When I first looked at the cover to 'APART,' and noticed that the film's title was nowhere to be found, I thought to myself, "Hmm, that's a bold choice." Considering that this is a low budget independent flick with no major stars, I'm guessing the marketing department thought that a simple yet striking graphic might actually attract potential customers more than your standard "floating heads" poster art would. And since the title isn't even presented, said consumer would then have to physically pick up the case and turn it over to actually find out what the hell it is. And since the disc is already in hand (the first step toward any purchase), there's actually a solid chance that they might just buy the damn thing. It's an audacious move -- but much like the movie's similarly ambitious cinematic flourishes, it's merely a desperate, superficial attempt to dress up an otherwise lifeless and pedestrian effort.
Told in a mixed chronology, cutting back and forth between present day and flashbacks, the film focuses on the tragic romance of childhood friends Noah (Josh Danzinger) and Emily (Olesya Rulin). Apparently stricken by a rare psychological disorder known as "madness of two," the lovers share elaborate delusions. After a mysterious fire leaves Noah in a coma, he loses most of his memory, and attempts to put the pieces back together by tracking down Emily. Unfortunately, once the two are back together, their mutual psychosis flares up again -- but could there be more to these visions than mere hallucination?
Though that synopsis might seem fairly cohesive, I assure you, the movie is anything but. The script is a nonsensical jumble of ideas and events that never come together. Nonlinear storytelling can be very compelling if done right, but director Aaron Rottinghaus lacks the skill to juggle all the moving pieces. The entire presentation ends up being needlessly confusing, and not because the story is actually complicated. It's just messy, patchy, and clunky.
The narrative tries to blend shades of 'Donnie Darko' with hints of the 'Final Destination' series, but none of the script's themes or concepts are particularly engaging. The main hook of the story revolves around a rare mental condition that's apparently backed up by actual case studies, but the film's use of this plot point is incredibly convoluted, ridiculous, and vague. Throughout much of the runtime we're supposed to be questioning whether the characters' hallucinations are just delusions, or possible premonitions. Is the couple psychic or psychotic? It's a potentially interesting dilemma, but this central quandary is very poorly setup and executed. In an apparent attempt to make up for some of these shortcomings, the director tries to cover up deficiencies in the storytelling through flashy stylistic and editing choices. But all the color correcting and slow motion in the world can't make up for stilted performances and pedestrian scripting.
I'm usually a fan of somber stories, but here the dreary aesthetic, mournful music, and histrionic characters result in an overly cold and dull experience. In the film's defense, there's certainly some merit in the visuals (particularly several striking hallucination scenes) and a few of the performances, but by and large there is an amateur feel to the entire production. Olesya Rulin is decent and seems to be giving it her all, but the writing and direction just aren't there, leading to a very forced quality. Josh Danzinger's performance is even more problematic, and the character makes for a particularly unengaging protagonist. The pair's romance is the heart of the movie, but outside of a legitimately effective scene set during a high school dance, their coupling just falls flat.
A laundry list of other problems litter the production as well -- including illogical choices, missing emotional beats, thin motivations, and utterly laughable revelations and plot twists. What's worse, the movie actually has the audacity to conclude with a particularly pretension contrivance that attempts to dress up the film's nonsensical plotting with an "intriguing" sense of ambiguity. I wasn't intrigued. Instead, I simply rolled my eyes and groaned.
I know that I've been rather hard on 'APART,' so I want to be clear that the movie does show some potential, and there are isolated moments that work fairly well. This is filmmaker Aaron Rottinghaus' first directorial effort, and much of the movie's problems stem from inexperience, and that's certainly understandable. Unfortunately, that doesn't change the film's many lofty shortcomings. Mopey, muddled, confusing, and ultimately rather pointless, the flick simply collapses under the weight of its ambitious yet poorly conceived structure. If you actually see the movie sitting on a shelf, despite what its bold, titleless cover art might imply, this really isn't even worth flipping over.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
SystemX Media presents 'Apart' in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. A BD-25 disc and a separate DVD disc are both housed in a keepcase. After some logos and an annoyingly long intro with clips from the film, the disc transitions to a standard menu.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Shot on the Red One, the intentionally stylized video has a fairly sharp but frequently dim and very drab appearance.
The digital source is fairly clean, but noise is apparent from time to time (and an artificial grain effect is also used). Minor banding/false contouring is visible in a few shots as well. Detail is solid throughout though some sequences are softer than others. Likewise, while a few shots offer a pleasing sense of depth, the overall image is on the flat side. The color palette shifts depending on the time period depicted. Certain flashbacks have a bright, warm appearance, but the majority of the film is cast in dull, drab, undersaturated hues. While this goes along with the story's tone, it leads to a pretty underwhelming and unappealing picture. Outside of some highly stylized hallucination sequences, contrast is on the low side as well. Blacks are mostly deep, but a few shots look a tad elevated. A faintly amateur quality is also apparent in the cinematography and technical presentation, but this is understandable given the movie's low budget.
Though seemingly authentic to the source, the film's dreary style and occasional technical limitations result in an unimpressive transfer.
The film is provided with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, and a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track with no subtitle options. There's a solid sense of immersion in key sequences, but the track is occasionally unbalanced.
Speech is clear but is frequently mixed a bit low and there is some minor peaking. The soundstage is relatively small, but there's a reasonable sense of atmosphere and directionality, giving an appropriate sense of ambiance to certain locations (like a school hallway). The film's frequent hallucination sequences are also quite robust, and feature some aggressive design work, wide dynamic range, and powerful low frequencies. Unfortunately, these scenes are overpowered in comparison to the rest of the mix, and the bass activity is a bit muddy.
While the track is effective, the design work lacks nuance and the low dialogue coupled with the overly bombastic effects leads to an unbalanced experience.
SystemX Media has put together a decent collection of supplements, including a commentary and deleted scenes. All of the extras are presented in 1080p with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio and no subtitle options (unless noted otherwise).
'APART' is a muddled, dull, stilted, and pedestrian effort. The characters are unengaging, and the thin plot is a jumbled, dreary mess. There's some potential here, but unfortunately, none of the movie's various pieces ever come together. The video is decent but dim and frequently unappealing, and while the audio has a fair sense of immersion, the sound design is unbalanced. The included supplements are solid but nothing to get too excited about. This is one most will be better off just skipping.