A Gothic Tale Movie Review
Written by Steve "Alien Redrum" Pattee
Remember Lillian, you always have a choice. – Thomas
Written and directed by Justin Paul Ritter
2008, 102 minutes, Not rated
Ryan McGivern as The Stranger
Marshal Hilton as Mark Heim
Jamey Hood as Lillian Heidegger
C.J. Baker as Thomas Heidegger
Roddy Piper as The Narrator
On A Gothic Tale's official site, it is noted that the film was inspired by three stories: Edgar Allan Poe's The Telltale Heart, Nathanial Hawthorne's Dr. Heidegger's Experiment and Robert Louis Stevenson's Markheim. After reading that, I chose not to read the stories and judge the film on its own merit, instead of spending the time comparing it to the tales. (Although I did read The Telltale Heart years ago, I've all but forgotten it.)
Every day we all make choices. Sometimes it's as easy as Coke or Pepsi, sometimes it's a little tougher, as in deciding which bar to hit for happy hour. Fortunately, most of us don't have to make the life-changing decision of killing a person (or two) for the reward of everything we've always wanted, and that's what's at the core of A Gothic Tale: choices.
Writer/director Justin Paul Ritter has crafted one hell of a flick in Tale, intertwining four people's lives so virtually seamlessly, that it is almost unfair oversimplify the plot to just one word. Yet, at the end of the day, it is about their greed, their dreams, their choices.
It's hard to say who the main character is in A Gothic Tale, as each role is equally important. There's Thomas, the driven scientist and father of Lillian. There's Lillian's boyfriend Mark, a man with some serious anger issues, and a major thorn in Thomas' side. And then there's The Stranger, the puppet master with the suitcase full of hope and dreams, and his one and only goal is to effectively destroy the lives of those three — and boy does he love what he does.
The film, a mystery of sorts, isn't told linearly, but rather in fits of present time and flashbacks, and each moment you get to that point where there is key information, The Narrator (Roddy Piper still kicking ass in this role as the transient whose had dealings with The Stranger) shows up and takes you down another road with one of the other characters. This works more often than not, as it unravels the story at a slow pace. At times it's a bit too slow, and the film could stand to lose a small bit of its 102 minutes, as it would benefit from a leaner cut.
Yet even with that, Ritter has obviously grown as a filmmaker since I reviewed his first movie, KatieBird, three years ago. I had really liked KatieBird (and still do), but the entire film was edited with panels, causing a distraction. Ritter uses the paneling effect here, too, but in moderation, and it works. A Gothic Tale's story, while compelling, isn't quite as interesting as KatieBird's, but structurally, it's a much better film. As mentioned above, I did not read (or re-read) the stories the film was based on, but now I want to. This is a credit to Ritter, as he made a film interesting enough for me to want to go to its source.
It has to be mentioned that without the capable actors in A Gothic Tale, the movie would have failed miserably. There are a lot of emotional and dramatic scenes demanded from each player, and all came through with guns blazing. I want to so badly say Ryan McGivern as The Stranger owns this movie, as he steals every scene he's in, but I get to thinking about Jamey Hood's portrayal of Lillian, and the despair that seeps out of her or the fantastic synergy of hate between C.J. Baker and Marshall Hilton (Thomas and Mark, respectively) and I can't give all the credit to McGivern. This was a team effort, and everyone came to play.
A Gothic Tale is not a movie that can be watched just once. I watched it three times in preparation for this review, and each time I got a little more out of it. Ritter doesn't treat his audience like idiots, as this is a tough movie to crack, and the fact that Ritter didn't wimp out and made such a downer of an ending makes me like it even more. Good for him for not taking the typical Hollywood route on the ending because, sometimes, things don't end up okay.
I'm impressed with Justin Paul Ritter's work so far, as he's one of those rare low-budget filmmakers who manages to deliver both visually and storywise in two very different movies. With Tale being only his second feature, I'm eager to see what comes next from this up-and-coming filmmaker.
Video, Audio and Special Features:
Not rated as this was a screener.