Pop Skull is an ambitious and overzealous low-budget noir ghost story that suffers from what might be called the Curse of Final Cut Pro. Director/editor Adam Wingard has leaned so heavily on his non-linear edit system’s capacity for slowed shots, repeat action and the insertion of flash frames that any accurate description of his movie risks giving susceptible readers an epileptic seizure.
Daniel (co-writer Lane Hughes) is a romantically obsessed 20-something in the throes of a difficult relationship break-up. He isn’t sleeping much and has taken to self-medicating with over-the-counter antihistamines and cough syrups, with the drugs helping him to forget not only his lost love but also the uncomfortable fact that his family lives in a house where a murder/double-suicide once took place.
As Daniel twists and turns in a relentless downward spiral, he starts to see things in his peripheral vision. Are these blood-soaked apparitions caused by evil poltergeists come to exploit Daniel’s inner turmoil? Or are Daniel’s visions actually hallucinations indicating his own impending breakdown?
Mostly, Daniel is trapped inside a combination of Japanese “vengeful ghost” genre clichés put across with a lot of extraneous editorial flummery and overcooked sound work in a tedious attempt by film novices to punch up what is otherwise a pretty mundane no-budget movie. Wingard deserves a weird kind of credit for making such an extreme choice and then running with it, but if this film has one flash cut in it, it has a hundred. If Wingard repeats a shot twice, he repeats it six times. And everywhere there is the overbearing soundtrack, an endless wail of caterwauling ambiences, groaning metal, reverberant door slams and hinges that squeal so loudly it’s as if the RMS Titanic were rolling over, splitting in half and sinking into the briny arctic depths somewhere just out of camera range.
It’s all meant to be ominous but ends up portentous. The net effect of Pop Skull is a lot like sleeping through an alarm clock: Despite all the shrieking, the senses get dulled after awhile and the mind just drifts away. While it’s possible to both describe this film as a misfire and to appreciate AFI Fest’s reasoning in booking it, here’s hoping Pop Skull’s makers fulfill the unrealized promise of this forgettable debut with a more disciplined effort next time out.
Distributor: Distribution to be set
Cast: Lane Hughes, Brandon Carroll, Hanna Hughes and Maggie Henry
Director: Adam Wingard
Screenwriters/Producers: Lane Hughes, E.L. Katz and Adam Wingard
Genre: Horror film noir
Running time: 86 min.
Release date: TBD