the piece. Of course, they do have the sex as it were, but Suki maintains high level of autonomy and direction as her own character throughout.
Seriously, one of the best parts of watching The Scribbler is watching all these actors that we know and love from criminally underrated or culturally relevant shows and films interacting in the most bizarre setting imaginable. I mean, who would have thought that we’d see that dude from The Sopranos alongside Faith/Tru/Echo interrogating Laurel Lance, who is living in the same building with Harriet the Spy, a porn star in bunny ears, and the rear of the human centipede, and who was once experimented on by Dr. Raj and The Rocketeer. It’s baffling, and, thankfully, all of these actors remind us why we love them: they’re damn good at their jobs.
As I’ve mentioned, the premise for The Scribbler is insane, both literally and figuratively. Daniel Schaffer wrote the screenplay as well as the original graphic novel, so there is a distinct tone and tenor that feels extraordinarily pulpy and comic-booky, but man do these actors go for it in every single scene. Katie Cassidy leads the charge with a riveting, physical performance that demonstrates an impressive range and an extraordinary pathos. It takes a certain flair to rock a cheap skeleton Halloween costume for an entire act, but Cassidy rocks it hard for over half and hour (including the climactic battle).
Besides the cast (which honestly may be enough to warrant at least a curiosity viewing), the film boasts an engaging and visually stunning aesthetic. Director John Suits and cinematographer Mark Putnam capture a certain grungy, punk feel through the overuse of greens and purples and mind-bending camera angles. The set dressings are straight up disgusting, both because it’s a halfway house for mental patients and because of that grunge style. You feel dirty and unsettled watching the film, which is absolutely perfect for the thriller that the film becomes in the second and third acts. The integration of “found footage” videos from Suki’s treatment and the lost time inherent in her lapses into her Scribbler identity put The Scribbler in the same categories as a Machinist and Chronicle at once, while still maintaining that clear comic book foundation. It truly is a genre-bending film that takes itself just seriously enough to warrant those comparisons.
And did I mention the cast is wicked good???
Check it out!!! The Scribbler is one of those bizarre, difficult-to-define films that rest on an extraordinary cast and a general weirdness. I’m sure it is destined for cult-status alongside Donnie Darko and like all of the ‘90s. Suits and Schaffer’s Scribbler has just enough mystery, enough insanity, enough philosophy, enough psychology, enough brawling, and enough wit to entertain just about anyone who might pick it up, and I think that was the point.
And remember: we’re all a little bit crazy; it’s normal.
The Scribbler, directed by John Suits, written by Daniel Schaffer based on his graphic novel, starring Katie Cassidy, Garret Dillahunt, Eliza Dushku, Michael Imperioli, and Michelle Trachtenberg. It is available on VOD and in limited theatres on September 14th, 2014. It will be released on Blu-Ray and DVD on October 21st. See the trailer below: