Thursday, May 12, 2011

#279. The Ugly (1997)

Directed By: Scott Reynolds

Starring: Paolo Rotondo, Rebecca Hobbs, Paul Glover

Tag line: "Murder is in the eye of the beholder."

Trivia:  Scott Reynolds won an award for Outstanding First Feature at the Int'l Fantasy Film Awards for his work on this film

Simon Cartwright (Paolo Rotondo) has been locked away in a mental facility for five years. Over the course of his very short life, he's killed dozens of people, both men and women, who had absolutely no connection to one another (or to Simon, for that matter). You see, Simon is something of a rarity; a serial killer whose murders follow no pattern, and people want to know what it is that makes him tick.

Enter Dr. Karen Schumaker (Rebecca Hobbs), a psychologist whose just come off a high-profile case that brought her plenty of notoriety. She will spend the next several days with Simon, attempting to learn as much as she can by digging into his troubled psyche. By way of their talks, Dr. Schumaker forces Simon to reflect on his past, conjuring up memories of his abusive mother (Jennifer Ward-Lealand), as well as a young lady named Julie (Vanessa Byrnes), who became the love of his life. By dragging him, kicking and screaming, down memory lane, Dr. Schumaker does eventually uncover the reason behind Simon's killing sprees: the ghosts of his past victims are making him do it!

Filmed in New Zealand, The Ugly takes us deep inside the mind of a serial killer. Deep, deep inside. During their first session together, Dr. Schumaker shows Simon a picture of one of his many victims, a young lady he met in a bar named Helen Millar (Cath McWhirter). The picture launches Simon into flashback mode, taking him to the very night of the killing. There, we see Simon seated alone at a table, and his eventual victim, who had been sitting at the bar with a friend, comes over and joins him. But as will happen many times throughout the film, images from Simon's past intersperse with his present; as he and Helen are chatting, we notice that Dr. Shumaker is also there, sitting next to Simon at the table. Simon is our guide through The Ugly, and because we spend so much time witnessing his disturbed recollections, we're no longer able to differentiate between what's real, and what's merely Simon's altered perception of reality (in one flashback, he's a child eating at the breakfast table, but when he gets up and walks out of the room, the action jumps ahead many years, to a time when police were gathering evidence from his apartment to use against him). Psychological horror is often challenging enough, but when it's driven by the sick mind of a serial killer, events can spiral out of control without a moment's notice.

There are scenes of genuine horror to be found in The Ugly; along with the cruel treatment Simon receives at the hands of his psychotic mother, some sequences (like when the spirits of his past victims start to show themselves) cross the line into the supernatural as well. But aside from these few scenes, and due in large part to the introspective approach the film takes towards its lead character, The Ugly is a difficult film to get a fix on. It's not a movie you can watch passively; The Ugly demands your undivided attention, and even then, many of the shifts in time may prove frustrating. In the end, The Ugly is a film I can only recommend to fans of psychological horror. All others will undoubtedly lose their patience with it.

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