Case Number 11626: Small Claims Court


Cinema Epoch // 2004 // 84 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // July 3rd, 2007

The Charge

Two Kooks Who Complain A Lot.

The Case

Irvin and his sister Ida have been living isolated in their family home for the last 15 years. He can't get over the death of his devoted mother, while she is steadfast in her belief that their absent father is also among the departed. Together, they forge an agoraphobic existence: she handles all the day-to-day chores (ordering food, dealing with phone calls and visitors), he spends his time maintaining the home and dealing with the voluminous mail that seems to arrive everyday. They never, however, under any circumstances, leave the house. It's just as well, since it's clear that the siblings are deeply troubled. He has visions of his missing mom and is getting lost in childhood memories and increasingly painful hallucinations. She feels unloved and unfulfilled, desperate to break free from this prison-like household and yet unable to tear herself away from her pathetic brother. From a disappointing Halloween to a frantic Thanksgiving, the Walterses are way beyond saving. When the family attorney drops by to deliver some devastating news, it seems like things are beginning to crack, permanently. Through all the attempted suicides and suggestive feelings, we've been monitoring what goes on Inside Irvin -- and all is definitely not what it seems.

Offering nothing new in the way of narrative and only the slightest level of interest via its performances, Inside Irvin is desperate to be some manner of psychologically unsound character study. It so wants to impart a kind of kinetic unease through its tale of competing sibling agoraphobics that it actually forgets to give us a reason to care. From the very beginning, screenwriter Kimberly Seilhamer and director Armen Titizian decide to avoid any fantasy formalities and instantly establish the cracked reality these perplexing personalities populate. When Irvin takes his sister on a date to the opera for her birthday, the almost automatic reveal of the living room setting (we assumed a real night on the town) breaks down the wall of wonder almost immediately. It sets up a second boundary, however, one that constantly questions motive and meaning without once really letting us get to know our leads. It's a basic storytelling stumble and one the movie never really over comes. It would have been better to introduce the insanity issue later, once we've learned that Ida is a practical priss while her brother is a mommy-loving mouse. Learning about their lives in ambiguous flashbacks just won't work, especially since those who pay close attention will notice something substantial missing. Far be it from this critic to spoil the surprise, but Seilhamer's last-act denouement should be fairly obvious to anyone who has followed the back-and-forth.

Until the first major twist (which arrives at the one-hour mark), Inside Irvin is nothing more than a series of hissy fits formulated around specific holidays. Seilhamer's gimmick grows grating after a while, as birthdays merge into Halloween before disappearing into Thanksgiving and Christmas. All the while, the pair's confrontations remain the same, endless meandering mind games that seem forged out of feelings that should be very old hat by now (the duo have lived on their own for nearly 15 years). Still, every time we see them together, Ida is complaining about Irvin's thoughtlessness and he is harping on her constant threats about leaving. Together, they create a one-note cacophony that never really advances the plot. Nor do these frequent flare-ups prepare us for the events that unfold later on. As a matter of fact, they seem antithetical to the whole Shyamalan style ending. The last five minutes of Inside Irvin does not provide us with one of those "a-ha" moments, a shot or explanation that brings the entire movie together. In fact, it creates the opposite effect -- the "um...huh?" type of twist that does very little of anything to clarify the supposed surprise. In this case, the last disclosure (and the few insert sequences surrounding its reveal) could mean several different things. There is one rather obvious answer, but it doesn't automatically discount the other three or four.

None of this would matter if actors Christo Dimassis and Christie Lynn Smith had found a way to move beyond the facile and actually give their characters dimension. Since Seilhamer's script isn't about to help, it is up to the actors to locate any quirks or viable internal aspects that could broaden our perspective. Instead, Dimassis has got weasel-like whiner down pat, while Smith is stuck starring in a perkier version of her own bitterness. It's a weird interpersonal dichotomy, one made even more ubiquitous by the lack of any other characters. Granted, we do meet up with a seemingly stable mother figure (never once providing a hint of why she had to be institutionalized), a mysterious ghost boy (Irvin as a child), and a family lawyer whose main job is to act as plot twist catalyst. But all three aren't part of the bigger narrative dynamic. No, Inside Irvin is merely a face off between brother and sister, and the soulless stances they take only bore us in the end. It has to be said that Titizian has a wonderful way with a camera. His lens is never lazy, and the various shots he composes for the film give it a powerful and professional sheen. We just keep waiting for something engaging or entertaining to happen within his cinematic framework. While broader brushstrokes used in creating the onscreen personalities may have helped, it's actually rather difficult to decipher how one would make this film more intriguing. Everyone here is trying their best, but it's clear that their best just won't do.

Presented by Cinema Epoch and distributed by Koch Vision, Inside Irvin looks pretty good on DVD. The sole downside is the decision to release the atmospheric film in a non-anamorphic transfer. Fans of the 16x9 format should be outraged by this old-fashioned formatting approach. It's uncalled for in this day and age. From a purely positive standpoint, the print is colorful and ambient, projecting the proper mood for the movie's many emotional swings. There are no apparent digital defects, and the balance between shadow and light is expertly realized. The sound situation is a little less definitive. While the Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 mix does a nice job with the muted musical score, there are times when the orchestration competes with our comprehension of the dialogue. It's not frequent, but it can be annoying. As for added content, we are treated to a selection of deleted scenes (mostly extended sequences from the film), a trailer, a photo gallery, and an 11-minute interview featurette that also offers footage from the film's production. Actor Christo Dimassis (who functioned as a producer on the project) and screenwriter Seilhamer are on hand to take part in the Q&A, and they provide some interesting insights into the movie's lengthy history. There is a lot of substance here, so fans of the effort will be easily rewarded. Others will wonder why these artists' intentions didn't successfully translate to the screen.

If you want a break from all the mindless Hollywood hype and normal indie film malarkey, Inside Irvin may indeed satisfy your cinematic urges. But be warned -- the journey will not always be fun, and the final destination won't warrant the pains to took to make it there.

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Scales of Justice
Judgment: 78

Perp Profile
Studio: Cinema Epoch
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

* None

Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Interview Featurette
* Deleted Scenes
* Trailer
* Photo Gallery

* IMDb

* Official Site