Family Portraits: A Trilogy Of America

  • 2004
  • 1 HR 42 MIN
  • NR
  • Drama, Horror

Independent art-house/horror writer-director Douglas Buck's first feature is actually a compendium of three thematically related shorts — "Cutting Moments" (1997), "Home" (1998) and "Prologue" (2003) — that collectively chart his growing sophistication as a filmmaker. In "Cutting Moments," an alienated housewife (Nicca Ray, daughter of director Nicholas...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Independent art-house/horror writer-director Douglas Buck's first feature is actually a compendium of three thematically related shorts — "Cutting Moments" (1997), "Home" (1998) and "Prologue" (2003) — that collectively chart his growing sophistication as a filmmaker. In "Cutting Moments," an alienated housewife (Nicca Ray, daughter of director Nicholas Ray) watches helplessly as her family deteriorates: Her husband (Gary Betsworth) ignores her and they're in danger of losing their small son (Jared Barsky) to Social Services. After a last desperate effort to get her husband to notice her, she channels her rage into self-mutilation. "Home" is a variation on the theme of festering anomie in which a repressed husband (Betsworth) terrorizes his wife (Christine Caleo) and daughter (Jayne Deely) before eventually unleashing his warped fury on them. Deliberately paced and coolly executed, both segments are fundamentally one-note Grand Guignol shockers and make no mistake — if merely juxtaposing the words "lips" and "scissors" makes your flesh crawl, they're not for you. The more ambitious and accomplished "Prologue," made nearly five years after "Home," takes a different approach, focusing on the aftermath of a sensational crime (presumably inspired by the notorious 1978 rape and mutilation of a teenage hitchhiker by merchant marine Lawrence Singleton) rather than the crime itself. Its protagonist, 17-year-old Billy Anders (Conway), returns to Mattituck, her small hometown, after a lengthy stay in rehabilitation, wheelchair-bound and with metal hooks where she once had hands. One year earlier, Billy was raped and brutalized by neighbor Benjamin Millan (William Stone Mahoney), who broke her back, hacked off her forearms and left her for dead on a deserted road. Everything is superficially the same in Mattituck: the quiet streets, the neat homes, the well-maintained lawns. But everything has changed: Billy's parents (Beth Glover, David Thornton) are separated, her boyfriend (Anderson William) is engaged and Billy is no longer just pretty, well-liked Billy. She's the victim, the survivor, the indelible reminder of an almost unbearable ugliness lurking beneath Mattituck's quiet surface, and Billy's quest to find meaning in her ordeal sets off a chain of shattering revelations. Deliberately inconclusive and almost unbearably still, "Prologue" rests on newcomer Conway's subtle, restrained performance, which favorably recalls Sarah Polley's portrayal of a damaged teenager in THE SWEET HEREAFTER (1997). Suburban dystopia has been done to death, but Buck — whose admirers include French provocateur Gaspar Noe — leaves a chillingly haunting mark on the subject matter.

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