Judge Clark Douglas recommends you take your pills before reading this review.
He was looking for his father, but what he found changed everything.
Now here's a little movie that took me by surprise. Not always in a good way, but I have to admit that I found Iodine an interesting experience that kept me involved all the way to the finish line. It's a very low-budget flick starring, written and directed by first-time helmer Michael Stasko, and there are moments where its limitations are particularly noticeable. Even so, intriguing performances and even more intriguing ideas keep the film afloat during the rough patches.
The basic plot is a rather simple one. John Clem (Stasko) is a relatively ordinary (if exceptionally thoughtful) young Canadian man. One day, John receives a call from his sister informing him that their father has gone missing. John agrees to go looking for his dad, but can't find any trace of the man. The only person of interest he does find is Avery (Ray Wise, Reaper), an amiable fellow who claims to be Mr. Clem's best friend. John finds Avery a slightly suspicious character, and wonders whether he might have had something to do with Mr. Clem's disappearance. Even if that's not the case, surely Avery would be able to provide better clues than just about anyone else?
The relationship between John and Avery takes a somewhat unusual path as it proceeds. Avery informs John that he and Mr. Clem were working on something…well, something big. "What kind of thing were you working on?" John asks. "It's not a thing," Avery replies, "It's a way of thinking." John soon finds himself plunging further into Avery's unusual mind, attempting to comprehend this higher level of understanding that Avery claims to be working towards. After a while, John becomes convinced that this understanding can eventually lead him to discovering what happened to his father.
I've often suspected that many individuals who were eventually labeled "insane" were actually deep thinkers who allowed their minds to wander into areas larger than they were able to process. That idea is at the core of Iodine, which follows a bright young man as he permits his mind to wander into perilously overwhelming territory. Of course, the matter is muddled a bit by the fact that he is on medication at the beginning of the film and stops taking it soon after, but the question remains: is John going crazy because he's buying into a rubbish philosophy, because he's going off his meds or because he's actually attempting to force his mind to evolve in a manner that it's simply not equipped for?
The most compelling scenes in the film are the moments of dialogue between John and Avery. The latter's theories ride a thin line between persuasive philosophy and fractured nonsense, as he attempts to demonstrate why the world we're living in just might be a two-dimensional shadow of some larger, three-dimensional thing. "Let's say we are currently represented as one, and after we die we are represented as zero," he says cheerfully. "One times zero equals zero—the equal sign means that everything on both sides of equation is the same—so everything is the same!" John nods with a blend of confusion and fascination.
It's a unique portrait of a man embracing his introspective nature until it destroys him; a metaphysical trip tied to a generic movie mystery. The character Ray Wise plays is dramatically different from his role of Laura's father on Twin Peaks, but he embraces the strange-yet-melodramatic nature of that program in his hypnotic performance. Whenever he's onscreen, material that could have easily felt like a pretentious waste of time becomes fascinating, and Stasko's simplistic portrayal of John sharpens when he's engaging Wise in these scenes. The semi-lucid climax featuring these two characters works as a mostly satisfying conclusion to what has come before.
Still, there are an awful lot of bumps in the road on the way there. First, there are too many moments that feel like "cinematic filler." John wanders around outside and explores vast stretches of land, the significance of which is that it allows us to break free of the small, simple sets where most of the film takes place. Second, the film suffers from two jarring tonal shifts during its final half-hour—the sequence in which John invites his girlfriend over to his father's cabin, and the scenes featuring the cartoonish members of the local police department. This could have been a very tight hour-long drama, but at 99 minutes it noticeably sags and wanders off course from time to time.
The DVD transfer is decent enough, though the film isn't particularly ambitious on a visual level. The image gets pretty grainy at times, but not distractingly so. Audio is solid, with some nice bits of subtle sound design for a low-budget flick like this one. Supplements include a commentary with Stasko and producer Eric Schiller, a "Making-Of Featurette" (12 minutes), an interview with Ray Wise (10 minutes), some production notes, a photo gallery and a trailer.
Iodine is a significantly flawed film, but worth a look for patient viewers (particularly those intrigued by the idea of a film rooted in discussions of metaphysical concepts).
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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