BLACKOUT Review. [Netflix Watch Instantly (Mis?)Adventures]

Posted by Brian Knowles - August 24th 2009 @ 2:22 pm

Editor’s Note: I’ve asked BrianK to explore the arid wasteland of Netflix’ Watch Instantly section once a week in search of lost treasures, the only important rule being his find cannot be a film anyone has ever told him anything about.  These are his results.


Directed by Rigoberto Castañeda, 2007
Written by Ed Dougherty


I like it when people whisper. I like it when people whisper in movies, in television, and on the radio. I like it when people whisper to me, to others, and even to themselves (eh, actually that one’s kind of creepy). Yeah, it’s weird, I know. But when dealing with an apparently marginal direct-to-video title like BLACKOUT*, something as simple as opening with a whispered bit of nonsense can be quite an effective hook for a weirdo like me. Well, the whispering combined with a handsomely photographed dead woman in a bathtub.

The dead woman is quickly revealed to be the suicide-victim wife of Dr. Karl (Aiden Gillen), who is shown sometime later to be trying to balance caring for his young daughter with his job and his grief. Shortly thereafter, Claudia (Amber Tamblyn) – who maybe accidentally killed her grandmom by saying hello to a homeless man – and Tommy (Armie Hammer) – the sensitive semi-badass – are introduced as the other 2/3rds of our trio who will become stuck in an elevator.

So there we have our setup – this diverse group of folk (not too diverse, they are all Caucasian after all) will be within elbow range of each other for at least a few hours, while stuck high in a seemingly impossibly tall residential building elevator shaft. To make things worse, the building is under much needed renovations, and is almost vacant for Fourth of July Weekend.

Emotions quickly get the best of our triumvirate, partially due to their obvious predicament, and partially because they all have important shit to do. The early bickering is intercut with flashbacks revealing their backgrounds and why they are in such a damn hurry. The acting is surprisingly strong all the way around, especially Aiden Gillen, as the off-kilter doctor, and Armie Hammer (who I think could should have a future in action movies), as the “tough” guy.

Be warned though, it gets a tad “darker” than you might expect. This is not LIFE BOAT or PHONE BOOTH, in terms of subject matter usually presented in the people-stuck-in-small-places genre. The director, Rigoberto Castañeda, is a Mexican fellow (I apologize if that sounds vaguely racist), who, by looking at some of the scenes in BLACKOUT, and the title of his short film NECROFILIA, has some of the same predilections as early Nacho Cerdà. You get one guess as to what those are.

Those proclivities aside, Castañeda, along with cinematographer Alejandro Martínez (STAY ALIVE†), keep everything looking sharp. They make ample use of the technique pioneered by Fincher in PANIC ROOM – where the camera appears to travel through floors and walls (probably without the expense of the “previsualization” used by Fincher). Albeit a little showy, in BLACKOUT the technique was not entirely without purpose in the scope of telling the story. That’s better than most special effects can say.

Castañeda does a good job at continually amping up the tension, whether by mechanical failure or unexpected character development. Speaking of the characters, they actually earn their behavior, if that makes sense. Even abrupt shifts in personalities are supported by little things called “reason” and “purpose,” which can be all too absent in the “thriller” genre.

The script, by Ed Doughtery (his sole credit to date), does an admirable job of fleshing out each of the character’s stories. Even the backstories are enjoyable vignettes. Hammer’s character’s story could have made an interesting “romantic drama,” had he not stepped on that elevator. Characters in movies of this subspecies usually do not get that level of respect from their writers and directors.

Don’t let me go overboard here. BLACKOUT isn’t a perfect movie, by any means. It certainly isn’t the most original story in the world, there are a couple scenes that feel completely out of place, and I thought the director missed out on making it more claustrophobic. But it puts itself in the upper echelon of DTV thrillers by being genuinely tense, fun, and ultimately quite entertaining. These qualities are not expected from a film randomly picked on Netflix’s “Watch Instantly”, but movies that come up behind you with a whisper can catch you by surprise.

Note: Speaking of people being stuck on elevators, if you haven’t read the story of Nick White, you really should.  And video.

*No actual blackout.
†It should be noted that by simply mentioning this title I run the risk of Peter refusing to publish this review.

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rss 8 comments
  1. August 24th, 2009 | 2:49 pm | #1

    You’ve actually sold me on it. Bumping it on to the Netflix queue.

  2. August 24th, 2009 | 3:07 pm | #2

    It’s the necrophilia, isn’t it?

  3. August 25th, 2009 | 7:53 am | #3

    Next week: JACK KETCHUM’S THE LOST

  4. noahphex
    August 25th, 2009 | 11:56 am | #4

    I added this to my Instant Watch queue, thanks a lot! I love getting heads up on movies that get no press.

  5. August 25th, 2009 | 12:16 pm | #5

    That’s one thing all of these movies are bound to have in common – no press. Hopefully I can continue to find watchable flicks.

  6. kassy
    August 26th, 2009 | 9:05 pm | #6

    I added it to my instant queue as well. I’m always scared to add one of those unknown quantity movies to my queue so I look forward to future reviews.

  7. adam charles
    August 27th, 2009 | 8:45 am | #7

    Okay. I’m gonna add this to my queue. I’m gonna do it. I’m doing it. Okay, I changed my mind, not gonna do it. Okay, I re-read your review. I’m gonna do it. Okay, I’m doing it. Okay, I did it.

    Enjoyed the review.

  8. September 2nd, 2009 | 9:36 pm | #8

    If you said anything less than “this was a great movie”, I would never have returned to this site again. There just aren’t enough movies with people stuck in elevators together. Saved By the Bell episodes do not count.

    I loved this film… I really wish there were more like it.

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