Back Add a Comment Share:
Facebook Button
In Hollywood, movies get the green light for various reasons, some of which puzzle even the  biggest movie fans. Stars and directors have enormous pull and can get projects made that they want to appear in with ease. If you're a studio and you're approached by Tom Hanks about potentially making a picture together, are you going to turn it down?  I don't think so. What about if Cameron Crowe comes to you with a script for a murder mystery. It's safe to say that star power and popularity works in Hollywood and just about every actor or actress has a pet project they are looking to do. While some films get made really quickly there are scripts out there that have been floating around for years, just waiting for the right person to sign on to  the film. Wayne and Donna Powers wrote a screenplay for a film called Skeletons in the early 1990s and Universal was interested. At the time, Universal felt the film was too dark for a major studio picture and the film was quickly shelved. Years passed and Donna and Wayne went on to write the major hit Deep Blue Sea as well as last year's teen slasher flick, Valentine. However it wasn't either of these efforts that interested the head of Artisan. It was a short film shot by the Powers with Treat Williams that was financed by the proceeds from the sale of the Powers house. Wayne and Donna were told that Artisan would be interested in making the picture with a  modest budget of 1.5 million dollars if Treat Williams would star in the project. Treat agreed and suddenly years later Wayne and Donna finally had their "GO" picture.

Skeletons in the Closet
Movie
Seth Reed (Jonathan Jackson) is a kid who's had a tough life. At the tender age of 6 he watched  his mother die in a tragic fire that burned down his childhood home. It's now, years later and he  still believes that his dad Will (Treat Williams) set the fire. The only thing is he's not exactly sure what happened or how it happened. Will is a working class man who has an adequate job at a local engineering company. He and Seth don't really get along well at all and when Seth is home he's locked away upstairs in his bedroom. Seth isn't home very often though as he disappears for nights and weeks at a time. When a local boy turns up dead, that Seth was seen with him the night of the murder suspicions arise surrounding Seth's innocence. Seth even goes to the extreme length of confessing to Will that he did the crime. Seth decides to get away and become a better man by joining the army but before long he is once again in trouble with the law.  All the while, Will is trying to start up a relationship with a coworker named Tina (Linda Hamilton). As Seth is around less and less and sends his dad more and more creepy gifts, Will gets concerned and begins to stalk his own son.  As Will's actions teeter on the brink of sanity it gets harder and harder to decern the truth of what happened the night of the fire.

After years of writing screenplays for other people Wayne and Donna Powers finally got to make the picture they always wanted. Wayne and Donna who had previously co-written the B-movie smash Deep Blue Sea for director Renny Harlin and the colossal flop Valentine for Jamie Blanks, have saved the best for themselves. Skeletons is a thriller that isn't exactly always by the numbers.  There are twists and turns and while some of them are pretty predictable I didn't seem to mind.  Now don't get me wrong this is strictly a B-movie fare that wouldn't have racked up any cash at the box office because it's just not a marketable type of film. It's somewhat dark and twisted and doesn't really fit the cookie cutter mold of a Hollywood thriller. Hollywood seems bent on the straight up chase style thriller (Double Jeopardy, The Fugitive) and these more psychological  thrillers seem to fall by the wayside. For every Seven there's a half dozen or more Skeletons that end up straight to video.

The studio wanted Treat Williams for this role and they got him. Treat is an actor who mainly acts in smaller direct to video type releases like this one. Recently Treat would be best known as the star of the Substitute sequels 2-4. He's a fine actor just not A-List material. Treat is given a chance to do something other then typical action as Will a guy who has a kid and is trying to start a relationship years after his wife's untimely demise. Jonathan Jackson is an actor I don't know much about who gives a scary performance here. Jackson's Seth was constantly frightening and kept me on the edge of my seat. His haunting performance should give him a chance at larger roles in the future. Linda Hamilton who was once a huge star is good in her small but important role of Will's partner and love interest. Schulyer Fisk (daughter of Sissy Spacek) is excellent in her two scenes as Seth's girlfriend.

Skeletons in the Closet doesn't break any new ground in the genre nor is the best thriller I've ever seen. It's a dark, smart and often disturbing thriller that's worth a look at home.  Artisan  made the right decision not to sink a lot of money into this film as it would never been commercially viable at the theaters where people flock to see such tripe as Dude, Where's My  Car. As a thriller it has a few flaws but ultimately it works. It's a B-Movie all the way and as long as you know that, one could do a lot worse than Skeletons in the Closet.

Skeletons in the Closet
Video
Artisan presents this ultra low budget film in a 1.851 anamorphically enhanced transfer. As Skeletons in the Closet was shot on high definition video, it's visual look is somewhat unique.  It's been said that high definition video is the format of the future that will transform how movies are made. It will allow films to be made much cheaper due to the fact that there would be  no film costs. This has caused some uproar in the movie community with some directors embracing the format (George Lucas) and some refusing to use it (Steven Spielberg). This film was my second experience with a film shot this way (the first being Time Code) and I'm still on the fence with  what to think of the whole thing. Sure it has its advantages, it's cheap, there aren't problems with grain or dirt and the film remains in the digital domain which makes it easier to edit.  However the final product lacks the look of a good polished 35mm presentation and just looks more like TV than I would like. There are processes that can be applied to films digitally that adds  film grain and according to the commentary track on the disc it was used here but the grain and film look they used really couldn't achieve the look of 35mm.

My problems with the technical approach aside, the movie does look great here.  Colors are natural, sharpness is good and the image does have a rather impressive depth to it. Problems are  few and far between though some shots have a soft look to them and occasionally the contrast in a scene seems a little dark. Due to the film being shot on digital video none of the usual film grain or dirt marks are found. This is a very nice transfer but the image does take a little  getting used to because of its origins. Still all things considered this transfer does look quite good despite my misgivings with the format chosen.

Audio
Since this film was a direct to video low budget thriller; I wasn't sure what to expect in the audio department. I've been watching movies for years and have seen a number of direct to video movies in my lifetime. Heck I used to get screeners of some pretty low budget movies on VHS from a friend at a video store. One of the things that caught my eye was that this disc had a full-on Dolby Digital 5.1 mix - something that you don't see on all direct to video titles.

The audio mix on this disc is nothing to get too excited about but does offer some pretty good stereo and split screen effects as well as some hauntingly low bass. The score fills the room nicely with dialogue appropriately placed in the mix. Surrounds are used effectively but sparingly creating a very natural audio landscape. One thing that surprised me was the low end which was surprisingly boomy for this type of film. The only fault of this mix is it plays things safely and doesn't offer a fresh or creative approach to the material. Technically this mix is very good and I can't help but wonder how good this film could have sounded if more experimentation had been done.

Skeletons in the Closet
Extras
The current market trend for DVDs is for them to be stacked with hours upon hours of bonus material. So when a disc comes along that only contains a commentary track and a couple other text based extras it's really hard to make a fair comparison. Since Skeletons was a low budget  movie and costs were kept tight it makes sense that not a lot of bonus material was available.

Artisan did have the courtesy to record an audio commentary track with director/writer Wayne Powers and writer/producer Donna Powers. For the Powers this project was almost 10 years in the  making with the script originally belonging to Universal. Universal however passed on the project  claiming it was too dark for them and after a string of writing jobs for Warner (Deep Blue Sea  and Valentine) and a short film Skeletons landed at Artisan. The commentary is full of information regarding the filming process and the legalities that arise when you're making a movie. Every aspect from the original conception of the story to the casting to the music to the technical details involving cameras and lenses is covered in great detail here. As a guy who someday hopes to come into some money and write a screenplay and self finance a movie of my own, this was an eye opening experience. Sure I took a few film classes in high school but I learned more here in 86 minutes then I did in hours of formal instruction and actual shooting. This is a film student's dream commentary as it doesn't come off like a fluff piece of how great it was to work with actor X or actress Y. An enjoyable listen that is well worth the 86 minutes.

The lone video based extra is the trailer presented in DD 2.0 and non anamorphic widescreen. Also included are text based supplements consisting of production notes, talent files and an interesting note from the Powers in the booklet.

Considering the film's origin and low budget, it makes sense that the amount of bonus materials that would exist for this film would be nowhere near the amount of material available for a major studio release. Would it have been cool to see deleted scenes for this film? Yes probably, but the  commentary explains that scenes were deleted from the film because they didn't have time to shoot them. I applaud Artisan for taking the time and putting up the money to have Wayne and Donna come in to record a commentary. A lesser studio may have just stuck the film on the disc and sent to market, trying to recoup whatever they could from their investment. So although it may not have the quantity of features of a Cast Away, in the end quality is what matters. The quality of the commentary is top notch and is a must listen for anyone who has any interest in how films are  made.  

Overall
Skeletons in the Closet is the B movie thriller done at its best. If you're a fan of thrillers or B movies then by all means pick this disc up. If not with its excellent  Audio/Video quality and definitive "How to make a small movie" commentary track, it's well worth a  look as a rental. Recommended.


Links: