Note to budding filmmakers: just because you could make a film doesn’t necessarily mean that you should make a film. This usually is covered under the statute of “don’t try this at home,” but, as Hollywood seems poised to implode due to shaky box office performance of its usually reliable players, I suspect more and more folks will go ahead with their dream gig of making a motion picture. Might it be too much to expect that you budding filmmakers, at the very least, start with a script that solely from a narrative point-of-view makes perfect sense? Is that too much to ask?
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come’, then read on …)
Four male friends are Vegas-bound to celebrate one of their 21st birthdays. Onto their road trip comes a single young woman – Capri (played by a lovely Nicole Sienna) – a kinda/sorta ‘lifelong companion’ to one of the boys involved. Once they arrive in Vegas, they’ll go their separate ways … but, before the night is over, they’ll experience the horror of their short, inexperienced lives.
STRIPPED is a bit of a mess. Mind you: it didn’t HAVE to be. It just is. Some of that could easily be chalked up to the relatively newcomer status of many of the principles in front of and behind the camera (a quick survey of IMDB shows a respectable amount of talent), but methinks it may more likely be due to the vanity of those involved. The DVD slipcase indicates a single writer attached to the story (Andrew Caldwell), and, as this is his first full script, I was initially inclined to point the finger at him; but IMDB indicates he worked from a story provided by the film’s star-crossed couple (Sienna and co-star Josh Cole).
Given that reality, I’m more inclined to believe that STRIPPED is an amalgam of ideas thrown together mostly throughout the production process. How else can you creatively explain a film that starts out as a ‘found footage’ story, then suddenly evolves into a traditional film, then reverts back to ‘found footage,’ then away again, then back again, and so on and so forth. It would appear that all involved had the genesis of an idea – party boys lured to Vegas end up having their organs harvested – but not a complete framework upon which to hang the narrative. As such, the film feels part experimental (which it may’ve been) and only part disaster.
And that’s a shame. I say that because some of the found footage stuff is, actually, interesting. The opening 25 minutes of STRIPPED is essentially the story of this road trip – the good, the bad, the ugly of getting to know these five misfits, their lives, and their problems. Had the group stayed with this format – the road trip to personal discovery that ended in a nightmare – then it could’ve had a glimmer of hope of being more than just a conventional horror film. It could’ve been a bit avant garde in its presentation, and it may’ve had the chance to finding a larger audience. This isn’t to say the acting was stellar, and the direction was the best; I say it as an honest admission that there was something there stylistically that was interesting … at least it was interesting to this guy who happens to watch a lot of films.
As it stands, STRIPPED is only laid bare by its inherent weaknesses. It starts in chaos, and it never recovers. Come the conclusion, I’m no longer caring about any of the characters. Like them, I just want it all to end.
Plus, STRIPPED unveils the face of the least menacing serial killer – I’ll call him ‘the Surgeon’ – in all of filmdom. Maybe that counts for something.
STRIPPED is produced by American Film Productions, Discovery Bay Films, and ToMmY K. PICTURES. DVD distribution is being handled through Inception Media Group, LLC. As for the technical specifications, the film looks and sounds about as well as one would expect from an extremely low budget direct-to-DVD picture (reportedly $25,000). As is often the case with these smaller productions, there are no special features to speak of.
(VAGUELY) RECOMMENDED if you truly love found footage flicks. There are some films that end up feeling like an experiment gone wrong, and I can’t help but wondering if STRIPPED ended up being far different in execution than how it was originally conceived. Maybe that’s me giving the filmmakers the benefit of a doubt as I hate to see a good idea – however big or small – wasted on a finished product that shows there was promise at some stage of creation. STRIPPED had some good ideas; the problem is that they never came together in any cohesive whole, leaving the end product feeling incomplete, slighted, and rushed.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Inception Media Group, LLC provided me with a DVD copy of STRIPPED for the expressed purposes of completing this review.