October 21, 2014 (U.S. DVD)
Dan Schaffer (GN and Screenplay)
Sasha Grey as Bunny
Katie Cassidy as Suki
Michelle Trachtenberg as Alice
Eliza Dushku as Silk
Gina Gershon as Cleo
Garret Dillahunt as Hogan
The Scribbler is a semi-complex psychological thriller that doesn’t especially fall into horror, though there are some dramatic death scenes. This feature is much more in the psychological science fiction realm, but even there it’s hard to place. The concept and execution are very unique.
The Scribbler was originally a graphic novel by the same name by Dan Schaffer of London, England. Schaffer has an interesting career starting off as a political cartoonist before moving to comics by writing and illustrating the series “Dogwitch” in 2000. Four years later came what Schaffer considers to be a more serious phase in his artistic direction with “The Scribbler”, meant to illustrate “the dangers of mechanical thinking in an organic world”. Having not read the GN, this film was viewed with no preconceived notions or familiarity with the storyline at all.
The film begins with an introduction of Suki (Katie Cassidy), a deeply troubled woman suffering from acute multiple personality disorder. A psychology PHD (Billy Campbell) chooses Suki for a new kind of therapy that does away with drugs and instead hooks her up to a machine that is supposed to direct electric current to specific areas of the brain for therapeutic purposes. This doctor believes that every session Suki undergoes with the machine “burns away” more of the multiple personalities, the goal being to burn all of them away leaving only Suki herself. The machine even has a counter on it to show how many personalities remain inside the person hooked up to it.
When Suki progresses to a certain point in her therapy she is moved to a kind of half way house, armed with a portable version of the machine to continue burning away the unwanted personalities. The house, called “the tower”, is filled with crazy characters including the girl who wears bunny ears all the time (Sasha Grey), the beautiful girl who is afraid of clothing (Eliza Dushku) and a gypsy-type woman named Cleo (Gina Gershon). The ward is supposed to be all women, but one man who checked the wrong box on his application, Hogan (Garret Dillahunt) lives there too, which is good news for Suki because she remembers him from another psych ward.
When Suki resumes her treatment she blacks out for two or three days, and one of the residents of the tower hurls herself to her death. The next treatment, another blackout and another suicide. On top of that, when Suki awakens she finds that the machine to burn off personalities is being altered and hooked up to higher and higher voltage power sources, and there is backward writing all over her apartment walls. It seems that the most dreaded of all the personalities, The Scribbler herself, has been coming out to play.
The Scribbler is a semi-complex psychological thriller that doesn’t especially fall into horror, though there are some dramatic death scenes. This feature is much more in the psychological science fiction realm, but even there it’s hard to place. The concept and execution are very unique, and the fact that this screenplay was written by the originator of the graphic novel it is based on, Dan Schaffer, leads to confidence that this is the same vibe that the GN gives off. While complicated and needing some figuring out, the story is nonetheless compelling and well told. It is satisfying to see the pieces come together in a way that keeps the story moving along without trying too hard to be clever. This film just IS clever, doesn’t have to put out lines to convince the audience of that face.
The performances in The Scribbler are excellent, all of them from the random crazy people or psych assistants to Katie Cassidy herself as Suki. Cassidy in particular has a very definite star quality, absolutely able to carry the weight of a feature film on her shoulders without breaking a sweat. Not to say she doesn’t put in the work, as this is a role with high demands of emotional variation as well as intense physical demands. Katie Cassidy impresses all the way through, keeping every eye on her while we wait to find what secret will be revealed next. Interestingly Cassidy has had a strong presence in both Horror television (Supernatural, Harper’s Island,Melrose Place (haha)) and horror films (Remakes of Black Christmas, A Nightmare on Elm Street,When a Stranger Calls) but none of those performances have the punch of The Scribbler. Cassidy seems to have needed something Independent and Edgy to take it to the next level.
The look and feel of the film is, in a word, dark; Lots of nighttime shots, dark rooms, dark people. I imagine the GN used a lot of purples and dark blues on just about every page. In spite of the general lack of light, there is a tremendous amount of detail in the sets, just as there is in the characters and the storyline. This film captures a mood of dysfunction and evil and foreboding very well.
The final act of The Scribbler does, admittedly, get a little bit comic-booky, but this is a feature adaptation of a graphic novel after all. Actuallly, there are a few things that transpire during the final sequences that one’s brain may flag as “off the rails”, but miraculously those scenes and images work great. This film could so easily have gone off the rails, and actually teeters on the boundaries of doing so, but never makes the plunge. This is a great mix of GN sensibility and fantasy while maintaining a bit of the overall believability needed for a successful film.
Overall The Scribbler is great – interesting, exciting, thought provoking, intriguing – there really isn’t a moment where the audience is looking at their watch wondering how much longer it’s going to go on. With a compelling story, great characters, a murky feel and an outstanding performance by Katie Cassidy, this film is a winner. Now… does it stack up to the GN? No idea. Like I said, didn’t read it.