Friday, December 6, 2013

CLEAN BREAK (Review) - Blood in the Snow 2013

*Toronto Premiere*

review by AARON ALLEN

Directed by Tricia Lee
Written by Corey Brown

Starring Tianna Nori, Samy Osman, Sean Kaufmann, and Serge Plourde

The horror and thriller genre is rife with "evil wife" or "psycho girlfriend" characters, but rarely are they so humanely portrayed as in Clean Break.

Clean Break, which had its Toronto Premiere in November at the Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival, is a solid character-driven psychological drama about obsession and repression. When Tracy (Tianna Nori) moves in with her new boyfriend Scott (Sean Kaufmann) and his two womanizing roommates, Cam (Sammy Osman) and Dan (Serge Plourde), the house they share is thrown into turmoil. When Cam begins to complicate her "perfect" relationship with Scott, she wages a campaign of domination, manipulation, and sabotage. Soon they will learn that if you try to end a relationship with Tracy, she'll end you.

Director and writer team Tricia Lee and Corey Brown (Silent Retreat) are not content to simply retread the typically misogynistic narratives about nagging women and evil psychotic girlfriends who destroy the lives of good, innocent men. Instead, Clean Break is a cautionary tale about the dangers of obsession and repression. Tracy, for example, is obsessed with Scott, but it's not really him that she wants. She's driven by a psychotic need for the "perfect" relationship, and she will accept nothing less than the exact domestic bliss she envisions, regardless of who her partner is or what he wants. Despite all her talk about love, her obsession is inherently selfish - and her actions sociopathic and homicidal.

This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object
At the same time, Cam is really no different. I mean, he's not a serial killer. He is, however, a victimizer. By living a repressive life of non-stop partying and no emotional commitments, he brings pain, uncertainty, and heartbreak into the lives of the women he seduces and then kicks to the curb each morning. He then pressures his friends to do the same, stifling their own emotional lives. Obviously, he and Tracy immediately butt heads as she exerts more control over Scott's life, but Cam's attempts to break them up are by no means heroic even though we know Tracy is a clear threat. We learn that Cam is compensating for some kind of psychological trauma by living a rigid "use'em and lose'em" lifestyle. As Cam and Tracy's conflict pushes Tracy over the edge, they both learn that their individual attempts to create the "perfect" lives for themselves is creating nothing but heartbreak and tragedy. And soon, they find themselves the tragic victims of their own darker natures.

At first, I was disappointed that Clean Break revealed so early on that Tracy's is a killer. From that point forward until close to the final act, Clean Break lacks suspense and horror despite the fact we know Tracy's capable of horrible violence. Clean Break also lacks visual style, so its framing and shots give the proceedings a very mundane tone. However, Clean Break's strengths reside in its script and its performers, who elevate Clean Break into a very interesting psycho-drama. It's not meant to scare you or make you jump. Tracy is not the movie's monster; she's simply one of two very damaged characters. As such, she's a catalyst and dramatic foil for Cam's own inner turmoil. Make no mistake, Clean Break does descend into horror, and it goes to some very dark, brutal, and bloody places, but those places are only so scary and satisfying because Clean Break is so inherently invested in its characters and their thematic motivations.

Clean Break is not as emotionally gripping as Silent Retreat, but it's definitely another win for indie filmmakers Tricia Lee and Corey Brown. It's probably not going to scare the pants off you with guts or gore, but it will get under your skin. It may even lead you rethink your own role in some of your not-so-perfect breakups and past relationships. And really, what's scarier than that?

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