Judge David Johnson wanted to make a joke about shallow graves for this blurb but a) he couldn't think of any and b) it probably wouldn't be terribly appropriate anyway.
Based on the true story that shocked the nation.
In 1996, photographer Charles Rathbun was found guilty of the rape and murder of professional model Linda Sobek. The prosecution claimed Rathbun took Sobek to the desert for a photo shoot, raped and killed her, and tossed the body into a shallow grave. Rathbun claims the death was accidental. Case closed.
Now this smallish murder case that I have no recollection of receives a dramatic treatment in this unorthodox retelling of the circumstances that led to Sobek's tragedy. Whispers from a Shallow Grave is a micro-budgeted affair that blends together fact with fiction. Director Ted Newsom employs some ambitious tactics to tell the story, including the blending of real footage from Rathbun's trial. Much of what is thrown on screen was apparently recreated using Rathbun's testimony and other evidence as a guide. The result is…well, sort of a mess.
First off, I have to give credit where credit is due. Newsom is trying some different things here to tell what really is a fairly ho-hum story. He uses lots of flashbacks, quick-cuts, and stylistic experiments. And the mingling of his own material with actual footage from the trial is interesting. So a few points notched in his column for having the creative drive to do something different.
And here comes the "but."
But, in the end, the film just doesn't work, and Newsom's mechanics prove to be more of a distraction and a generator of confusion than a method to help move the story along. Whispers really is all over the place, a hackneyed combination of disjointed scripting, amateurish acting the aforementioned directorial decisions and the sticky feel of the ultra-low budget atmosphere.
Even now, I'm still not entirely sure what really went down. As the film progressed, it rolled into a bigger and bigger snowball of convolution. The flashbacks and leaps in and out of the world of fact and fiction were the main culprits. Newsom would slide between his dramatic constructions and the crime procedural component of the investigation. Basically, it felt like he was trying way too hard to put something different together, and along the way forgot how to tell a coherent story.
Newsom gets little help from his cast. Starring as Linda Sobek, you've got buxom beauty Trudi Jo Marie Keck. This actress has a pretty awesome name—likely the most awesome name I've ever heard—but, unfortunately, doesn't have the acting chops to match. She shoulders the heaviest burden to move the story along, and the magnitude is too much for her to bear, or anyone else for that matter. The main gimmick of the film is that we hear about the crime from Sobek's point of view, despite the fact that she's deceased. So, Keck is constantly involved in the fourth-wall breaching that Newsom has cooked up, and it proves too mighty a challenge. And while she certainly has the physical capabilities to play a dead model, her delivery is flat and monotone. She just drowns in the busyness of the film. The only other major character is Rathbun as played by Gerald Brodin, but his portrayal is limited to a lot of scowling and shouting and ogling.
Lastly, I don't know how interesting this case really is. I mean no disrespect to the loved ones of Linda Sobek, but I don't feel there's enough sensationalistic material to mine from the case to merit a film, even one as shifty and needlessly complex as this one.
Unimpressive, gritty full frame (of the typical low-budget ilk) and 2.0 stereo await, along with a surprisingly bare set of extras for a Tempe release: a lighthearted audio commentary with Ted Newsom and the stars of the film and trailers.
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice
Studio: Tempe Video
• Director's Commentary
Review content copyright © 2007 David Johnson; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.