They said Judge Gordon Sullivan was hallucinating when he was a cleaner; he kept claiming the rooms were clean.
How far would you go to forget what you've done?
Cinema loves an unreliable narrator. Because movies seem to give us a view of reality, it's very easy to mess with the audience's perception of what's going on. Sometimes it's subtle (like Sunset Boulevard) or more overt (like Inception). However, the use of unreliable narrators seems to benefit horror flicks and thrillers the most, and that's a trait that Removal is banking on. The story of a man suffering from hallucinations, Removal tries to get all the mileage it can out of its hero's difficulties. The result is a thriller that feels cobbled together from other films, though it does a decent job standing on its own.
Cole (Mark Kelly, Dead and Breakfast) saw a man (Billy Burke, Twilight) kill his family and himself—or maybe he didn't. Whatever happened, Cole is suffering from hallucinations and is institutionalized. Against doctor's orders, he leaves. A year later things aren't going well with his wife and son. Now, though he's a cleaner, and at the end of a long week, he's called out to do an estimate on a house. When he arrives the owner (Oz Perkins, Dead and Breakfast) offers him five thousand dollars to clean the floors that night. Though he's tired, Cole agrees. After starting, signs point to the fact that the owner of the house may have killed his wife and is using Cole to clean it up. Of course, Cole isn't sure that the whole thing isn't a hallucination.
Removal is the first feature from writer/director Nick Simon (who had help on the screenplay from Oz Perkins and Daniel Meersand on the script), and that shows. That's not an insult, it's just obvious that Simon is still working through his influences. The film plays out like a genre exercise, but it's hard to talk about the story's influences without giving away some of its secrets. However, based on the synopsis alone, this is a film that owes a huge debt to films like Session 9, except this time it's a lone cleaner rather than a team and a home instead of an asylum. The film also has a bit of films like The Perfect Host in it, where the head of the house at first appears normal but gradually becomes more sinister. To say more would give the game away, but the idea of the main character suffering from hallucinations has been done before as well.
And yet, Removal doesn't just feel like a genre mishmash. Simon's direction is assured, keeping the pace moving nicely. There's a bit of visual trickery here and there to indicate hallucinations, and Simon does a good job not letting those aspects of the film overwhelm the rest. More importantly, though, the actors in this film are simply spot-on. Mark Kelly is likeable as Cole, and though we worry about his hallucinations, we can't believe he would harm his wife and son. Oz Perkins is perfectly cast as the owner of the house, and he transmits a quite menace. Billy Burke's recurring role mixes the two, alternately menacing and likeable. Emma Caulfield has the thankless role of being Cole's worried wife.
The film also benefits from a solid DVD release. The standard definition 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is impressive. Much of the film takes place in a darkened house, but black levels are consistently deep and fairly detailed. Color saturation is spot on in daylight scenes, and the film has a slick, processed look that belies its lower budget. The 5.1 surround track is effectively used—dialogue comes through clear, but the surrounds get a workout during some of the more tense scenes. Extras start with a couple of deleted scenes that do a little too much to give the game away, as well as a gag reel of mostly blown lines. We also get 6 minutes of alternate opening that focuses a little more on characterization than the feature cut.
Removal is the kind of first film that shows lots of promise, even if it doesn't quite bring anything new to the table. With a decent blend of murder mystery, hallucinations, and some black humor, Removal will offer genre fans a few thrills and chills, even if seasons viewers will see the plot's twists and turns coming from the opening act. A strong audiovisual presentation and decent extras make this one easy to recommend for a rental.
Not perfect, but not guilty.
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