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Monday, November 4, 2013

DVD Review: Tumbledown

Tumbledown is an unusual suspense film about three gay men whose passions lead to an incident, the truth of which may not be certain.

The film opens with a sex scene in a mostly dark room. The mirror on the left side of the screen is lit, and there we can see the two men from behind. A third man enters, and we see him mostly when he passes the mirror. But then one of the men wakes, and so that third man’s presence was just a dream. Or perhaps most of the sex was too? The other man is asleep next to him, and he gets up to close the door, putting us in complete darkness. And that is the opening sequence of the film, certainly an intriguing opening.

A woman’s voice saying “Tell me the truth of what happened” lets us know we are moving back in time, and then a title on screen tell us, “May 17, 2010.” This is when the three men meet. Rick (Brad Hallowell, who also co-wrote the script) is working as a bartender, and it’s a slow night. A man named Jay (Todd Verow, who also directed, co-wrote, photographed, and edited the film) immediately renames him Ricky and orders a couple of drinks. He is new in town and owns a nearby camp. He then slips Rick some money and asks for something stronger.

Mike (Brett Faulkner), Jay’s boyfriend, later calls Rick to invite him to spend the weekend up at the camp at Tumbledown Mountain with them, and asks him to bring drugs. There is a quiet intensity to these early scenes that’s unsettling, due in part to the film’s score. The three of them climb the mountain, and that sequence has no dialogue, just the score, and includes several pretty shots, including that of a lake where the men swim. Back at the house, the men have a threesome, and Rick stops Jay to make him put on a condom.

Later – June 18, 2010, according to another on-screen title – Rick goes up to the camp to meet them again, but is surprised to learn that Mike isn’t there. Jay seems surprised that Mike didn’t travel with Rick, so clearly there is something amiss in that relationship. And something is also amiss with Jay, who seems much creepier than before. And that’s when things get weird.

Soon after that, oddly, there is a title card saying that the film was inspired by actual events, but that the names have been changed. It’s odd that it’s placed partway through the film, rather than at the beginning. It continues: “The three characters involved: Rick, Jay, and Mike all have their own version of what happened. But what is the true story?” And: “We believe what we want to believe, we remember what we want to remember, and we tell the version of the truth that we want people to believe.”

That’s interesting, but I found myself wondering, Wait, is that it? The story goes no further? What came before this feels like an incident that should propel us deeper into this story rather than conclude it. But the tagline on the DVD case is “There are three sides to every story,” and now the film goes back in time to tell it from Jay’s perspective. It’s at this point that the film loses some of its steam for me.

Fortunately, it doesn’t go all way back to their meeting at the bar, but picks its moments to retell. We get more information, but of course now we wonder if any new information is accurate. Maybe it’s because we’ve already established Rick’s perspective as reality (as far as we knew), but this second set of events doesn’t seem nearly as believable. Was that the intention of the filmmaker?

However, the sex scene then seems quite believable, largely because it’s allowed to play all the way through. It’s actually quite unsettling, as it goes on for a bit and the camera remains stationary. Then, even after the sex, the scene continues (from different camera angles), as Jay fixes himself a snack, which is both creepy and oddly endearing in a way.

Interestingly, Jay is allowed to tell us part of his perspective in voice over, and it sounds like he’s speaking to a cop or judge.

As then as expected, we go to Mike’s perspective of events, and his sequence begins in a new location, with a woman asking him to tell his story. Oddly we then hear a bit of voice over from Jay basically telling Mike what a mess he is, that he’s a gay cliché, turning to drugs and alcohol and so on. So are we really getting Mike’s perspective, or only Mike’s take on what Jay thought of him? It’s interesting, but it feels more interesting as filmmaking than as story (though the story is allowed to continue forward more during Mike’s telling).

One minor problem with the film is that the sound isn’t always right. For example, there is a scene where Rick gets a call at the bar from Jay. From the sound of Jay’s voice, it seems like he is standing just off camera, rather than on the other end of the phone. We hear Jay’s first couple of lines in this manner, and then suddenly we don’t hear his end of the conversation at all. A strange choice that feels more like a mistake than deliberate.

By the way, though earlier there are titles about this being based on true people and events, in the end credits it says, “The story, names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this motion picture are fictitious.”

Bonus Features

The DVD contains some bonus material, including an alternate ending that’s approximately twenty-four minutes. It begins with Rick and Mike making out. Some lines in this version are cut, which I appreciate. Some things that are left open in the official ending are shown in this alternate ending. And, interestingly, this ending goes back to the film’s opening scene, and then beyond it, with Rick saying it was just a bad dream.

There are a few deleted scenes, including one of the three men doing drugs and fooling around in a bathroom, another of Mike wandering around the city alone, and one of another section of the alternate ending.

And there is an extended sequence of the three men climbing the mountain and swimming in the lake. Interestingly, at the lake you can hear voices of other people who were around, and for one moment, you can see a bunch of people in the distance.

Tumbledown was released on October 8, 2013 through TLA Releasing.

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