Image Entertainment // 2005 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // December 18th, 2009
You can't believe everything you see.
A beautiful young woman (Brittany Murphy, Clueless) arrives at a hotel desk and rents a room. She is alone, but won't be for long. Her paranoid boyfriend (Danny Pino, Flicka) sits across the hall, waiting in the dark to see who she is there with. He calls his friend (Mike Vogel, Cloverfield) for advice. This friend begs him to wait until he arrives; they'll take care of this together. By the time he shows up, however, things have become very, very bad for everybody.
Director Alex Merkin's Across the Hall may not have been a better film if it played out in a linear fashion, but it would certainly feel like less of a cheat. All we have in this independent thriller is a simple tale of friendship and jealousy. Instead of just telling the story, however, he cuts it into little pieces and rearranges them before presenting the jumbled result as an exercise in suspense. The opening moments build some intrigue as the characters are introduced to us free from context, but when we begin to figure out their relationships, all of that starts to fall apart. Of course, in any mystery part of the writer's job is to withhold valuable pieces of information from the audience in order to help build suspense. The problem in Across the Hall is the lack of a mystery. Since it's a straightforward story that has just been scrambled, all we lack to completely understand is ten seconds of information. Once this tiny piece is revelaed, everything falls easily into place. There are no extended questions, nothing coming close to ambiguous, left for us to ponder as the final minutes roll out in predictable fashion.
It's unfortunate that this stylistic choice by Merkin is so frustrating, because there are things to like about Across the Hall. The film takes place entirely indoors; much of it exclusively inside the hotel, a building that, while once a proud establishment, is now as old and decrepit as the bellhop who loves extolling the virtues of the long-dead elite clientele. Through his set and some very tightly focused cinematography, Merkin gives the film a nice claustrophobic feeling, which certainly helps whatever meager suspense comes from the story.
The performances are not great, but they suffice for the material. Mike Vogel and Danny Pino have fairly good chemistry as best friends. They seem similar enough that they could believably like each other very much, and their differences in personality allow them to compliment each other nicely. Neither seems to have much chemistry with Brittany Murphy, though. In spite of that, and though hers is by far the least fleshed-out character, she turns in the most enjoyable performance of the film. She's stilted and highly posed, but that's exactly what she's meant to do as the apex of this noir-ish love triangle. It's not a deep part, but she plays it with zest.
Image Entertainment sent a screener for review, so all technical details are subject to change. If the final release winds up looking like this, however, they're in pretty good shape. The picture looks quite nice, with a sharp detail and strong colors. The black levels are deep while the bright whites are always clean; the two extremes are often together and the contrast is consistently good. The transfer is error-free and, overall, quite pleasing to look at. The audio mix isn't quite as strong, but there's not much for it to do in this dialog heavy thriller. While not much goes on in the surround channels, the vocals are perfectly clear at all times and the mix is completely acceptable. There were no special features on the disc that I received, but the back does have the "supplemental material not rated" note, so some may be included on the final release.
Across the Hall has its moments. Some decent performances and an intriguing premise buoy this nice-looking film, while its execution is frustrating and, ultimately, feels like a rip off. Sometimes, a linear storyline without a twist at the end is not the end of the world.
Guilty, but the film is not bad enough to waste good resources on and is
released with time served.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R