26th Feb2015

Frightfest Glasgow 2015: ’88′ Review

by Mark Allen

Stars: Katherine Isabelle, Christopher Lloyd, Michael Ironside, Tim Doiron, Kyle Schmidt, Jesse McCartney, April Mullen | Written by Tim Doiron,April Mullen | Directed by April Mullen

88-isabelle

Gwen (Katharine Isabelle) is just having one of those days. The kind where not only did she just shoot a diner waitress in front of a bunch of cops, she’s also missing a finger and can’t remember anything that happened in past few days until about 30 seconds ago. Upon making her escape, she calls her boyfriend from a payphone and tells him to meet her at a motel for which she possesses a set of room keys. The room number? 88, naturally.

What follows is a cartoonishly violent crime melodrama that stitches together the reversed-narrative structure of Memento, quasi-Tarantino dialogue and a needlessly gimmicky plot that largely only exists to service the film’s major twist. We learn from the opening text what a fugue state is (that is, if you haven’t already seen Breaking Bad) and that one can be caused by traumatic events, making it condescendingly obvious what’s happened to the central character before we’ve even laid eyes on her. The film flits back and forth between events before the opening scene, in which Gwen is possessed by an ultra-violent alter-ego known as Flamingo, and after, in which the real Gwen attempts to sift through the wreckage of her life wrought by Flamingo.

And therein lies the main problem; instead of having one central character, 88 splits Gwen into two and constantly switches back and forth, giving us wildly different personalities and never quite enough time to connect to either. Not that spending two hours with Flamingo would make you all that sympathetic; she’s a manifestation of Gwen’s id, shooting, maiming and being downright rude to anyone who so much as looks at her sideways. Put simply, she’s not so much a character as an exploitation movie poster on legs. (“But boy, what legs!” as the poster might say.)

Which might be fine if she were in her own movie, where Flamingo’s hard-boiled one-liners and Dillinger-esque attitude towards authority fit with a less serious tone, but Gwen’s story attempts to put a hard emotional edge on all the carnage and doesn’t quite hit its mark. Without spoiling too much, the story’s really about coping with loss and the burden of guilt, and while I can’t fault director April Mullen for putting her all into conveying that cinematically, the OTT feeling of 88 unfortunately also extends to the supposed pathos of the movie and doesn’t ever really ring true.

It’s also hard to feel for Gwen when she actively harms or participates in the murder of completely innocent people, which happens several times. If there’s meant to be a definitive line between her character and the Flamingo persona, I’d say that gets muddied pretty early on. One of those in the line of fire is Michael Ironside as a local sheriff given a whole lot of nothing to to but growl and get shot at by the most irritating supporting character in history: Ty (Tim Doiron), a fast-talking idiot who’s out for revenge on local gangster Cyrus (Christopher Lloyd) for killing his sister. He’s given way more screentime to waste than either of the aforementioned screen legends, though Lloyd is so miscast as a foul-mouthed tough guy I didn’t mind his absence so much.

But the star of the show is Katharine Isabelle, who admittedly kept me interested the whole way through even when the flashbacks became a chore. (We’re given a ‘previously, two scenes ago’ montage before every Flamingo scene, in case you’d fallen asleep or something?) As Gwen she’s convincing as a tortured soul doing her best in the face of mounting misery, and as Flamingo she’s as flatly one-dimensional as the character is written, but the disparity in both performances at least highlights the good work she’s doing in the primary role.

Really, maybe I’m giving 88 a rough ride. It’s clearly intended to be a lot of fun, and Frightfest is an obvious fit as a screening venue. With a couple of drinks in you and some good-humoured friends sat next to you, I bet you could have a great time with it. Unless you’re like me, in which case the overwrought (e)montages and cringeworthy dialogue will bug the hell out of you no matter who you’re with.

*** 3/5

88 will receive its UK Premiere at Frightfest Glasgow on Friday 27th February.

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