Saturday, July 1, 2017

Wichita (2016) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: The writer for a kid's show spirals into madness after going on a secluded retreat with his coworkers.

Review: Full disclosure: the review for this film and my next one were both requested, however, that doesn't mean I'll pull any punches. So, with that said, I wasn't sure what to expect from "Wichita." To be as succinct as possible, the core premise is original and interesting, but, unfortunately, the story falls to pieces at the climax and seemingly forgets to have an ending altogether. The disappointing aspect is that there were numerous great ideas interlaced into the background to establish a truly crazy main character yet these ideas are never realized. It's funny that I reviewed "Dahmer" prior to this since I think that movie merged with "Wichita" would have created something extraordinary in depicting a visceral, serial killer experience.

Starting with what works I have to address the main character, Jeb, who also serves as the antagonist. Trevor Peterson, playing Jeb, always has this creepy, Mr. Rogers-esque, artificial smile smeared across his face that works wonders in conveying a proper psycho. I also loved the tight shots on Jeb's face. Not sure if he was naturally bloodshot all the time, but Mr. Peterson's eyes were necessary to establish his deranged state. All in all, I was pleased with the acting for this character and the cinematography implemented to highlight his descent into insanity. Now, the other strong point in the film's favor is the general plot line about a group of writers for a kid's show. Of course, this premise is not fully capitalized upon, however, I can appreciate the degree of originality at hand and it's not something we see explored elsewhere. Lastly, the ambient music was really good at times when coupled with the closeups of Jeb staring, deep in thought.

Ironically, "Wichata's" strongest point is also its weakest point as well. While I applaud the effective depiction of Jeb's character, he is completely unbelievable with traits no single person would possess. I mean, the guy is every kind of crazy combined--you have the control freak, the socially awkward introvert, the manipulator, the workaholic, tortured as a child, misunderstood artist, ex-druggie, etc. all the while Jeb has all these different talents that don't mesh. I find it impossible to believe that someone who is an amazing writer and editor can also have expert skills with film and electrical wiring while doing drugs, obsessing over a girl, and jumping from one get-rich scheme to the next as implied by his mother. Jeb simply is not a focused character nor consistent--it was like they were throwing everything and the kitchen sink into making him a composite of every serial killer ever depicted. The sad part is that the best traits to his personality are lost due to going overboard. For example, everything with the kid's show is irrelevant and its meaning to his life is never explained. If writing and bringing the TV show to life was Jeb's passion, show us scenes of him playing with memorabilia from the show and his anger at losing his baby to greedy executives and a younger writer trying to ruin his creation. You gotta have focus...pick a motivation and run with it. If this weren't a big enough issue, Jeb's plan to kill the other writers and create his own murderous documentary fails since we never get to see the finished product. What was he mailing to all the TV stations? How was it all meant to play out with that final game of Russian roulette? The story builds up to this crescendo--as if everything will come full circle and his distorted vision will be realized--but then the credits just begin rolling and that's that?! Nope. Sorry. I actually would have bumped up the rating had they given us Jeb's final masterpiece that is alluded to all movie long with him filming everyone. Oh well.

Overall, "Wichita" is above average but pretty good as far as indie movies go especially on a technical front. The basic plot line is cool and holds all manner of potential with the kid's show angle. The main character is fun to see in action and is memorably insane which is commendable. Sadly, the filmmakers do not properly develop said main character in a realistic fashion despite decent cinematography used to enhance his scenes. The secondary cast is weak and their roles are not adequately fleshed out for us to care about whether they live or die. The buildup to an epic conclusion is firmly established yet the audience is left with an abrupt and unsatisfying finish that does not deliver on what should have been shown. With more polish and a clearer focus of the narrative at hand, "Wichita" could have been an indie gem.

Notable Moment: When the camera is zoomed in close to Jeb's bloodshot eyes and he keeps clicking his pen. This is the kind of coming off the rails I want to see depicted more often. It's the tiny details that add up and create a successfully unhinged character.

Final Rating: 5.5/10

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