The Scribbler – Film Review
Katie Cassidy: the queen, the goddess, my inspiration.
What are you doing here?
TL;DR The Scribbler is cute and whimsical on a surface level, but that’s all there really is. The world is constructed and tightly packed, but the underlying themes are questionable at best, and unsubtly preachy at worst. Come for the Katie Cassidy, stay for the Katie Cassidy. And seeing Juliet and Georgina from Gossip Girl duke it out isn’t so bad. 3 out of 5 stars.
It’s also a heavily stylised comic book movie, so keep that in mind.
The plot is told through a framing device of a police interview: Suki (Katie) is being questioned about a spate of deaths at the halfway house where she is living by Eliza Dushku, a criminal psychologist. Suki suffers from a multiple personality disorder, and after receiving experimental treatment from her doctor, is sent to live in the halfway house with a bunch of other mental defectives. Among them are Hogan, a man Suki knows and is kind of romantically entangled with (ish), and a slew of disposable victims. Suki continues her experimental brain treatment using the machine she was given, in hopes of eliminating her other identities, the most pressing of which is the Scribbler, who is a cryptic, anti-social identity who leaves clues in backward scribbles. When the other residents start committing suicide, the race is on to figure out why, and if Suki might be causing these deaths during the blackouts she experiences after using the machine. But then eventually we find out that the Scribbler is actually a superpowered wonder woman, and Michelle Trachtenberg’s violent, homicidal goth resident is, shockingly, violent and homicidal, and a failed former patient of the same treatment Suki has been enduring. Suki merges with the Scribbler, and defeats Michelle.
Though I doubt Juliet really would hold a candle to Georgina, you know?
While the mystery and style is mostly delivered well (and the pacing and scope are spot-on), the message that the movie appears to be delivering is that mental illness is actually totally okay, and people who are mentally ill are actually superheroes?
Suki comes out at the end all like “nah, it’s cool that I have multiple personalities and am genuinely, blackout crazy. Because that’s who I am.” Umm.
Why I hate this movie:
Yes, Michelle is the antithesis to that supposed conclusion: she’s mentally ill, too, but she’s a murderous maniac. But she’s only really depicted as “bad” crazy because of the treatment she underwent backfiring. So Michelle actually serves to reiterate the point about mental illness being totally cool and not a problem, because if you try to cure it, then you create a monster. Didactic, much?
Of course, I’m not claiming that the movie is wrong to advocate for glorification of mental illness. I will not deny its right and ability to make the statement. But I don’t share that sentiment, and that’s my opinion. If you came to a movie review for something other than an opinion, well. And the ending narration is all “blah blah being insane is embracing your entire self. Normal people are boring and repressed. Everyone is fake except me.” Take it back to tumblr, honey.
It’s only other major crime is the uglification of Katie Cassidy. I’m used to seeing my Katie all primped and primed. Even when getting stabbed in the muddy woods, barefoot, in a wedding dress (oh, Harper’s Island. What could have been). I’m not a fan of her edgy little makeover here. Wow, a lip piercing. So non-conformist. Anarchy reigns. Crazy, man.
Eliza Dushku gets kind of wasted in a buttoned-down role. Which is a bit of a shame, considering what a freak show the rest of the characters in this movie are.
Suki has to make the powerfully difficult decision to sacrifice herself to allow the Scribbler to have full ownership of the body (the machine would eliminate Suki like it has the other identities) to stop Michelle. But then the movie backs out of committing to it twice: firstly, by having the machine not work when she goes to use it; and secondly, when the Scribbler unleashes later to protect itself, with a “lol, they can actually both co-exist after all. Nobody’s deicisons about anything actually matter. Yay!” Weak.
The romance between Suki and Hogan is, like, whatever. Which would be fine, if Suki’s above decision to sacrifice herself wasn’t largely motivated by her impulse to save Hogan.
Oh, and the revelation that Michelle is the killer is not much of a reveal. Everyone knows she enjoys pushing people down stairs for shits and giggles. It’s not much of a leap, you guys.
But it’s not all bad:
Katie Cassidy, even mired with edgy piercings and short hair, is still an absolute star. She almost makes me wish Arrow would get cancelled so the CW could make her the star of her own show (even though I consider her the star of Melrose Place, too. But let’s make it official).
The supporting cast do the best they can with the limited roles they’re given. Michelle Trachtenberg does her offbeat villainess role without any fanfare. Sasha Grey has a supporting role as one of the halfway house victims (I liked her in Would You Rather). And Gina Gershon relishes her brief screentime as Cleo, a Cleopatra-wannabe with sex addiction. Ham it up, baby.
Garret Dillahunt’s Hogan is charming enough as Suki’s love interest. He just likes living in a building full of unstable, horny women. It’s a good gig if you can get it.
His promiscuity turns out to be core to the plot, too: Michelle’s murder spree is against all his conquests. Because she’s insanely jealous. Literally.
And Eliza Dushku is radiant in her straight man role. And I’m not even saying that as a Buffy fanboy. I’m actually a Wrong Turn fanboy.
The Scribbler is excellently paced and packed. There’s nothing superfluous to unnecessarily pad out the runtime. It’s a small story in a small setting, and that’s exactly what it needed to be.
Visually, it manages to evoke the feel of a comic book without doing a Frank Miller film and actually being a comic book. The CGI is surprisingly unobtrusive. And it’s grungy as hell.
Best line of the movie goes to Suki’s joking observation of Hogan’s wrist cutting scars: “No. I mean why’d you cut across instead of down? You’re such a faker.” It’s down the road, not across the street, kiddies.
The rooftop showdown between Michelle and the Scribbler is fierce.
Oh, and the Scribbler can, like, defy gravity and walk on walls and stuff. I like it.
I’m all for Katie Cassidy, tight stories, and Gossip Girl alumni catfights. I just wish they’d been delivered in a better package. Maybe Michelle Trachtenberg could get cast as an Arrow villain, and Laurel can beat the crap out of her? 3 out of 5 stars.