One of the final films Brittany Murphy worked on before her death last month, 'Across the Hall' now has the stigma of being one of "those" movies, remembered for the circumstances surrounding it (think 'The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus'), rather than the content of the release itself. The premiere was her last red carpet opening, just weeks before her untimely passing.
As disgusting (and outright ghoulish) as it sounds, Murphy's tragic and unexpected death will only benefit 'Hall's financial prospects. The film had a limited theatrical run and an unceremonious home video dump with little-to-no fanfare or advertising. Now, the movie has an audience interested in seeing one of the actress' final roles, one which, considering real life occurrences, is quite disturbing (much like last month's Brittany Murphy release, 'Deadline,' for which the promotional art featured her body in a bathtub, eerily mirroring the events of her death).
An empty lobby. A jammed elevator. A man walking with a slight limp down a long, dark crimson hallway on the fifth floor of the Riverview Hotel. Another man, holed up in a room, with murder on his mind. An engaged woman across the hall, with a man other than her fiancee.
That's the situation Terry (Danny Pino), June (Murphy), and Julian (Mike Vogel) find themselves in. Terry holds all the cards, while his best friend is trying to stop an unimaginable disaster. As the story unfolds, so does the truth, with many twists and turns along the way. Who's telling the truth, and, more importantly, who's playing who?
'Across the Hall' is a style over substance noir thriller that harkens back to the olden days of cinema, much like something from Hitchcock. That isn't to compare this film to the works of The Master. 'Hall' can't hold a candle to any of the titles in Hitch's filmography.
The film has a somewhat interesting premise. A small cast, mostly small names, a star sadly past her glory days. A simple setting, a hotel, with all its quirks and character. The only non-simplistic element is the story, which can prove convoluted to even the most avid of genre fans as it jumps across numerous character arcs and timelines, sometimes playing forward, sometimes playing backwards, in a manner very similar to 'Memento.' Time and again, what we think might finally have been exposed as the truth is then written and rewritten in the following scenes, making each subsequent event all the more difficult to comprehend as the lies continue piling up.
The film is moody, with plenty of bold atmospheric lighting, and numerous sequences with colors (which obviously represent moods) lighting a sequence, directly, or through the set design. To that effect, I'd say the production is a great success. The rest of the film is where things fall apart. None of the actors give convincing performance, with the hotel porter (character actor Brad Greenquist) providing the most believable turn in his relatively minor role. To be honest, I was distracted by Murphy's presence, as her death was still so fresh in my mind that is was hard to forget whenever she was on screen. Her performance may be lacking any real spark or enthusiasm, but the same is also true for almost everyone else involved.
Writer/director Alex Merkin does a good job on his first full length feature (his previous work was, you guessed it, a short version of this very same story, starring Adrian Grenier of 'Entourage' and Natalie Smyka as June (who plays Anna in this version). Unfortunately, his inexperience does show at times. The film's pace is always off, from the constant misdirection, which put the "Kansas City Shuffle" from 'Lucky Number Slevin' to shame with it's excessive use, to the fact that the film feels like it's peaked before the third act even begins.
In short, the audience for this title may have grown dramatically due to recent events, but that only ensures more consumers will see the flaws in this work. The passing of Brittany Murphy is an absolute shame (and remains a real shock), but her presence doesn't redeem this film.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Across the Hall' arrives on Blu-ray from Image Entertainment, on a BD25 disc that is reportedly Region A locked. There are a few pre-menu screens, but they're the generic warning screens from the DVD era. There are no trailers or skippable screens before the menu.
Presented with a 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode (at 2.40:1), 'Across the Hall' is a fairly pleasant visual experience. Colors are strong, while contrast runs warm. Detail in close ups is solid, with amazing texture definition in the porter's uniform and on the old painted walls. There were a few blurry and/or hazy shots, and some noticeable color bleed , but the question is whether this was an aesthetic choice for the film or not. Skin tones are lifelike and realistic.
I do have to complain about the delineation issues in this release, as shadow detail is at an absolute minimum, absorbing anything and everything in its path. Blacks can run a bit too bright in some sequences, though again, the instances may be a conscious decision. Edges are clean, and grain does not appear to be tampered with (as evidenced in a very strong presence in darker sequences). All in all, 'Across the Hall' has a nice transfer, but, like the film, it has its issues, as well.
'Across the Hall' is provided a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track in English as the only audio option (with few subtitle options to choose from). While I wasn't exactly impressed, riveted, moved, immersed, or enraptured by the audio my system put out from this release, I can't complain either, as I didn't exactly expect a room rattler of a track from this noir thriller. Dialogue is clean, though some lines came through a tad muffled and indistinguishable. The score is the most bombastic element of the mix. Rear usage is minimal, mostly for music elements that wander through the room. There is a nice high range, but a few high pitched wails (in the score, it seemed) got on my nerves fast. There is some strong bass in the score and a few ambient effects, but the instances of rumble are few and far between. There was some light localization and movement, but nothing impressive. This film is a talker (a twisted one, at that), so the point is carried across just fine here, frills or no.
All of the extras on this release are in standard def, as they are ports from the DVD edition (being released day and date). Since the disc was pressed before Murphy's death, there is no content referring to her, or her work ethic. She's actually the odd duck out in this supplement package.
'Across the Hall' may not set the film world on fire, but dedicated Brittany Murphy fans will want to see one of the last performances of her all-too-short career. A stylish thriller with little backbone, the film feels like wasted potential at times, but it can still be enjoyed by those who can take it at face value. This Blu-ray release features solid video, average audio, and a somewhat small set of extras that mirror the DVD. This one gets the "for fans only" recommendation, as it's a risky blind buy, but the curious will want to see this film based on current events.