Mystery DVD Club No 6: Rancid

Dave's random £3 DVD turns out not to quite live up to its title, thankfully, though £3.50 would be pushing it...

Rancid

Mystery DVD Club is simple. We buy a load of £3 DVDs, send them to our writers, who have no idea what they’re going to get, and try and unearth a gem. Our experiment has not been going well, but finally, we have a glimmer of light…

In tiny, tiny letters on the back of the DVD cover, it informs me that “Main Feature Classified 15, Added Value Material Classified 18” (except they choose to spell classify with one less ‘L’.)  Given that the only special features appear to be trailers, it does make you wonder why the distributor chose to stick on certificate inflating trailers!

Anyway…

Rancid starts with a green filtered sweep on New York, showing you all the buildings that you know so that you know it’s definitely New York, accompanied by a bit of a hard sounding instrumental beat. We then find the police arriving at a house, finding a dead body whilst the apparent killer hides, sweating and breathing heavily. Who is he? Why are the police looking for him? Why did he kill this person? Could this be a fantastic film?

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James Hayson (the DVD cover calls him John) is a freelance reporter (and part time telemarketer), who is a bit of a loser; his life is going nowhere, he’s messy, he can’t stir his tap water coffee without spilling it onto his high school reunion invite, and the debt collectors are calling him. How does he describe his life? One word… “Rancid”.

Through his old school friend and boss at the telemarketing firm, Angela, he needs only moments of persuasion to go to the high school reunion. “No, no, no… oh, okay then.”  We get a few minutes of exposition to find out he didn’t like some people at high school. So, we learn that James is easily coerced. Moments before accepting the reunion idea, he quit his job just long enough for Angela to say “No you haven’t.” 

Fast forward to the reunion, James talks to an old school friend who is now a homicide detective. We also run into the guy who used to bully James at school, Crispin Klein. There are lots of people at the party, except none of them talk to James (or the other talking roles, for that matter). When James is caught in an embrace with Monica, ex-girlfriend of James and present wife of the reunion organiser, Klein, things go really wrong. Klein, apart from being a wife beating bully and (for reasons of plot) involved in making the lives of the police as happy as possible, takes exception to James’ behaviour. He goes round with his cronies, assaults James and smashes up his flat.

Unable to go to the police because they all think Klein is a saint, James is told that the best response is to “kick the dog”. So, here we have it. It’s going to be a tale of vengeance.

Monica, fed up with being beaten, returns to James’ arms, much to Klein’s annoyance and fueling James’ anger towards Klein. With help from newly-reunited-police-friend Andy, James comes up with a plan. He breaks into Klein’s house, ready to commit murder… except, someone may just have beaten him to it.

The story flicks back from present (the police investigation) and past (the events surrounding Hayson’s crime) in an effective way. Between the reunion and present day, there’s been three weeks and the path that James takes is strewn with a fair few twists and turns. Monica isn’t the helpless beaten wife she makes out to be, Detective Andy has his own agenda and James is in deeper than he could ever imagine.

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The detectives investigating the case seem to have been borrowed from any number of TV dramas, except they’re written with all the intelligence of house bricks. There’s the well meaning one, there’s the hard working woman, the bullish one and the police chief who seems surprised that things aren’t quite as they seem. This said, in the third act of the film, there’s a change of pace that really makes you almost care about these guys.

A great thing about using the reunion as a tool is that you can get away with using exposition aplenty. Every moment of dialogue can have the character fill in his or her past and relationship with other characters. If it’s done well, it can almost seem natural. In this case, the dialogue is jarring and, in places, quite painful to listen to. Every character is drawn in such broad brushstrokes that you just tend to dislike them all. Not only that, but the actual exposition goes on and on and on. Throughout the film, we’re told how and why the characters are interacting the way that they do. Considering how poor the script is, the actors do an almost decent job of delivering the lines, but it’s still difficult to like any of the characters.

There’s some interesting camera work here, though the majority of the film tends to be a bit on the dark side (it is, of course, mainly taking place at night), with stark daytime sequences. The video quality is average, with some grain in places. Sound is clearly presented in stereo or Dolby Digital. It is clear, crisp and mainly uses the front speakers. 

Rancid isn’t a bad film. The story isn’t particular original, the script is turgid in places, but underneath that there is something interesting. It’s a Swedish film, filmed in the US with American actors. Definitely low budget, but you’ll find a lot worse in the bargain bins.