Watch out...Appellate Judge Tom Becker's crushing on you!
Our review of Crush (2001), published October 4th, 2002, is also available.
Careful who you wish for.
So, I get a Blu-ray called Crush about an obsessive, teen-age crush, and I think, "Haven't I already seen this? Haven't there been a number of films about obsessive, teen-age crushes, including one called The Crush?" So, with expectations inherently lowered, in I went.
Imagine my surprise when Crush turned out not to be a standard-issue teen-stalker thriller, but a moody and downbeat story that hits a surprising number of grace notes; in fact, it's both eerie and oddly perceptive, only falling apart at the end when the expected genre conventions kick in full force.
Scott (Lucas Till, Walk the Line) is a handsome and popular jock who also happens to be a genuinely nice, caring young man. Naturally, he has his share of female admirers, but after a sports injury, he decides he'd rather focus on training than dating. This is bad news for Jules (Sarah Bolger, In America); she wants to be his girlfriend, but he wants her to be his best friend.
Scott's other admirer is a bit more troubling. Bess (Crystal Reed, Crazy, Stupid Love) is the new girl in town. She's also pathologically shy and awkward, and she's harboring a nuclear-level crush on Scott. She dreams of him, she watches him run past her house, tries to set up a secret date, and one point, literally runs into him—on her bike, setting up a painfully uncomfortable encounter. Bess has her own admirer, an equally awkward and weird guy, Jeffrey (Reid Ewing, Modern Family).
With all Scott's got going for him, his life is still far from terrific. He's obsessed with coming back from his injury, to the point that he ignores his doctor's advice to take it easy and puts himself on an almost punishing fitness regime. Like many young men, he's convinced that the thing he's good at, sports, is his only ticket. He lives with his father, and the two have an uneasy relationship, at best. Plus, there's at least one other guy at school whose dislike for Scott seems more than the usual high school jock competitiveness.
Trouble begins when someone starts giving Scott some unwanted attention. People get hurt; someone creeps into his home; and Jules, who's perceived as his girlfriend, finds a bizarre message scrawled on her window.
Scott thinks he knows who his stalker is, but even after a warning, the creepiness continues…leading, naturally, to an unpleasant revelation.
So, all the tropes of the obsessive crush movie are in place, but director Malik Bader and writer Sonny Mallhi (The Roommate) seem interested in something more than the usual stalker creepshow. The characters are drawn—and played—with far more depth than is normally evident in a psycho-stalker film. Tensions are allowed to simmer and build; there are few jolt-shocks, and none of that annoying flash editing that pocks most contemporary thrillers. Even though it's about teen-agers, Crush is ultimately more sophisticated, more intelligent, and far more memorable than the garden variety PG-13 thriller.
Till is quite good—and sympathetic—as Scott. Too often, the objects of affection in films like this are cardboard cut-outs with movie-happy "perfect" lives. Not Scott. The difficult relationship between him and his father comes through without a lot of false notes. After his injury, Scott pushes himself hard to get back in shape—too hard. His father notes this with concern, encouraging Scott—who sees himself as nothing more than a good athlete—to focus on his other strengths. He's not perfect, but he's a concerned parent, and one who can't quite always express himself as well as he should, not unlike a lot of parents. He and Scott play chess, and at one point, Scott pushes for a father-son movie night—to see the 1940 His Girl Friday, a poster of which hangs in Scott's room. A high school kid in love with an old movie starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell? It's not something you see every day.
As the lonely and awkward Bess, Reed is excellent. The pain of her unrequited crush is palpable, her longing for this boy an ache that doesn't go away. In an interesting bit of business—and one that might have the target audience hitting Google—Bess is reading The Collector by John Fowles, a novel that also deals with obsessive love. It's a bit of an "in-joke," but one that effectively ups the creep ante in a nice and subtle way. While she's presumably the villain of the piece, Bess is presented in a surprisingly sensitive way, her fragility fully accounted for, and Reed's poignant performance is a standout.
Although the film deals with high school kids, and there are a number of scenes at their homes, Scott is the only one who seems to have a parent who's involved in his life. Otherwise, these are kids adrift, left on their own at too early an age, and we can see this taking a toll. It's an interesting commentary, and one that works well with the themes of the film.
While it's ostensibly a thriller, it's more a study of these people and an observation of how devastating unrequited love can be, particularly for vulnerable teens. Truthfully, the full-on thrills are in pretty short supply, but there is an insidious build up that creates a veil of tension that anticipates a surprise, an explanation for all the strange goings on with poor Scott. That Crush presents as a mystery rather than a full-on, look-what-the-psycho-is-doing-now story, was a satisfying switch from most other films of this type.
There's a twist near the end, kind of a nice surprise, one that starts off interestingly, but quickly devolves into a been-there, seen-that set of events, complete with the requisite creepy movie music. It's a shame that Bader and Mallhi opted for an easy way out, with the expected psychotic goings on and bloodshed. It's the only part of the film that felt like pandering.
Also, be warned: the disc's cover art offers an absolutely unconscionable spoiler. Seriously, what idiot approved this cover art?
Crush (Blu-ray) comes from Millennium sporting a perfectly fine high-def transfer and a perfectly acceptable TrueHD surround track. The lone supplement is a standard-issue "making of."
Crush fully exceeded my expectations for a PG-13, teen-oriented, scary stalker movie. It's the rare low-budget genre film whose director and writer aren't afraid to take their time, let their story unfold, and offer characters with a higher-than-usual depth quotient. Recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Millennium Entertainment
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