Still not quite sure what to make of this. I came across the DVD at a secondhand bookstore in the bargain bin. I like puzzles, and the tag-line "We want you to solve the puzzle" hooked me. I'm also a bit of a connoisseur of fringe micro-budget cinema of which this is surely an example.
It belongs to the emerging contained-story sub-genre popularized by movies like Cube, Exam, Devil, Buried and countless others. Three banged up prisoners who can't remember who they are or how they got there – a small windowless room vaguely resembling a retro grade-school classroom – are being brainwashed by an unseen tormentor who transmits its German-accented voice through a creepy looking Uncle Sam doll. Uncle Sam refers to them by the names Red, White and Blue. They try to escape but something outside wants to get in. Gee, think there is some subversive political commentary going on here that might be applicable to events of 2016? (Oddly, the movie was apparently completed in 2013.)
That's not the only thing that's weird about it. It doesn't fit into any genre. It pays homage to the German silent The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari with expressionistic camera-work and, rather unnecessarily, an actual Caligari movie poster. The classroom scenes are reminiscent of Terry Gilliam's childlike Time Bandits absurdity. I detected nods to Twelve Angry Men, with rebellious Blue trying to win first White, then Red over to his initially unpopular point of view of overthrowing Uncle Sam. The evil doll angle calls to mind the Puppet Master series and of course Saw and even going back to Anthony Hopkins in Magic. There are obvious parallels with The Twilight Zone in terms of suspense, an overall eerie aura you can't quite put your finger on and the final twist. And finally, its cinematic grandfather is none other than Alfred Hitchcock's Rope.
It isn't as good as any of those films, of course, but just the fact that it suggests them on a tiny fraction of their budgets is an achievement.
The performances are uneven. One gets the sense it was filmed off and on over a long time and the actors had trouble remembering their proper emotional states. Though it can be argued that because the characters all suffer from some form of brain damage this works to the film's advantage. Maureen O'Malley is appropriately enigmatic as Red. She does a good job of making the audience wonder what she's thinking with her heavy-lidded Bette Davis eyes. (One wishes the writer, Eric Paul Chapman, gave her more to do.) The camera likes Terry McNavage as the weak-willed White – he looks a bit like Daniel Day Lewis – though the actor drifts in and out of the role. Eric Paul Chapman also plays Blue. It's an intense if erratic performance. He rises to the occasion in his most important confrontations with Uncle Sam. David Hundertmark's snide voicing of the doll is particularly memorable. An actor named Jerry Pietrala makes a surprise appearance and has good camera presence in a tricky role.
The taut music score and rich, saturated photography are strengths. The production design leaves a bit to be desired, and there are what I like to charitably call "low-budget moments" where the challenges of filming got the better of the producers, particularly in the realm of special effects. Pacing would have benefited from trimming five or ten minutes.
It's a real curio, quite unlike anything I've seen. The twist at the end stuck with me. I'm ashamed to say I was not able to solve the puzzle, but picked up some important clues I missed the first time around on a second viewing. I'd be curious to see what the filmmakers could do with a decent budget.
Review by GrahamCrawford2005 from the Internet Movie Database.