E1 Entertainment // 2009 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // August 5th, 2010
Something Strange (and Boring) is Happening in the Neighborhood.
While no one is arguing over their originality, at least Blue Velvet, Revolutionary Road, and American Beauty took the notion of the suburbs as sinister bastions of sin and turned it into art. For Beautiful, a similarly styled thriller from Australia, homage is supposed to hold us. Talk about an epic fail. Instead, we find ourselves flashing back to better films and even more meaningful performances for a frame of reference -- never the best strategy for your slice of perverted privilege on the social outskirts. Some kudos have to be given to writer/director Dean O'Flaherty for taking on such a well worn subject. After all, some still question Sam Mendes Oscar for peeking beneath the shimmering surface of the washed out upper middle class. But instead of embarking on something truly dark, or far more disturbing, the first time filmmaker opens up the same old stale can of worms and hopes that a few intriguing visuals and a backlog of obvious influences will see him through. They don't.
Right up front, we learn that all is not well in the Oz enclave known as Sunshine Hills (blatant tip-off #1). Three young girls have been abducted and are feared dead. Many look to the rundown house at #46 as the source of any possible suspects. Against said vista of violence and vile practices we meet determined outsider Danny (Sebastian Gregory). Gloomy, antisocial, and in constant possession of a camera, he loves to spy on his lithe neighbor, sexpot Suzy (Tahyna Tozzi, X-Men Origins: Wolverine). As part of her cocktease attitude, she convinces our hormonally hopped up hero to investigate the goings-on in their Downunder burg. Shutterbugging from house to house on the street, Danny comes across all kinds of lewd and lascivious behavior, uncovering the various fetishes and freak shows of the populace. When he reaches #46, he soon discovers that things aren't always what they seem and that he will be pushed toward dangers and decisions he may be too young and naive to navigate.
With her Lolita like bikini bodice and tendency to sunbath in the skin-slicking line of a sunlit sprinkler's fire, Ms. Tozzi may be the only reason to watch the otherwise derivative Beautiful. Like the title, and the many unnecessary glamour shots of nature scattered throughout, she is supposed to represent the lure of the white picket fence -- and the potential evil that lies behind it. For the aforementioned O'Flaherty, images speak louder than words, and as we wonder from set-piece to set-piece, experiencing the gratuitous "pleasures" of nude ironing, implied incest, submission and domination, and various other post-Sarno suggestions, we keep waiting for something meaty to happen. Unfortunately, a solid script is mostly secondary -- as is a concept of pacing, character rationality, and overall believability. Perhaps law enforcement is a little more lax in Australia. Had three girls gone missing in one particular US cul-de-sac circa 2009, we'd have nightly patrols and daily press briefings featuring Geraldo Rivera and Nancy Glass to contend with.
Here, such sleazy facts are just part of the proposed atmosphere, and in the case of Beautiful, they add up to nothing. It's not just that we've seen it all before, or that O'Flaherty has nothing new to say about it, it's just that better artists have tackled the material and made masterworks out of it. The various plot cogs percolating around here couldn't hold a nitrous canister to Dennis Hopper's Frank Booth, Kyle MacLachlan's Jeffrey Beaumont, Isabella Rossellini's Dorothy Vallens, or Laura Dern's Sandy Williams. Instead, they are pawns, playing the part of important elements inside the filmmaker's fevered imagination. But none of said vision arrives onscreen. O'Flaherty has no sense of dread, can't get us emotionally involved in the players, and often resorts to preachy primary color cinematography to make his veiled and ambiguous points. Instead of being a whodunit, Beautiful is better described as a "whydunit." The answer, regrettably, is not worth the time invested.
As far as Blu-ray releases go, Beautiful is decent, if wholly derivative of the current "slap it onto high def" craze. We get an interlaced, non-progressive 1080i/AVC-encoded digital-to-digital transfer (that "i" is a product killer in the current market) that's crisp and clean with just a few moments of purposeful soft focus pulling. You can tell the movie was made on video, ported over and then "tweaked" to look like a film. Some of the colors fade and the details are not as sharp as one expects. Still, for an unknown title with what appears to be a limited budget, the 2.39:1 letterboxed visual element here is acceptable. The sound, on the other hand, overdoes the "suspense sonics" that are supposed to fill us with a sense of unease. During key moments of (non)fright, we get ambient noises and a ridiculous Elfman-esque soundtrack that just screams "BEWARE!!!." The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix does deliver easily understandable dialogue and a nice feeling of space. But one bombastic blast from the orchestra is all we need to ruin said ambience.
As for added content, we are spared the seemingly mandatory "let me explain myself" commentary. In its place is a workmanlike Behind the Scenes, a few unnecessary deleted sequences, and a trailer. Maybe some will enjoy the 'alternate ending' (especially considering the one already in place), but there is little else of value here. In fact, the same can be said for Beautiful. While interesting to look at in a 'Norman Rockwell goes to Hell' kind of way, the main message is hollow and long past its sick suburbs sell-by date.
Guilty. One would find more enjoyment watching a plastic bag
"dance" in the wind.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080i)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes