Monday, June 30, 2008

HYBRID (2006) d. Yelena Lanskaya

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

When you open a box of Fruit Loops and pour out a bowl, you expect a consistent product. After each succeeding instance when you finish that last spoonful, the Fruit Loops lover is thankful for the manufacturer’s adherence to its formula and thus the consumer’s ability to predict the outcome of their experience. In most cases people want to feel secure in their ability to predict their involvement with a tried and true formula. However, being predictable and formulaic is not always a good thing. In the creative world of literature and film, predictability and dependence on a formula can be tiresome and seem beastly dull. For a motion picture like HYBRID, which has its roots as a TV movie, being formulaic and predictable is both a blessing and a curse.

HYBRID is the story of Aaron played by Corey Monteith, a security guard at a water treatment plant, whose bravery in trying to save a co-worker costs him his eyesight. Enter Dr. Hewlitt, played by Justine Bateman, who is a brilliant but overly ambitious research scientist for Olaris Labs. Dr. Hewlitt is able to save Aaron’s sight by replacing his eyes with those of a wolf. Enter Lydia, played by Tinsel Korey, a fiery young Assiniboine woman who found an injured wolf and worked to save its life, only to see it donated to Olaris Labs. Her efforts to find out why the wolf was so inhumanly sacrificed causes her path to cross with Aaron, whose organ transplant has gone horribly wrong. Dr. Hewlitt tries to help Aaron, but she finds that events are spinning out of control as the clout that put up the money for her research want Aaron for their own nefarious purposes. A race ensues to save Aaron from unscrupulous persons and from his newly grafted nature and it is only those who truly understand the powers at work inside Aaron’s soul who can truly help.

From the minute this film began with its images of wolf packs, to the scenes of the research labs at Olaris, to the views of Aaron’s job overseeing safety/security at the plant, the future direction of this film, the plot twists it was going to use and the way the characters were going to be employed and developed was absolutely transparent. When the armed forces and the Assiniboine peoples were added, the story did not become more complex and challenging, rather it became even more evident where it would go and how it would end, especially as I kept in mind its TV movie background. There was even an unneeded romance inserted into the narrative, something that Hollywood likes to add to increase the formulaic nature of its films, but often does not contribute any more drama, just as this addition did nothing to intensify the conflict or improve characterization. There wasn’t a moment in HYBRID where it wasn’t entirely unsurprising and thoroughly enslaved to a formula going back to the earliest days of cinema. HYBRID was not boring, unpleasant or worthless, it was just predictable and formulaic and depending on your tastes and expectations, that may or may not be a bad thing. I had no problem with the story being centered upon a contrast between Native American beliefs and avaricious military aims, nor did I have a problem with Aaron’s character being an unwitting and eventually poignant pawn in the machinations of others. Both are worthwhile focal points and I am always going to feel a sense of kinship with a character that has a French-Native American background fighting for what’s right against soulless monsters using others in their power-hungry games. Going back to a well that has unacceptable tasting water isn’t a stupid thing to do just because you do it over and over again. It just won’t be terribly original and eye-opening and that is exactly the nature of HYBRID.

On the positive side, like so many of the Sci-Fi or RHI-TV films I have watched and/or reviewed, HYBRID looked good. It was fairly well shot in that it was well lit, properly framed and when it utilized hand-held cameras, that method was thoughtfully employed and was not done with “artistic license” or “creative flair” like an unwatchable Paul Greengrass film would be. While there were stretches of the film that felt like “filler” was added to pad out its run time to feature length, most of HYBRID’s “filler” was inserted to build a sense of mystery and mythos. I applaud that effort because the predictably politically-correct nature of the narrative depended on a sense of Native American mystery and without it, HYBRID would have felt terrifically hokey. Corey Monteith gives a very sincere performance in a very challenging role. Playing a man whose mind is slowly being transformed into a mix of man and wolf would be very difficult to keep from being miserably cheesy, but somehow Mr. Monteith pulls it off. In addition, Tinsel Korey works hard to be an angry, fiery yet sympathetic character and does it while cutting an impressive figure of exotic sex appeal. While neither Mr. Monteith or Miss Korey are seasoned and supremely gifted actors, their earnest efforts and genuine chemistry keep HYBRID from being a mess even if it is predictable and formulaic.

HYBRID has its weaknesses beyond being a simplistic roadmap. In any TV movie, cash is going to be tight and the purse strings need to be handled with care. Except for casting Justine Bateman in the role of Dr. Hewlitt, most of the rest of the cast are unknowns, and there is a reason for that, it doesn’t cost that much. Except for the performances of the lead roles, the acting in HYBRID is pretty weak. I’ve certainly seen worse, and I didn’t feel like laughing, but I did wince every now and then. Added to the insufficient acting quality was a screenplay that was swamped with overly simple and even awkward dialogue. All through the 1970s, TV movies were a staple during the broadcast day and I watched as many of them as I could. The two things that often separated a good TV movie from a mediocre or bad one was surprisingly solid writing and even more surprisingly strong performances throughout the cast. When the acting and the writing of a TV movie aren’t up to snuff, it comes across as feeling “cheap” as opposed to just being “inexpensive”, kind of like when you bought that “no name” candy bar instead of paying the extra dime and getting the Milky Way. A final strike against HYBRID was its film score that usually had ideally placed incidental music to highlight the difference in mood between the “natural and native ways” and the “mechanistic and immoral methods”. Joined to this score was an oft-used rap song called Look by Sketch Williams that just didn’t fit this film. While I am not a fan of rap, if the story centers on urban youth or deals with rap culture, adding such music makes sense. When the themes of this film are those that depend upon the juxtaposition of Native American culture and the military-industrial complex, a rap song doesn’t make sense, feels like it is a marketing ploy to attract young people or at least pander to them and in the end it dilutes the product and weakens its outcome.

Another weakness of this dvd is that there is a total lack of an extras menu. There is an auto-play medley of Maneater Series trailers before the general menu and then the viewer has the option of “play movie” or “scene selections” and that is ALL! Nothing screams cheap more than a bare bones disc. After watching a recent horror film dealing Samoan culture, part of the goodwill that was engendered in me by that experience was learning more about the cast, crew, rationale, means & ways and reflections upon the movie-making process and how the cultural elements of the film were interwoven. Like Genius Products’ other film dealing with Native American culture, EYE OF THE BEAST, to make a film in the modern era borrowing ideas from the legends and myths of the Native People and not giving something back feels like exploitation in the worst sense of the word as it applies to cinema. In addition, letting young cast and crew members talk about their experiences gives them another platform on which to build their careers, or at least it seems that way. In any case, giving the buyer a little something in the extras menu makes them feel like their money has been well spent. In this miserable economy, producers and distributors should keep that in mind as the dvd market becomes even tighter and more competitive.

HYBRID was not a bad film, it was just unspectacular and it felt like a walk through the park that I’ve taken one too many times. I don’t need every one of my movie experiences to be so thoroughly unpredictable and unique that my soul sings every time I slip a disc into my dvd player, but I want the time to feel like it was well spent. HYBRID wasn’t a soul-sucking experience that left me angry and soiled, it wasn’t even boring where I struggled to stay awake or watched the clock like a hawk, it was like grape soda. I like grape soda, but once you’ve had one, you’ve had them all. There just doesn’t seem like there is a way to make grape soda any different from the age-old recipe. HYBRID felt like a lot of other films I’ve seen and I just couldn’t shake the feeling “been there, done that”. I hate that trite and overused phrase, but it seems to fit HYBRID like a glove. Sorry, I can’t seem to stop using these formulaic phrases that just keep spilling out of me like water. Well, I guess there’s no use crying over spilled milk.

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