Life Size Entertainment // 2005 // 91 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Neal Solon (Retired) // April 25th, 2006
How far can they go before reality catches up with them?
Would it be sufficient to say that watching Erosion eroded my will to stay conscious? It's sad when a film makes you want to base derisive jokes on its title.
Gabe (Emmanuel Xuereb) and Irene (Charis Michelsen) have been hurt by, and are bored with, their lives. They arrange to meet one night for dinner at a mansion. When Irene arrives Gabe is already there, waiting for her with dinner prepared. It's the first of many dates that the pair will have in houses that are not their own. They will eat in kitchens and have sex in the beds that are not their own, trying to escape from the lives that they lead.
Erosion is the type of movie that the pseudo-hip love to congratulate themselves for liking. It's independent. It's too risqué for Hollywood. It doesn't spoon-feed you a plot or provide answers about the characters. But what gets lost in this anti-Hollywood backlash is that just because a movie isn't "Hollywood" doesn't make it a brilliant piece of art. Neither does it mean that the story onscreen is worth telling or that the meaning the filmmaker is obscuring really exists.
With Erosion, director Ann Lu seems to be exploring the idea of using escapism to avoid confronting one's problems. The central characters are actively trying to live the lives of others by having meals and sex in other's houses while passively allowing their day-to-day lives to deteriorate. The man, Gabe, is still reeling from the fact that his now dying wife cheated on him. The woman, Irene, is bored with her vanilla, sexless marriage, and has allowed herself to be taken in by this mysterious man who forces her outside of her comfort zone.
What comes across on screen, however, is just a series of sexual encounters that involve breaking into the houses of others. The scenes are sexually frank, unrevealing, and unerotic. They are more about the taboo of the moment and the lives that the characters are trying to escape than about the feelings of the characters, sexual or otherwise. As a result, the audience is never asked to connect with the characters, which is the biggest shortcoming of the film. When the characters do finally make some small emotional transformation, it's unaffecting. What's worse is that, like many films, Erosion tries to wrap everything up with one such emotional change. Instead of being a moving resolution, the ending leaves the viewer cold.
This is unfortunate because Erosion was an intensely moving and intensely personal experience for many of those involved. The script and the character of Gabe were born out of the marital problems of director Ann Lu and cinematographer Neal Fredericks, who, by the time the film was made, were no longer married. What's more, just weeks after shooting for the film was finished, Fredericks died in a plane crash. Yet the emotional attachment that filmmakers or actors have to their material doesn't always translate into successful storytelling.
Life Size Entertainment's DVD release makes it even more difficult for Erosion to hold your focus. The film is presented in a non-anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer. Neal Frederick's cinematography adeptly creates beautiful compositions, both in terms of color and framing; it often contributes more to the mood of the piece than the script or the acting. It is one of the redeeming qualities of the film. But about fifty minutes into the film, Life Size gives us the most blatant DVD mastering error I have ever seen. The screen goes black for roughly a minute, color bars appear (with the accompanying high pitched tones), the screen goes black for a few more seconds, and then a brief section of the film that has already played repeats before the film continues. Catching this error would require but one person to watch the film from start to finish. Anyone would have seen it.
Because I won't even give a mix CD to my friends without listening to it first, let alone ship pressings of it to critics and retailers around the country, I'm going to give Life Size Entertainment the benefit of the doubt. Erosion must have put their quality control guys to sleep before they got to the error. Luckily for them, the audio track they slept through doesn't sound too bad. The stereo mix gets the dialogue and the sparse score across adequately, which is all it's meant to do.
Rounding out their underwhelming presentation, Life Size Entertainment and Ann Lu provide an unnecessarily large and indulgent collection of extras. The first among these is a feature length commentary with star Emmanuel Xuereb and a man who introduces himself as the film's "documentarian." The most important thing I gleaned from this commentary is that many of the scenes in the film were intended to appear elsewhere chronologically. Xuereb admits at one point that a few scenes were moved around in editing to obscure some facts about the story. The film the actors thought they were making when they shot the scenes was different from what came out.
The scene that opens the film was one such edit. According to Xuereb, Lu made the change because it "would be a much more challenging...way to open the film." This could help explain why the actors are so excited. They were in a version of the film that I didn't see. It also lends credence to my suspicion that Ann Lu resorted to convolution and obfuscation to distract from the emotional vacancy of her film. Apart from this tidbit of information, the commentary drones on needlessly. It becomes nearly unbearable once the commentary and the video from the film are out of synch by more than a minute due to the error in the DVD described above.
The other extras are similarly indulgent and hard to sit through. The Red Hat -- The Making of Erosion must be the documentarian's contribution. It is roughly an hour long and it touches on the relationship between the film and Lu and Frederick's marriage, talks about how great the film is, and sings the praises of everyone involved. The 25 minutes of cast and crew interviews cover a lot of the same topics, with new information from some of the actors. There are also three deleted scenes, which run one after the next in a seven-minute clip, and a photo gallery. Last, there is a ten-minute featurette called Journey to the Heart. This featurette is nothing more than selections from Ann Lu's writings about the making of Erosion read by a narrator and set to video images of rocks, sand and moving water. Rocks, sand and moving water. Get it? Erosion!
While you recover from that mind-blowing revelation, let me say just a few more words about the release from Life Size Entertainment. While the error that takes place in the middle of the film was surely an accident, the company has done some questionable things to promote this package. First, the aspect ratio is listed as 16:9 on the back of the box. Mathematically, the ratio 16:9 is roughly the same as 1.78:1. While this is technically accurate, in practice I rarely see the notation 16:9 used other than in some variation of the phrase "16:9 Enhanced," which is used to denote an anamorphic transfer. This makes Life Size's notation strike me as deliberately misleading. Also deliberately misleading is the quote that appears in large, bold writing on the DVD's cover. I checked out Variety's website to find out what it could be that made one of their writers call this film something so positive sounding as "an erotic walk on the wild side." Ronnie Scheib's actual quote is "Love and death relate unexpectedly in Ann Lu's erotic curio as a housewife is lured from middle-class respectability for a walk on the wild side."
Seriously, any film that has its own "documentarian" should have enough value to justify the expense. Erosion doesn't. Sorry, but it's true.
Chinese water torture (which, incidentally, is not really Chinese) fits nicely with the erosion theme, don't you think? Well, everyone involved in the making of this film is cordially invited to partake.
Review content copyright © 2006 Neal Solon; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Life Size Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Cast and Crew Interviews
* Journey to the Heart, readings from director Ann Lu's writings
* The Red Hat -- The Making of Erosion
* Cast and Crew Interviews
* Deleted Scenes
* Stills Gallery
* Official Site
* Variety.com Review