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September 7, 2010

Movie Review: Vindication (2010)

by Corby Kennard

Guilt Shows No Mercy

It's always tough to review a truly independent shot-on-DV film. You can't really judge it for the film quality or the sound, and they have to make do with the best actors they can get. (Sometimes they find gems, but mostly it's of the "I'm yelling to show emotion!" overacting neighborhood playhouse variety.) But everyone has to start somewhere, so I'll just start out this essay by saying the film quality in Vindication was not too bad and the acting was a little over the top and very angry. The sound had some problems, and I had to rewind a few scenes to figure out what they were saying. So, those technical issues out of the way, lets talk about the rest of the film.

Buy Vindication on DVD

Vindication starts out with a swinging lightbulb in a dark, possibly underground, room. A face comes into view, and it's a pale, eyeless creature who makes some cryptic comments about life and guilt. This person is listed in the credits as Kon'Shens, and he is apparently playing himself. (Frankly, I don't really know what that means. Moving on.)

The scene transitions to a young man in a bathtub, obviously in the grips of some great anguish. This is Nicholas Bertram, played by a very angry Keith Fraser, who is filled with a great sense of guilt and depression for … some reason. Also, his father hates him. We find this out when he tells his gay roommate Michel, understatedly played by Miguel Lopez, that his father hates him. Then, after an angry failed monologue at an acting audition, Nicholas goes to his father's house to ask for money. This is where we get to see how much his father hates him. Jerry Murdock plays Nicholas father, William Bertram, with a lot of anger. He's pissed that his wife died giving birth to Nicholas, so he takes it out on him by telling him to join the Army like a Real Man instead of going to some queer art school, calling him a faggot, and finally throwing money in his face, all while Nick stares at some spot on the floor, abashed and, well, angry.

Nick is a failed actor, a failed painter, and a failed son. His father does indeed hate him, and he hates himself. In a very brave scene by Mr. Fraser, Nick stands naked and scarred in his stark, white bathroom, glares at his reflection, and punches the mirror, slicing open his fist and breaking the mirror to shards. (I can only imagine this was actually done, because they use some sugar glass later in the film for a fight scene, and I don't know if an indie feature like this could afford two large sheets of the stuff.) Then he climbs into a nice warm tub and slashes his wrist. The right way - down, not across.

His roommate finds him, the ambulance is called, and this is really where the film starts to meander for about 40 minutes. Up to the suicide attempt, the movie was angry and unhappy, but at least it was interesting. Nick is saved, but he starts to hallucinate this strange pale eyeless demon - or does he? He wanders the streets, meeting a litany of film cliches - the blind beggar, the freaky mystic, the tall bald red guy with clay horns and tiny dirty angel wings … who looks the same as the demon he hallucinated! Weird. Finally, Nick goes up to his brothers place in the woods to relax, but things go awry, and the film mostly rediscovers its purpose. From that point on, Vindicated moves a bit faster, and while it has the annoying habit of introducing characters just to kill them off (it's not like you won't see it coming if you've ever seen a film before), the violence is jarring and well shot, and the effects, by Henry Borriello, look very realistic. And while I really don't know how he was vindicated, the ending was satisfying.

Oh, wait, I meant the actual ending was satisfying. The epilogue was confusing, too long, and really took away from the impact of the prior scene. It felt tacked on even though it wasn't, obviously, because it bookended the beginning of the film. But if you just let it slide by, you probably won't even really notice it. The end.

This was not a great film, but it wasn't a terrible one, either. The script, by director and producer Bart Mastronardi, really needed some work; it was by turns meandering, on-the-nose, and over-dramatic. Much of the dialogue was tortured and cliche, and there were things that just made no sense. But in the midst of this dross was quite a bit of gold, which saves the movie from being a waste of time and makes it worth watching, if you are into the extreme indie genre.

For instance, the scene in Nick's father's house was shot with a good eye to texture, and helps to visually show what's going on inside the young man at the time. The dance was very well shot and edited, and really shows that the crew cared enough about this scene to do it right. The knives Nick has at the end of the film are a very interesting weapon. And the music, by William Archiello, really helped set the mood of the scenes but wasn't overpowering, unless it needed to be.

If only it weren't so angry ...

Official Vindication Trailer


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