New Video // 2011 // 87 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis (Retired) // September 30th, 2012
Amy, is that you?
There are two types of horror films that I'm very tired of: the first person/found footage genre and the home invasion movie. I'm sick of them for very different reasons, but both have outstayed their welcome in my book. So, how must I have felt to receive 388 Arletta Avenue, a film that combines the two genres into one thriller? Not great, I can tell you that. Imagine my surprise, then, to find a film that is measured and reasonable within its gimmick, and actually pretty good.
James (Nick Stahl, Sin City) and Amy (Mia Kirshner, The Black Dahlia) are a young and lovely married couple, but they're having problems. That's why, when Amy disappears one day, James doesn't know whether something diabolical has happened or she's just taken off. As strange things start to happen, James becomes convinced it's the former and he starts to break down. Nobody believes him at all, though, and soon, he's the one who starts drawing suspicion.
In my experience, this isn't a very good reason to have hope, but the one thing about 388 Arletta Avenue that made me wonder if it would be better than advertised was the list of producers. With Steven Hoban, producer of Ginger Snaps, and Vincenzo Natali, director of Cube and Splice, there was clearly a good team behind this film. Sure enough, it really is much better than expected.
The film is about half first person footage and half traditional shooting and director Randall Cole (Real Time) does a good job of balancing the two sides to make a cohesive and tense picture that focuses on one character slowly breaking down in the face of tragedy. He and his wife are being targeted by an unseen cameraman, which we witness from many angles, both inside and outside his house. Somehow, this person has entered their home and installed cameras throughout the house. The purpose for this is unclear, but it allows us to watch as James goes completely bonkers.
The traditional camerawork gives a more standard view of the action, where we see the results of his time by himself, which includes the brutal beating of an old schoolmate and his unhinged dealings with the police trying to convince them that his wife is gone and the cat in his house is an impostor. He doesn't make a great case for himself, obviously, though we know better, which makes for an interesting exercise in suspense. What I like best about the film is the use of music. There's no actual score, but the killer uses sped up and slowed down versions of old pop songs and children's tunes to freak James out, and it's the most unsettling part of the film.
Much of the credit to the success of 388 Arletta Avenue goes to Nick Stahl, who carries the entire load. He's in every scene and we're forced to watch every one of his failings, which are quite numerous, as he goes from relatively loving husband to complete lunatic over the course of these ninety minutes. All the while, we know he's right, but how the outside perception affects him is much more important than the actual facts of the situation. Given the static nature of much of the camerawork, it's interesting and compelling to watch Stahl lay it all bare by himself in an empty room. He's come a long way over the years as an actor and he definitely deserves a hand for giving this deeply flawed character life. The other actors are solid, as well, but none of them have very much to do; Stahl is the only one who really matters and he shines. There are some holes in the plot and a finale that, while gruesome, isn't completely satisfying, but my overall impression is quite positive.
388 Arletta Avenue comes from New Video and Tribeca Film, presented by American Express. As usual from the label, the product is fairly mediocre. Given the nature of the production, nobody can expect high end video, but the standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks nice and clear, with strong black levels and natural flesh tones. The sound could be a little better, but the Dolby 5.1 Surround mix doesn't have very much punch. I don't really know where it could come, given the nature of the production, but there's very little happening in the rear channels. The only extra feature is a three minute interview with members of the cast and crew. That's fine, but this is the kind of movie that could really use a commentary`.
388 Arletta Avenue is a film that relies on its gimmick, but Randall Cole keeps it measured and even, delivering a solid story with a whole lot of tension. There are holes in the plot and a strangely unsatisfying resolution, but overall the film is a very pleasant surprise.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated