For Daniel (Lane Hughes) life is at a crossroads. His existence in blue collar Alabama suffered a huge body blow when he was dumped by his girlfriend Natalie (Maggie Henry). While she is off with her new actor boyfriend, Daniel seeks solace in over-the-counter drugs and pills.
Unfortunately for Daniel, the self-medication backfires. Despite the clumsy but well-meaning intentions of his redneck best friend, the chemicals only accelerate Daniel’s descent into darkness and loosen his grip on reality. To top it all he begins seeing ghosts and figures who may be a figment of his broken mind…or they might just be real.
In movies, often the real star isn’t the actors. It could be a supremely clever script. It may be dazzling cinematography. Or it could be eye-popping special effects. Or even bravura action choreography. In the case of Pop Skull, though, the star is the editing.
Director Adam Wingard made Pop Skull for a staggering US$3000. How do you make ultra-low budget DV look like quality? Wingard found a way through crushing the blacks of his images, grading like a madman and then shredding the results into a blipvert cross-cutting nightmare to mirror the mental collapse of the protagonist.
It is completely effective – both in revealing the thoughts and state of mind of the Daniel character at critical moments and also in setting up some neat jump scares. To boost the effect is some canny sound design that hammers in the same manner as the visuals. The film opens with a warning for anyone suffering from epilepsy and it is a warning that seems completely warranted.
But for all the technical bravado on display, the film struggles with a loose plot that meanders and pacing that flags all too often. The sense is one of a movie that had an excellent core idea, but was shot before a final script had been penned. Scenes drift together and long stretches take place with little of consequence or anything revealing about the characters. When things do kick in during the final act, revelations are carried out in a tasteful way, without feeling the need to hit the audience over the head with story points, but it comes all too late. Up until then, Pop Skull feels more like a bratty angst piece than the story of a shattered human being dealing with powers beyond his control.
In the end, Pop Skull is a flawed beast, but one laced with brilliance. Wingard is obviously a filmmaker of strong vision and bountiful talent. Should he manage to write or find a script to match the rest of his array of skills, the results would be something remarkable. Especially given that a lack of budget is clearly no barrier to the realisation of his vision.
- Director’s Commentary
- Short Films by Adam Wingard
- Deleted Scenes
- Halo 8 Trailers
DIRECTOR(S): Adam Wingard | COUNTRY: USA | YEAR 2007 | DISTRIBUTOR(S): Halo 8 | RUNNING TIME: 86 minutes | ASPECT RATIO: 4:3 | REGION: 0 | DISCS: 1