Sunday, March 2, 2014

Happy Oscar Sunday! A Visually Striking, Boring, Bothersome Story: The Wait

The Good: Good direction, Purposely unsettling mood.
The Bad: Characters make little to no sense, Nothing exceptional on the acting front, Absolutely nauseating sense of mood.
The Basics: Alternately vague and mysterious and intensely specific and horrifyingly real, The Wait is a troubling mood piece.

Mood pieces are a tough sell in modern cinema. I’m not saying that only David Lynch can really pull off a mood piece, but after Mulholland Drive (reviewed here!), it is hard to make a real, deep, moody, visually-striking, dreamlike film (despite there being a rational order to Mulholland Drive that makes the dream movie actually make complete sense). “Mood pieces” are films that are far more concerned with style over substance and they belabor the creation or manipulation of a specific emotion over telling a concrete, linear, or rational story. The Wait is a mood piece and if you’ve never heard of it, there is a reason; it’s an independent film that had exceptionally little in the way of exposure. I’m starting my day of celebrating the year in cinema (tonight I’m having a little Oscars celebration!) with an indie film and The Wait was an unfortunate choice.

The reason none of the nominees for Best Picture are mood films is that mood films are tough to pull off effectively, exceptionally difficult on rewatchability and are marketed by no major studios or film distributors. The Wait embodies many of the problems of the indie mood piece; it is dense and flighty, deals with troubling topics and manipulates/confuses the viewer. In fact, I have not felt more consistently nauseated through the act of watching a film since Tideland (reviewed here!). Set in a small resort community in Oregon during a forest fire, I was sold on watching The Wait because it stars Jena Malone (whose part in the film becomes substantive long after I was already grossed out, bored, and stopped caring about the film). The Wait is like Tideland meets Dreamland (reviewed here!), but it is a film devoid of all charm, originality or characters worth caring about. So, while the movie very effectively creates a mood, it is homogenously unpleasant and not worth allowing oneself to be manipulated for the hour and a half.

Opening with the death of her mother in their remote house, Emma is surprised to get a telephone call from a woman she does not know. The woman knows that she is a Libra and her mother has just died and she tells Emma to hold tight, implying that her mother will resurrect. Emma tells her sister, Angela, who reasonably disbelieves the idea that their mother could come back from the dead. Despite it being unlike her, Emma asks Angela to wait on dealing with their mother’s body. While they deal with the body and the decision to wait, Emma’s children get freaked out and their neighbors in the small community of cabins react to their own lives.

Emma seems to believe that her mother’s resurrection will occur and that the act could get the family onto the morning news programs. She begins planning a celebration with her daughter, though as night falls, Angela calls the coroners to come take the body. The sisters begin a showdown with one another over their course of action and their history with their mother.

Mood pieces are not supposed to make rational sense necessarily, but The Wait tries to make some rational connections as Angela tries to justify why her mother might resurrect (based on silicon in the ground and fire retardant magnesium being dropped all around). The explanation comes between emotional outbursts, after unfathomably irrational moments, and when the character is clearly in a state of shock. Like any other film, mood pieces have to get the viewer to care about the characters long enough to sit through the movie; The Wait fails to do that.

Amid the death, creepy relationship between Emma and her daughter and Ian (Angela’s son) wrestling with the emotional consequences of his friend making a pass at him (while Ian remains obsessed with a girl nearby), The Wait falls down because the characters fail to react with a sense of realistic consequence. Perhaps the most problematic is Angela. Angela reveals to Emma early in the film that she was molested by her mother. So, when the mysterious neighbor, Ben, shows interest in Angela’s niece, there is a logical disconnect that makes no sense. Instead of wondering why the hell an adult stranger would want to make a young girl a gift or have some of her possessions, Angela enables him. Angela’s lack of a protective instinct toward her niece makes no sense, especially for a woman who is not in denial of her past abuse.

What also makes no sense – in a way that is essential to making one willing to experience the mood piece and enjoy the experience at all – is how Angela humors Emma from the beginning. First, the phone call Emma gets is painfully vague (and its source is revealed late in the film), which makes it a pretty big leap for Emma to be willing to believe Tia meant that her mother would resurrect. But Angela goes along with it. Angela’s willingness to humor Emma makes no sense: Angela has unresolved issues toward her mother (why the hell would she want her mother to return?!), does not believe in reincarnation, and Emma is crazy. Emma is not crazy in a vague, not medically-substantiated way: she is bat shit crazy with a severe personality disorder that makes her irrational, self-centered and a credible threat to her child, Angela, and Angela’s son. But Angela humors her, going along with her loopy plan to keep their mother’s corpse around on the hope it will reanimate.

All The Wait has going for it is the direction. M. Blash may have written a senseless script, but he directs it well. The Wait is murky and creates a constantly unsettling mood. Blash may have gotten great performances out of Jena Malone and Chloe Sevigny before, but here they are poorly used (when she is not acting spasmodically manic, Sevigny’s Emma just stares creepily into the camera). Still, he makes the film look good with a sense of style and production values that are professional.

It is not worth it, though. The Wait is, at best, a movie that will make one’s stomach clench up and twist over and over again as the characters on screen act in unsettling manners and in inorganic ways that defy logic, basic human emotion or any sense of rationality. For a day when I plan to enjoy my love of the cinematic arts, The Wait was a bad choice.

For other works featuring Jena Malone, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Sucker Punch
The Soloist
Pride & Prejudice
Donnie Darko


For other movie reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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