POP SKULL Review
Call it a textbook example of what you can do on a budget if you're smart enough. Shot on an impossibly tiny budget - one that literally wouldn't buy the coffee on a typical Hollywood movie - Adam Wingard's Pop Skull is a remarkable success, drifting through a pharmaceutical haze Wingard creates using nothing more than good lighting, rapid fire editing and a hyper-aggressive sound design. Equal parts Aronofsky and Tsukamoto, Wingard straddles the line between experimentation and linear narrative to tell the deceptively simple story of Daniel, an Alabaman pill addict utterly lost in a post breakup depression and struggling to maintain a tenuous hold on reality and decipher whether the specters he keeps catching sight of are actual ghosts or simple creations of his chemically altered mind.
Trying to discuss Pop Skull on a narrative level is something of a chumps game ... there's not much there on that level, in the first place, very little actually happens, but more important is that the film seems much less interested in what happens than in how. Pop Skull is primarily a mood film, a film that aims to capture the tone of a certain state of being. Everything about it is designed to reflect Daniel's aimlessness, his depression, his slowly slipping grasp on reality. The simple use of light, of repeated and overlaid images, the languid pacing punctuated by bursts of rapid fire imagery, it's all designed to reflect Daniel's state of mind. Yes, yes ... there are ghosts and blood and enough of both that the film could legitimately be termed a horror movie but to look at Pop Skull simply on those terms is to miss the bulk of what's going on here.
Pop Skull arguably runs a little long, the content of the film could have been served in a shorter format, but it very clearly marks Wingard as a significant talent to watch. His voice is clear and distinct and remarkably his own, one that draws on recognizable influences but does so in surprising ways. He shows a part of America seldom put on screen - Quick! Name the last film you saw set in blue collar Alabama! - and does so with a voice that is both authentic and quietly subversive. The man has an obvious skill with his actors, a cinematographers eye, a musician's ear for rhythm in the editing room and very definitely knows how to stretch a dollar. Give the man any kind of budget at all for his next film and the results should be positively astounding.