Film Review – The Scenesters

The Scenesters (2009) is an inventive independent film written and directed by Todd Berger.  In a way, it’s almost too inventive, to the point that it’s kind of difficult to explain what kind of movie it is.  It’s part film noir, mystery, slasher film, pseudo documentary, love story, and comedy.  Despite the many genres the film takes and the utter implausibility of the plot, in its own nutty way, it all comes together in a film that is highly entertaining and watchable, there wasn’t a single moment where I wasn’t interested in what was happening on screen.  There’s a little bit of everything for everyone here to enjoy.

Wallace Cotten (Todd Berger) and Roger Graham (Jeff Grace) are small time independent filmmakers looking for some inspiration.  In the beginning of the movie, we are introduced to a trailer for their latest independent film, Nothing But Everything, which consists of three people talking about absolute nonsense.  These are two filmmakers that have high aspirations but not a lot to show for it.  Running low on money and needing to get some bills paid, Cotten, the director of the two, takes a job working as a crime scene videographer.  It’s obvious early on that Cotten is out of his element, as he walks in to a crime scene, stepping on and disrupting evidence, and interrupting police authorities in the middle of their investigation.

Things take a turn for Cotten and Graham when they meet Charlie Newton (Blaise Miller), a forensics and evidence collector they meet at a few murder scenes.  Charlie is a smart and perceptive guy, and while collecting evidence stumbles upon a clue that links the multiple murders to one person.  What does this mean?  That a serial killer is committing the murders.  Cotten and Graham have their stroke of inspiration: they will follow Charlie, filming everything he does, encouraging him to investigate the crimes outside of the police authorities in hopes that he will catch the killer first.  To them, this is the ultimate film opportunity, capturing something not only amazing, but “real” on film for the world to see.  In one sequence, we overhear a conversation between Cotten and Graham comparing the situation they have to other people catching real life in the midst of filmmaking.  This is arguably the worst part of the film, as they mention other real tragedies to their own situation, but the point is made, these are two filmmakers who will go to any length to get the story they want.

The other main plot thread is that of Charlie.  Charlie narrates much of the film as if he came straight out of a pulp noir novel, with his serious tone, thoughts on the city, and feelings about the investigations.  Even the film itself turns black and white, like a film noir, when he narrates.  He had a relationship with TV news reporter Jewell Wright (Suzanne May) that went south years ago, although they still harbor strong feelings toward each other.  In a twist that can only be found in convenient movie writing, Charlie and Jewell see each other time and again at the murder scenes, and their relationship seems to start rebuilding itself.  Cotten and Graham immediately take advantage of this, as their obsession with making an engaging film forces them to take matters in to their own hands.  However, as the investigation becomes more serious, as the serial killer who calls himself “The Soloist” learns of the film, and as the safety of himself and everyone he knows hangs in the balance, Charlie literally takes the film over, desperate to expose The Soloist for who he is and save other innocent people from being murdered.

Like mentioned earlier, there are a lot of things going on with this film, so much so that it’s kind of head scratching that Berger was able to put it all together in to one movie.  The black and white scenes featuring Charlie is reminiscent of Se7en (1995) and Zodiac (2007), and the way we see what the killer sees from his vantage point is similar to that famous sequence in Silence of the Lambs (1991).  But then on the flip side, the interactions that the characters have with each other are quick, witty, and funny, as if it came straight out of The Office.  This is a comparison that boggles my mind even after reading what I have just written.  It seems that Berger wanted the film to make turns and jumps that we are not expecting.  At one point one of the characters mentions that they are part of a band, and then all of a sudden we see one of the band’s music videos.  At another moment, we see police authorities hire more “artistic” videographers, and then the film itself takes a more “artistic” feel stylistically.

A lot of the time, the shifts in style and narrative of the film works, although there are particular times when it doesn’t.  The mystery of who the killer is and exactly how Charlie will catch him is the meat of the movie, and when the story took a tangent away from it I found myself anxious for it to get back on track.  The Cotten and Graham characters were the two least believable people in the whole movie.  There are moments here where the two of them take actions to manipulate their film that just doesn’t seem real.  When the film hits the climax, the payoff does not feel satisfying and the resolution was a little too easy.  However, the relationship between Charlie and Jewell was what made the film work for me.  These are two people that seem to honestly care for each other, their back-story is handled well and believably, and when the climax happens, we hope that things turn out the best for each of them.  Hopefully this film will help propel actors Blaise Miller and Suzanne May to more notoriety.

Although The Scenesters does have it drawbacks, it was made so creatively that it is simply enjoyable to watch unfold.  It is photographed beautifully, the dialogue was written well, and the acting was good by everyone involved.  The relationship between Charlie and Jewell, and the uniqueness with how the movie was put together is what makes this a movie that more people should see.  How refreshing it is to see something made differently, with a unique approach far from the usual routine fare that we see everyday.  This is the kind of movie that could be filed under many different genres in a film store, and that is certainly a good thing.

P.S. It was pretty cool to see director John Landis here playing the court judge.

Final Grade: B+


Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

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