The Unknown Trilogy

[17 March 2008]

By Erik Hinton

It is not often that one comes across a film that is so singularly awful that they can think of nothing positive to say about it whatsoever. Keep in mind, the author of this review loves schlocky on-demand horror films, lists Dead Alive as one of his favorite movies, and often gets mad at Tom Servo and Crow for not letting me just watch the feature.

Furthermore, I am not one of those ever-so-clever college boys who think their witty addenda of homophobic or crass commentary to every film is the most enlightened annotation since “in bed” was paired with fortune cookies. I simply find a certain innocence or raw beauty in b-movies; watching a film so far from the canon is like stumbling upon a secret.

I suppose such an analogue applies to The Unknown Trilogy as well. However, whereas most cheap movies are secrets like a hidden garden or a lost book, The Unknown Trilogy falls squarely in line with secrets such as, “Your father is not actually a rich business man. He is a poor drunkard…and he does not love you.”

The most overarching and telling of this film’s failures is that The Unknown Trilogy presents a radical incongruity between what it announces itself as and what it actually manages to be. The DVD sleeve proclaims the film as an heir apparent to The Twilight Zone. Impractically speaking, this is true in that The Unknown Trilogy masterfully regurgitates familiar ground from Rod Sterling’s brilliant series. However, any agents of freshness, innovation, or genuine intelligence that were present in the The Twilight Zone respectfully bow out in this modern aping.

Furthermore, the film is presented as three case studies heard by a behavioral psychologist. He serves as the movie’s quasi-narrator and hermeneut-extraordinaire. Such a device should signal either that the so-introduced material has some relevance to any actual community of thought or that it would be possible to construe the so-introduced material as rational enough to hold commentary. I can safely chuck both of these qualities out the window as The Unknown Trilogy happily dispenses with any intelligence or film logic.

If I am falling short of illustrating just how awful this movie is, consider the plots of the three episodes of the film. The first tells about an obsessive gambler, Frankie, who is back on payments to what is ostensibly the mob. However, after he prays for a solution, he is visited by a man who is so clearly the devil that you can just imagine Faust shaking his head.

The mysterious stranger, “Lucky”, offers Frankie 22 $100 dollar chips to place on the number 22 in exchange for the promise that Frankie will live his entire life by age 22. Of course the down-and-out loser takes the offer and wins huge sums of money. But soon he will find out that “Luck never gives. It only lends,” as the DVD cover announces.

Yes, the plot is actually that club-footed, and never once questions how the ridiculous “live your life by 22s” should be carried out. The only real example Lucky gives is if Frankie buys roses, he must buy 22. Does this mean that he must also eat 22 meals everyday or walk in 22-step sequences? Oh, and Justin Guarini makes an appearance.

The next story is about a boy who lives his entire life in fear because when he was young he wandered off at a funeral home, saw a man performing experiments on bodies, ran away from said man but could think of no better place to hide than an open coffin, was caught by the scary man, and closed inside the coffin. As a pre-teen he and his friends get together and get drunk off a single beer each and decide to do something scary which is _________________ (fill in the blank). If you guessed “play in the funeral home” you are unfortunately correct. One monkey on one typewriter in one day could surely would approximate this mess.

Finally, a man loses his child on Christmas day and then the next year starts living in a completely empty world where he just gets crying voicemails from his wife. Ten points Gryffindor if anyone can recite what it means if someone realizes the world they live in is deserted and time has stopped.

Add shoddy acting (the children actors look like they are always about to break character), low production quality, and a sound mix that often drowns out dialogue in superfluous vamps and you have an awful 90 minutes. This is sadly emblematic of modern convention in film, though, which is to shackle together the vestiges of film that worked before, but strip the elements of any significance. We are left with these unwieldy pastiches paying lip-service to their filmic heritage, simulacra, and unwatchable. I really cannot muster up any sympathy even for the low-budget craftsmanship, with which I can sympathize. But in the spirit of film review husbandry, I will admit that I did enjoy the young curly-haired actor in the second story. Something like a male Ellen Paige…sort of.

Finally, I must admit that on top of the staggering heap of failures, The Unknown Trilogy is fully unwoven by its brazen apathy. Even the work of shitteurs such as Uwe Boll or Ed Wood is fully enjoyable because at all times you get the feeling that just behind the screen of awkward dialogue and boom mic shadows, there is an enthused director who believes in what he is producing. Such gusto is the optimistic engines of these films that keep them fun.

The Unknown Trilogy, however, just throws in the towel. I have seen Powerpoints that had more faith in their content and I could not help wishing I was watching a dry slide show instead of this painful exercise in flaccid filmmaking. At the heart of low-budget filmmaking or b-cinema is a sense of felix culpa which is absolutely missing from The Unknown Trilogy. Instead, we are given unadulterated failure and weariness.

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