I am one hundred percent certain that the only reason 'Tanner Hall' is getting a Blu-ray release is because its star, Rooney Mara, is about to play the titular character in David Fincher's remake of 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.' While 'Tanner Hall' isn't great, it sure isn't terrible either – I simply do not believe that the Blu-ray of this two-year-old movie coincidentally hits shelves just two weeks before 'Dragon Tattoo' opens.
'Tanner Hall' is a coming-of-age story showing the radical maturation of four girls over the course of the first few months of their senior year at an all-girls prep school. Mara leads the pack as Fernanda "Ferny" Rooney, a quiet pretty girl who follows the rules. She and her two best buddies are still lost in their innocence. They remain safely sheltered from the cold real world that lies outside the schoolyard - but the arrival of a new student is about to change that.
Victoria (Georgia King) is a stuck-up British girl who has been expelled from so many private prep schools that Tanner Hall is one of her last options. The mothers of Ferny and Victoria attended Tanner Hall together in their youth, so – despite being complete opposites – the two are distantly connected and Ferny is forced to accept the rebellious Victoria into her small circle of friends. It doesn't take long for Victoria's shady, dishonest, selfish, and contagious personality to infect the three innocents, which causes each of them to make bad decisions and face the consequences of their actions, as harsh as they may be.
Although under age, Ferny starts an all-too-friendly relationship with a married man (Tom Everett Scott), completely ignoring the facts that he's much older, a physical relationship is technically illegal and his wife is less than one month away from delivering their first child. The wild and crazy girl of the group, Kate (Brie Larson), finds flirting and leading men on quite entertainingly, but is soon going to learn the hard way what the negative effects are of her seemingly innocent and playful actions. The shy and quiet girl of the group, Lucasta (Amy Ferguson), uncertain of her sexual preference, is going to experiment by dabbling with both sexes to see which suits her best. Out of all four stories, Lucasta's is the only one that doesn't leave you thinking she's a terrible person. Oddly, it's also the only one that isn't quite resolved in the end.
By now, there have been countless coming of age stories, so it's extra hard to find a unique new way to pull one off successfully. Unfortunately, this is what ultimately plagues the story and content of 'Tanner Hall' – it's a carbon copy of a carbon copy. There's nothing in this boarding school movie that we haven't already seen in the others - an exploratory lesbian kiss, keeping secrets, backstabbing, smoking pot, a whole lot of people getting emotionally hurt et cetera. It's 'Juno' meets 'Dead Poets Society' meets 'Cruel Intentions.' And in the middle of it all is a weightless story about a married couple of advisers whose relationship is on the rocks. Played by Chris Kattan and Amy Sedaris, it's hard to take any of their storyline seriously.
The rest of the players actually deliver fairly strong performances. If she didn't get your attention with her brief role in 'The Social Network,' then watch 'Tanner Hall' for the sole purpose of seeing exactly why Rooney Mara is going to be a great Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. Her acting is flawlessly natural. She has the ability to convey the strongest emotions in the most subtle manner. If you watch 'Tanner Hall' for the sole purpose of seeing Mara do her thing, then it's worth it.
Although I know that I've seen Georgia King in other films, her background roles have never stuck out to me. Perhaps the weakest of the leading cast, she still serves her purpose by making you both dislike and feel for her. I'd only seen Brie Larson once before in 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.' Because you hate her evil character Envy Adams so much, I'd carried that sentiment about her off-screen. When she popped up in 'Tanner Hall,' I didn't even recognize her. It's fantastic to see how completely different she can be when you compare her in those two films. Amy Ferguson is an actress I remember seeing from the drug / party scene in 'Garden State,' but that's it. She hardly opened her mouth in 'Garden State,' so it's quite the contrast to see her in a role that allows her to show off her acting abilities.
Had 'Tanner Hall' steered clear of the typical plot points, it could have been great. As strong as the performances may be, they're not enough to save this ship from sailing into familiar territory. It's far too predictable and generic to be worthy of recommendation.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Anchor Bay has placed 'Tanner Hall' onto a Region A-locked BD-25 in a standard eco-friendly keepcase. Upon inserting the disc into your Blu-ray player, you're forced to watch an FBI warning and an Anchor Bay vanity reel before being able to skip through trailers for 'Daydream Nation' and 'happythankyoumoreplease.'
For a relatively unknown two-year-old indie movie, 'Tanner Hall' has been given as surprisingly strong 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. While it's not groundbreaking, by any means, it's certainly much better than expected.
The print used for this transfer is pristine and completely clean. For the most part, it's always sharp and highly detailed, only looking soft when the actors step out of the focal distance. Textures can be seen on nearly every object in the frame – from clothes and leaves to the facial pores and unique lines on Mara's thin hands.
Blacks are typically deep. They only falter in a few night scenes where black clothing disappearing into the shadows behind them. The overall palette of 'Tanner Hall' is warming, causing its mostly pale actors to have natural-looking fleshtones. Set in the northeast section of the United States during autumn, the fall colors of changing leaves are beautiful. Obviously chosen to symbolically represent the maturation change happening within the girls, these same colors are used in their wardrobe. Perhaps the most vibrant color in the whole film is a popping red dress that Ferny wears late one evening. While the palette may not vary much, this dress shows how rich the colors really are.
The video quality flaws of 'Tanner Hall' are minor. During the opening and closing shots of the film, there's a good amount of digital noise bogging down the picture. Fortunately, this only occurs during the bookends.
As Victoria enters the dining hall, we see a fantastic slow motion shot of her walking down the aisle in search of a familiar face. After the slow motion shot, it's obvious that the settings were never readjusted on the camera for regular shooting. The whole sequence is shot at a much higher frame rate (the one used for the slow-mo) that leaves all motion looking like the choppy Normandy scene that opens 'Saving Private Ryan.' This effect may be desired for films like 'Saving Private Ryan,' but it's not only unfitting to 'Tanner Hall' because of the tone of the movie but because it's never again used at all. This may not be a fault of the disc or transfer, but it's definitely worth mentioning.
Only one listening option is available for 'Tanner Hall' – a fantastic 5.1 English Dolby TrueHD track. Once again, from a low-budget no-name title, I didn't expect the quality of the audio to be so high.
As the film opens, a soft overture plays through all channels. It engulfs the room to create a sure mood that matches that of the girls. As you would expect from a 17-year-old girl, when Mara's narration begins, she delivers it in the typical mono-tone "teen voice." Matching her mono quality, the narration only comes from the center channel with perfect clarity.
The rear channels are not only used for music, but for creating the environmental ambiance of each scene – be it a scene in the bathroom where the echo of splashing shower water can be heard bouncing off the hard tile surfaces, an outdoor scene where the breeze can be heard blowing and rustling leaves across the room or a classroom scene where the large open room stops all sounds from traveling far and the only sound to blare out is the end-of-class bell ringing.
Aside from unfitting and quirky music, the only issue with the audio stems from two scenes early on in the film where the vocal track emits a slight echo from the shooting location. One scene is from the cab of a car and the other in a small enclosed room. Other than that, it's perfect. All channels are well-utilized and the music, vocals and effects are evenly balanced.
With the unknown-yet-exceptional casting choices, 'Tanner Hall' has the potential be a fantastic film, but it spends too much time going through the checklist of things that must happen in a typical, cliched coming-of-age story set in a single-sex boarding school. Had it not been for a few "F" bombs, brief nudity while passing through the shower room, and steamy dry humping scene, it would make for a perfect Lifetime Channel movie. Both the audio and video quality are excellent – especially when you consider that 'Tanner Hall' is a cheap indie movie made on a super low budget. The only area in which it is like an indie Blu-ray is in the special features department. The video is sharp and detailed, helping aid the film's tone and mood. And the audio is full, well-balanced and dynamic, using almost all channel all the time. It's a shame the generic story couldn't match the superb video and audio qualities.