Image Entertainment // 2009 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // January 13th, 2010
Who are you supposed to be?
When it comes to cinema or anything else for that matter surprises can be by turns nasty and fantastic. Everybody has entered a theatre at some point with their fists clenched in anticipation for a movie only to emerge two hours later underwhelmed and confused concerning your initial excitement. However equally a movie occasionally comes along that on surface level looks like a puffed up bit of nothingness but then surprises you by turning out to be a quality piece of filmmaking. Dare is a picture that fits beautifully into the latter camp, based on the artwork and synopsis it seems like an unsubtle and overly glossed attempt at moody teen drama, but in actual fact, it's a unique beast that resonates even after it finishes. I was shocked by just how much this feature offers and how little impact it appears to have made prior to arriving on DVD. This is in all honesty a fabulous motion picture and one that could find a cult following amongst the angst-ridden teens of today.
The film follows three protagonists and weaves their stories together to create an overarching narrative. The first is Alexa (Emmy Rossum, Poseidon), a hard working drama student with social insecurities and a lack of exposure to the thrills of adolescence. Her best friend is Ben (Ashley Springer, Teeth), an equally mixed up individual with concerns about his burgeoning homosexuality. Finally we have school jock Johnny (Zach Gilford, Post Grad), top of the school food chain but with a disastrous home life and the signs of acute mental disruption. Together the group forms an unlikely bond based on the need for friendship, a shared disenchantment with the world around them, and pure, unabated lust. The film takes audiences on a powerful 90 minute journey with the characters, uncovering their emotional turmoil and examining the foundations of new but uncertain bonds.
There are a handful of elements in Dare that don't work, so maybe I should assess those first. For a start, the undeniably talented Alan Cumming (X2: X-Men United) appears as an over the top and vaguely pompous actor, chewing up scenery and detracting from the believable aesthetic of the scene he's in. His character's inclusion is more of an emotional trigger than anything else and could easily have been played with a little less hammy bravado, so yeah; maybe he should have gone at the part a bit more naturally. The opening third of the film also acts as a moment of faith for the audience, it's the least gripping section and so at this juncture you have to either go with it or continue to be uninvolved. I went with the former and reaped some supremely rewarding performances and refined storytelling, but if you decide to keep your distance it would be easy enough to end up on the fence. That said, these two facets are the only things keeping Dare from moving into the realms of teen masterpiece; with a more attractive opening 20 minutes I genuinely believe the movie would have received a much larger theatrical distribution and could have attained some sort of sleeper hit status. This is a brave and organic cinematic experience and people respond to that sort of thing, especially the target demographic which in this case is folks in their late teens or early twenties.
The performances are rock solid and I'm now keeping a firm eye on the future work of Zach Gilford. Gilford does outstandingly inspired work as the depressed Jock, channelling an energy and pure discomfort that translate so meaningfully within the screenplay. I find it hard to believe that an actor capable of such a gripping and yet understated piece of acting hasn't got an interesting career ahead of him, though I was dispirited to learn that he had a key part in last summer's supposedly woeful Alexis Bledel vehicle Post Grad. In Dare, he shows a maturity beyond his years and an uncanny understanding of his character's mental and social frustrations, forming a persona that feels uncannily real. Rossum and Springer aren't quite as groundbreaking, but they remain engaging and concoct a robust chemistry with other cast members. For Rossum in particular following Dragonball: Evolution to find herself in something so good must have been a major relief. The writing aids these young thespians into creating fully rounded and accessible screen entities, ones that the audience comes to connect with on a wonderfully raw emotional level. The tribulations of these teenagers are gracefully mutated into an original and powerful drama; familiar problems get a stunningly fresh makeover with Dare.
Director Adam Salky deserves major praise for combining the story so well and for finding such a rich selection of affecting and sensitive shots. His gritty and unflinching direction steers Dare away from putrid 90210-themed waters towards lifelike and dramatically poignant ground. Nothing about the film feels sugar coated or manipulative and the characters are joyously three dimensional and gripping, the combination there of rounding out a brilliant feature film. There are sex scenes in the movie but none is played for cheap titillation or bras and panties style seduction; instead, they shoot from the hip and depict a fear and bewilderment that the characters feel when confronted by the concept. For example it's largely hinted at that Johnny is sexually promiscuous and experienced in the field of intercourse, but never once does he appear cocksure or confident when in the act. This is an example of the believable angles from which Salky has drawn his vision and the depth of character that has been wrought as a consequence.
The compete originality from which Dare stems is a major plus but ultimately it's the truthful and intrepid nature of the film that mark it out as something special. As I mentioned before, if you abandon it early that's your prerogative, but by sticking with it I guarantee you come out borderline amazed at how fascinating the film feels and how impressed you are with the key cast members and filmmakers. The sharp and memorable finish finalizes the picture as a true triumph, answering questions and offering an invigorating sense of hope and despair at the same time. It captures the psyche of the disturbed teen perfectly, a rarity in today's cinematic world. Visually the picture has an earthy and natural vibe that aids the earnest and compelling story played our around it. The DVD received for review was a screener and so video and audio quality isn't representative of final product and thus won't be reviewed. On the other hand the disc does contain a surprising amount of bonus material for a low key release, you get a director and writer's commentary, deleted scenes and Emmy Rossum's audition. However what is most interesting is the inclusion of the 2005 short on which this picture is based, a real treat for those who are won over by this edgy and wonderful production.
I dare you to seek this film out. It's certainly not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2010 Daniel Kelly; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Short Film
* Audition Tape