MOVIE: The Scenesters (2009)

I’d never even heard of this film when I came across it on hotel pay-per-view a week or so ago, but after having just sat through the utterly-awful The Next Three Days on PPV, I figured it could hardly be any worse.  The trailer made it look like a keen little murder mystery, for one thing, and that was exactly what I was in the mood for.  Plus, I’m getting ready for the upcoming Seattle International Film Festival (25 films I want to see, 9 I refuse to miss — watch for reviews to start rolling in after the holiday weekend!), so diving back into the world of independent film seemed appealing as well.

As it turned out, the mystery part of this film, about a serial killer in Los Angeles, was the least entertaining part of the whole entertaining shebang.  Even though it was the backbone of the story, by the time we got to the end and the killer’s identity was revealed, I’d practically forgotten we were looking for a killer; I was too busy laughing and loving all the kooky characters instead.  This is probably just as good, though, because had I been paying more attention, I’m sure I would’ve figured out whodunnit much sooner than I did (and I figured it out at least  a third of the way in — it’s a bit Scooby Doo, I’m afraid. (That’s a spoiler for anybody who’s ever had a conversation with me about Scooby Doo, but since I think that’s probably only my sister, I’m not too concerned I just blew the ending for most of you.)).

The story is about a broke indie filmmaker, Wallace Cotton (Todd Berger), who has just been hired as the LAPD’s murder scene videographer.  He shows up at the scene of the first crime and records what he sees, but when his producer buddy watches the tape the next day, he tells Wallace it was boring as hell and urges him to try to make his next crime scene recording more interesting.

Together, they end up hiring the local crime scene clean-up guy, Charlie Newton (Blaise Miller), to play the role of a detective in a film they start making using the real crimes as their plot.  But as it turns out, Charlie is actually really sharp, and the more the bodies pile up, the more he starts to notice connections between the various murders.  Soon the group is convinced there’s a serial killer at work, and while Charlie’s goal is to stop him, Wallace’s goal is to make an exciting film — two goals that start to clash, with dangerous impact, as the film progresses.

The frame for the story is set in a courtroom, clearly the trial for the killer.  As the DA (Sherilyn Fenn, looking pretty damn good here, I must say) asks Wallace and his friends questions about the murders, their involvement in the case, and why they didn’t report their suspicions to the cops, we watch the actual mystery unfold, intercut with scenes from Cotton’s film ABOUT the mystery, a hilariously cliché-ridden noir thing with several shots and lines that had me laughing out loud.

As an added bonus, the film opens with a fake trailer for Cotton’s latest movie, which features three hipsters with bad skin sitting in an empty wading pool talking about nothing interesting, and includes pull quotes from reviews that say things like, “Three people talking. . . FOR TWO HOURS!”  in a delightful spoof of the “mumblecore” genre.  It was so mumblecorey, in fact, it took me a while to realize it was part of the joke.  It wouldn’t have surprised me one bit if it had been authentic — that’s how many really crappy films of THAT genre I’ve seen.  Brilliant.

The film definitely feels like exactly what it is– the first film this group has ever made together (the actors/writers are all part of an improv group in LA called “The Vacationers“).  It’s very clumsy at times, to the point of feeling somewhat like a really good student film, and could’ve been a lot more tightly and creatively written (especially the actual crime elements).  But overall, I enjoyed this one a lot and am greatly looking forward to seeing whatever it is these guys do next.


[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Mystery, Comedy, Independent
Cast:  Sherilyn Fenn, Blaise Miller, Suzanne May, Jeff Grace, Kevin Brennan, Todd Berger

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