Wednesday, October 12, 2011
The Ugly, made in New Zealand in the mid 90's, is sort of an ambitious little movie that could. It's something of a low(ish) budget attempt to make a stylish Holywood serial killer thriller a la Silence of the Lambs or Seven. On that level, it's not very successful. Most of the stylistic tics (shaky cam, camera flashes, aggressive sound track) come off more as obnoxious than slick. Also it has that over-lit 90's cinematography that makes everything in the frame look homogenized, and it can't always shake (and I hope I don't come off too condescending here) that New Zealand-y sense of affability that undercuts many of its attempts to be dark or edgy.
Yet there are some things about The Ugly that work swimmingly. A handful of sequences managed to build real, if only minor, suspense, particularly a clever one where the killer hides in a bathroom shortly after a murder, trying not to be seen by the victim's wife. The subjective flashback structure leads to some cool visual gimmicks, where elements of the present intermingle with elements from the past, or things we're seeing on screen are obviously tainted by the killer's warped perspective (most obviously, all the blood during his murders is jet black).
Best of all, the subjective nature of the film leads to some real, slightly haunting weirdness during the final act. For much of the film, despite some cool gimmicks, it's a standard (even a little cliched) serial killer story, but then it raises some odd questions near the end and deliberately leaves much of it unanswered or seemingly contradictory. I'm honestly not sure what the last 15 minutes or so mean, and I mean that in a good way. Maybe there's an objective "truth" or answer it's all pointing to that I'm just not getting, or maybe it's supposed to show how the mind of a madman makes no rational sense, but either way it stuck with me. The Ugly is a flawed film, but it haunted me at least a tiny bit in the days since I watched it, and that's saying something.