It takes a deft hand to make a morally reprehensible person likable. The crime writer, James M. Cain, was a master at that, as were the great noir directors of the ’40s and ’50s. Unfortunately, that deft hand is missing in Sympathy, the breakout movie for [such and such productions]. Nobody is likable in this movie, or even relatable in the least. These are stupid, cruel people doing stupid, cruel things to one another culminating in an hour and a half of pure misery for the viewer.
The entire movie takes place within a motel room, playing out more like a theater set piece than your traditional movie. It may well be this was done solely for budget issues, but it could also be that setting the movie in such a confined location adds to the suspense and tension. At least, that’s how it works in theory. Trip takes Sara hostage after robbing a bank. He handcuffs her to the bedpost and while he sleeps she manages to get the keys to the handcuffs and swallows them, figuring that because they are “military grade” handcuffs and thus “unpickable” he’ll just have to leave her behind. Unfortunately for her, she underestimates Trip’s stupidity and stubbornness (although, to be fair, she’s pretty stupid herself). He leaves to find a hacksaw or something he can use to free her, and while he’s gone it just so happens that an escaped con manages to find their room. The con holds them hostage, threatening to do all kinds of terrible, sexual things to the girl and taunting the bank robber over his inevitable imprisonment. Of all the characters, the con is the most stupid, cruel, and repulsive, and that’s saying something given the company he’s in.
And so begins a game of cat and mouse as the bank robber and the girl try to escape the con. Lucky for them they happen to be maybe a decimal point smarter than the con, so they have a fighting chance. In theory this should be a good movie. The idea is solid and has real potential for suspense and terror; however, the movie hits a major snag in that nobody is likable. Even Sara, who we should have sympathy for by default, is so abrasive and stupid I couldn’t bring myself to care about her at all. In a way it’s funny that I reacted so negatively toward her considering I often criticize women hostages in horror movies for being too passive and whiny, but Sara is aggressive in all the wrong ways. She acts like a particularly bratty teenager that’s overtired from a long car trip: sarcastic, bitchy, delighting in cutting away at a person’s ego. It’s the kind of savage verbal assault you see teenage girls engage in all the time with each other and the only reason it doesn’t get her killed in this situation is, well, I don’t know. Honestly, there’s no reason I could see for Trip or Dennis to not shoot her. If I had one of those old Nintendo Light Guns I would have shot her Duck Hunt style just because she got on my nerves so much.
Nothing about this movie is good. The actors act just about as well as members of a high school drama club and the dialogue is wretched (or perhaps it only seems that way because of the awful delivery). For the life of me, I don’t understand why filmmakers can’t seem to understand that audiences need at least one character to latch onto and identify with. That’s what pulls people into a story and makes it work. If we don’t care about a character then we’ll never feel fear for their life, suffer with them over their failures, or rejoice in their triumphs. They don’t have to be good people for us to identify with them, but they have to be at least somewhat sympathetic. Without that this is just shadowplay, and a bad one at that.
There were no audio or video specifications given, but the video was fullscreen and the audio was in Dolby Digital 2.0 according to my DVD player’s onscreen display. It’s obvious that the filmmakers are using low-end equipment here, but taking that into consideration the movie looks and sounds fine.
No special features, for which I am profoundly glad as I have no interest in ever putting this disk into my player again.
Vicious Circle produced this film and somebody over there needs to be slapped for comparing this cinematic abortion to the works of Hitchcock and Brian De Palma. The acting’s terrible, the script laughable, and the characters absolutely loathsome. So not recommended.
Vicious Circle presents Sympathy. Directed by Andrew Moorman. Starring Marina Shtelen, Aaron Boucher, and Steven Pritchard. Written by Arik Martin. Running time: 105 minutes. Rated NR. Released on DVD: April 27, 2010. Available at Amazon.