Judge William Lee reminds you to drink more milk.
Two men. One secret. No problem.
Winner of the Best New British Film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2010, Skeletons plays like a cross between a low-key Ghostbusters and a low-tech Inception. The small budget supernatural comedy from writer-director Nick Whitfield is a lot of fun but IndiePix's DVD release cools my enthusiasm.
Facts of the Case
Bennett (Andrew Buckley) and Davis (Ed Gaughan) specialize in extractions. Using their Victorian-era tools to tap into the psychic energy that resides in their clients' homes and personal items, the paranormal experts uncover their deepest secrets. There is the suggestion that this service could be useful to people in power but Bennett and Davis are assigned the domestic files by their boss, the Colonel (Jason Isaacs, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix). An engaged couple wanting to clear the skeletons from their respective closets before getting married typifies their assignments.
With the promise of a promotion if they're successful, Bennett and Davis are assigned the case of a woman whose husband disappeared eight years ago without a trace. Jane (Paprika Steen, The Substitute) is a hard-working mother of two who needs closure to her mystery otherwise she'll continue randomly digging up the grounds around her country home looking for answers. Matters are complicated when her daughter Rebecca (Tuppence Middleton, Tormented) turns out to have the same clairvoyant abilities as Davis.
Here's a supernatural comedy that perhaps only the British could make. Devoid of special effects, the story is told through the banter between its two protagonists and the exacting procedural work they apply to their investigations. Their method amounts to a lot of paperwork, the examination of the psychic evidence, followed by a formal disclosure of their findings to the client in what resembles a counseling session. Bennett and Davis walk across the English countryside to their destinations. They use seemingly archaic gear with analog dials and scopes. The atmosphere is similar to the steampunk mixture of past technology and contemporary attitudes, only much more subdued.
As the paranormal investigators, actors Buckley and Gaughan conform to the classic comedy duo types. Bennett, tall and bulky, is a bit more down to earth and sensitive toward their clients. Davis, short with a slightly hunched posture, is a bit severe due to his no-nonsense professional attitude. However, Davis is still dealing with his own skeletons and he often uses his skill to revisit a memory from his childhood. Buckley and Gaughan fill their roles perfectly as competent but underappreciated practitioners of their particular occult art.
Those who found the dream realms of Christopher Nolan's Inception too precise and linear will appreciate how Skeletons depicts the unconscious world. When Davis and Bennett enter the dream worlds of their clients, they are simultaneously observers, merely witnessing interactions between psychic constructs of people, and participants, assuming a character identity, and influencing the action. The situations in the dreams are also slightly off-kilter in the way they quickly move to another layer or present fleeting impressions of memories. The trick is made convincing through the performances and the terrific editing by Rachel Tunnard.
There is a technical flaw on this IndiePix DVD that creates a colossal distraction. I'm not an expert on telecine techniques, so I'll just describe what I see. There is a continual, subtle jump in the picture during playback. Advancing the movie frame by frame, it looks like an image is missing after every 23rd frame. This is really noticeable when characters are moving across the frame or when the camera is panning or tilting. That is, whenever there is any kind of movement across the screen, there is a slight jump in the picture about every second.
Aside from this defect in the video mastering, the image is pretty good. Details are nicely rendered, black levels are strong, and colors are slightly cool. The English countryside looks lush and majestic. The stereo audio works fine for the movie although some of the dialogue is muddied (to my ears anyway) by the English accents and no optional subtitles are available.
There's almost nine minutes of deleted scenes. Three "Viral Videos," running eight minutes total, are interviews with actors Gaughan, Isaacs and director Whitfield promoting the film. The trailer is also included.
Though it borrows elements from other paranormal and sci-fi movies Skeletons is an original take on the premise of how mortals deal with and in the spirit realm. It's a low-key mystery with some likeable characters and the way the dream world is presented is very effective. The movie gets an easy recommendation but the DVD's technical flaw is hard to overlook.
We declare a mistrial. We can't decide whether to judge in favor of the movie or against the DVD.
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Scales of Justice
• Deleted Scenes
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