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Five (2007)

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 11/29/07 15:09:14

"A great drama mixed with a problematic thriller."
3 stars (Just Average)

At first, it’s a bit disappointing to learn that New Zealand-based “microbudget” filmmaker Amit Tripuraneni would be handling something as sub-average as a “friends in the woods get chased”-type thriller. Tripuraneni, whose home-brewed 2005 effort, “Memories of Tomorrow,” was far from perfect, but it was also ambitious enough and smart enough in the right spots to show the filmmaker as someone with potential. Wouldn’t a blandly plotted thriller like this just be a step back?

Ah, but Tripuraneni is again not without surprises. His new film, “Five,” is just as problematic as his earlier project, but once again, it’s brimming with promise. Even the parts that look like just another made-for-video thriller cheapie have a certain extra kick to them that makes the movie work.

The familiar plot: Five close friends have gathered for a final weekend together, a camping trip in the gorgeous NZ wilderness. Belinda (Anita Crisinel) is recovering from her sister’s suicide, as is Henry (Richard Thompson), the sister’s boyfriend. Sparks, perhaps fueled by the common bond of tragedy, are beginning to ignite between the two, which spells trouble for Rajit (Tripuraneni), Belinda’s fiancé. Zara (Marjan Gorgani) isn’t too thrilled with this either, considering she’s harboring a long, hard crush for Henry. Rounding out the pack is Chris (Andy Sophocleous), a slacker with his own issues.

It takes so long for things to settle in that by the time the more unnerving aspects of the story kick in, we’ve forgotten that we’re watching a thriller. Which is a good thing - the screenplay, by Crisinel and D.F. Mamea, builds these characters and their relationships quite well, and we grow comfortable spending time with them.

But this is a thriller, and so we must get to the strange visions and the mysterious necklace that appears out of nowhere, and was that the sister’s ghost we just saw lurking in the woods? None of this clicks as well as the more straight-up dramatic moments, especially since the writers insist on a few gimmicky plot turns that cause a few too many double-takes. One spooky sequence is revealed to have been a dream, and the movie essentially reboots itself, an act which only casts doubt over everything that follows - will we reboot again? (Worse, the reboot is meant to intentionally confuse, which means we’re put off a bit too much in the wrong spots.)

That’s a lot of time wasted on an eerie story hook that ultimately doesn’t really go anywhere, time that could have - should have - been spent digging into the histories of these characters. “Five” works best when it ditches the more formulaic chase-in-the-woods bits and deals directly with the people and their rough histories. There are truths that are ready to break forth, truths that would change all five lives, and hey, let’s put the gun away, don’t bother with trying to kill each other, and just talk about this stuff. The cast is top notch, and they breathe life into their roles; if only the script would give them the extra space they need.

For all of its flaws as a story, “Five” clicks as a visual wonder. Tripuraneni is a wonderful visual storyteller with an equal knack for dealing with dramatics. His camera and pacing (Tripuraneni handled the editing, too) is careful to never trip over the performances, to find the best ways to pull that little extra oomph out of each character.

At Tripuraneni’s side is cinematographer Lance Wordsworth, a young ace who uses digital photography to his best advantage, creating the most striking images on the tiniest of budgets. This movie looks amazing, both in the lush landscape shots and the rougher personal moments. As with “Memories of Tomorrow,” Wordsworth and Tripuraneni have managed to make such a small picture look gigantic.

And that’s their greatest asset. These two, as a production team, have shown us that they can rise far above their limited funds and create movies that look expensive. They then surround themselves with talented performers and a strong production staff that helps cement the picture. What they need now is stronger storytelling to hold all of this together. “Five” is a noble effort, at times very involving on a personal level, and yet its reliance on switcheroo gimmickry and formulaic set-ups keeps it from reaching the heights it could otherwise achieve.

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