The Scribbler is a film adaptation of a graphic novel published by Image Comics in 2006. It tells the story of Suki (played by Katie Cassidy, daughter of ‘70s heartthrob David Cassidy), a woman suffering from multiple personality disorder, who has been institutionalized because of the destructive behavior displayed by one of her personalities. When the film opens, she is being investigated by a police detective and a psychologist named Silk (Eliza Dushku) over a series of deaths that recently occurred in the mental institution. The detective is playing a typical “bad cop” role, aggressively laying blame on her for the murders. Silk is playing more of a “good cop” role, asking questions to try and understand what happened from Suki’s point of view.
Suki then presents the story of how she was released from a mental hospital to the institution that she refers to as a “purgatory” for partially recovered patients. No longer considered to be immediate threats, the patients in this high-rise building have their own rooms and a degree of autonomy so long as they stay in the building. Upon her arrival, Suki is greeted by the splattered body of a woman jumping to her death, an occurrence that has become common in recent weeks. Suki then connects with Hogan (Garret Dillahunt), a fellow inmate that one of her personalities rejects and another seduces. She reveals to Hogan that she is using an experimental machine “the Siamese burn” to keep her personalities in check. Hogan decides to use the machine on himself to wondrous effect (he find himself able to float in midair). As Suki continues to use the machine she finds it to be a vehicle to unlock The Scribbler, an inner personality endowed with superhuman powers. Ultimately she discovers a secret behind the rash of suicides at the institution, and the film climaxes with the Scribbler battling her nemesis in a super powered showdown.
The Scribbler is an interesting idea that is competently handled by its director, John Suits. It assembles a cast of former Buffy alums (Eliza Dushku and Michelle Trachtenberg), showcases the daughter of a ‘70s pop icon, and includes a cameo from A-list porn star Sasha Grey. It’s based on a graphic novel that was well received, and the screenplay is written by the same author (Dan Schaffer). With all those factors going for it, The Scribbler would appear to have plenty of potential. However, it is hampered by one basic and overriding limitation. It just doesn’t have the budget to pull off what it’s trying to do!
Yes, a good budget doesn’t automatically mean a good film. Yes, there are many examples of films with minimalist budgets that turned out to be great movies. Yes, a good director can find ways to make things work within the budget that they’re given. When it comes to comic book stories with super powers, though, I really can’t think of any movies that have been effective without some minimal level of major studio funding. The whole time I was watching The Scribbler it felt to me like it was aspiring to be something larger than what it was. It seemed like somebody trying to make a big budget comic book film, but having to shoot it with a home movie camera. In addition, the storyline begins to meander about halfway through the film, leaving me to wonder if they simply added a bunch of filler footage because they couldn’t afford to do anything else.
In many ways, The Scribbler seems like an extended Kickstarter video for director John Suits. It demonstrates his ability to direct with style, to attract an interesting cast with some high profile names, and to tell a story that effectively moves from one scene to another (or at least it does for about the first half). In many ways, it seems less of a successful film in itself and more of a calling card for what the talent involved could do if given the proper funding. As a stand-alone movie, however, it’s interesting but cheap looking and meandering. It just doesn’t have everything it needs to stay engaging for its full running time.
The Scribbler becomes available on DVD beginning October 21, 2014.