The Scribbler is overwrought, absurd, occasionally exploitative, completely lacking in subplot, takes a good 20-25 minutes to really get going and has acting that varies from excellent to, well, less-than-excellent. It’s also hugely fun! It’s bonkers, sure, but in a good way. It’s a dark and suspenseful sci-fi yarn with a compelling, female-driven story. It’s visually interesting and actually has some nice twists and turns. And of course there’s a talking bulldog with a cockney accent.
As an ardent fan of science fiction and what the unenlightened often dismissively refer to as “comic book movies,” I have set rather a high bar. I have no time for derivative or amateurish stories, for films that needlessly violate long-held principles of the genre or for films made by people with no respect for the source material. The Scribbler is none of these.
On initial glance, some may write off John Suits’ film (adapted by Dan Schaffer from his own graphic novel) as just another stylized graphic novel adaptation attempting to cash in on some perceived comic book movie craze, but it isn’t, for a number of reasons.
Not the least of which is, there’s no such thing as a “comic book movie.” The mere fact that a graphic novel was the source material (and I won’t get into the differences between a comic book and a graphic novel here) doesn’t mean the end film will be remotely like previous graphic novel adaptations. For example, Will Eisner’s A Contract With God is quite distinct from Art Spiegelman’s Maus which has virtually nothing in common with The Death of Captain Marvel, for example. One can expect movie adaptations of these tomes to be as different as night and day.
If, however, you want to refer to The Scribbler as a super hero movie, you’d be a bit more accurate. I guess. But … no spoilers!
The film opens with Suki (Katie Cassidy) being interviewed by a detective (Michael Imperioli), who is investigating a series of suspicious deaths at an apartment tower. He is convinced that Suki is responsible for the deaths and until a police psychiatrist shows up in the person of Eliza Dushku, he’s not interested in any of her statements to the contrary. Dushku seems much more interested in Suki’s tale, and here’s where the film slips into the old story-told-through-flashbacks mode.
It seems that Suki was an in-patient at a mental institution, suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder and undergoing a controversial shock treatment-like therapy under the care of Dr. Sinclair (Billy Campbell). Dubbed “The Siamese Burn,” the treatment involves attaching what look suspiciously like jumper cable leads to the ears and inserting a tube/bite plate into the mouth. These lead to a retro-looking box with a big, red button, a voltage meter of some sort and a counter which, as we soon learn, is counting down, as each of her alters is eliminated by the machine.
One of these alters is someone referred to as The Scribbler, who writes cryptic backwards messages whenever she surfaces and who seems to have a little more than a passing interest in what goes on in Suki’s world.
After demonstrating some success in eliminating some of her extra personalities, she’s given a portable burn device and released to a dystopian halfway house with instructions to continue her treatment on her own. Called Juniper House, the building is a terribly run-down tower block. A semi-derelict building, with peeling paint and the stereotypical ubiquitous drips and leaks and faulty lights, it hardly seems like a place you’d want to house a bunch of unsupervised psychotics. To make matters worse, as she’s standing in front of the building a body smashes to the ground, splattering Suki in blood. Now we know why the sign in front of the building has been altered to read “Jumper House.”
From there, Suki’s day goes downhill as she meets the other denizens and surprise surprise, they’re all pretty damaged. There’s Ashlynn Yennie as Emily who has a clothing phobia (and who is conveniently naked every time we see her), there’s Bunny (Sasha Grey) who refuses to remove the bunny ears she’s wearing and suggests that Suki just go ahead and kill herself, since she’s going to die horribly, anyway, and Cleo (Gina Gershon) who wanders the hall with a rather large snake draped around her neck. All of these are glorified cameos, but serve to add a little creepy color to the story.
Katie Cassidy is exceptional as Suki and almost unrecognizable from her character on the CW’s Arrow, where she’s often given very little to do besides wait for Oliver to save the day. Here, she’s a conflicted and disturbed young woman consistently under pressure from without (and within) and manages to make her way, sometimes messily, through some very difficult circumstances, in the process carrying the film.
As Suki continues to use the device and as her alters continue to be eliminated, with each appearance of The Scribbler Suki begins to doubt her own existence, wondering if she is in fact an alter and The Scribbler is the “real” personality.
To expand much more would be to give too much away, and while this isn’t a film I would recommend to everyone, it’s absolutely worth a look for fans of gritty science fiction and some odder, more dystopian cult fare. There are strong elements of Luc Besson’s recent smash hit Lucy, as well as bits and pieces, either thematically or stylistically, of cult classics such as The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Hardware, Brazil and 1984.
Other standouts are Garret Dillahunt as Hogan, Suki’s on-again, off-again lover and only friend in the tower and a visually unrecognizable Michelle Trachtenberg (her voice is distinctive) as Alice, a rather menacing figure who may be the catalyst to Suki discovering her future.
Imperioli and Dushku are rather wasted in small, underwritten, and one-note roles. Fans of The Sopranos and Buffy the Vampire Slayer know how great they can be.
Director: John Suits
Writer: Dan Schaffer
Starring: Katie Cassidy, Michelle Trachtenberg, Eliza Dushku, Gina Gershon, Sasha Grey, Garret Dillahunt, Michael Imperioli, Billy Campbell
Release Date: Sept.19, 2014 (limited)