TELL-TALE Review [A Pleasing Twist on Poe]

Posted by Peter Hall - May 27th 2010 @ 3:00 pm

Directed by Michael Cuesta, 2010
Written by Dave Callaham

Dave Callaham’s script for TELL-TALE can hardly be considered a strict adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s original story about a murder who smothers an old man in his bed and then buries the chopped up body in the floorboards of the old man’s estate.  He thinks he’s gotten away with the crime only to discover that once the police arrive to investigate he can hear the beating of the dead man’s heart through the floorboards.  Convinced the police can also hear the ever-increasing pounding, the killer, driven insane from paranoia, confesses his crime.

Here’s the pitch for Callaham’s story: “What if instead of burying the heart in the floorboards, it was inside someone’s chest!”

Okay, so it’s a little more complicated than that, but I’m guessing that’s what most people who write off this surprisingly solid thriller are going to say.  What actually happens is after Terry (Josh Lucas) receives a life-saving heart transplant he soon discovers that his new ticker booms like a subwoofer in a nightclub whenever he approaches certain strangers.  When he gets near them his head throbs in sync with the pounding of his heart and a nearly uncontrollable anger begins to take him over…

Now before you think this is another silly film about a person who gets an organ transplant from a serial killer and suddenly adapts their murderous personality, that’s not exactly the case.  However, there is a very specific reason Terry can barely control his urge to kill certain people and the way it all ties together is quite cool.  Intermixed with the mystery of what happened to his donor is a moderately touching story about Terry’s endearing relationship with his daughter, a young lass who is stricken with the irreversible genetic disorder that causes all the connective tissue in one’s body to turn to bone over time, and her doctor, Elizabeth (Lena Heady).  And as an informative tangent to that part of the story is Detective Van Doran’s (Brian Cox) suspicions about what Terry might be up to.

That’s not too bad of a cast, if you ask me.  I’m such a fan of Brian Cox that I’d watch a movie about Brian Cox watching paint dry for two hours, so it’s a delight to see him playing a gold chain-wearing boozer of a detective.  Lena Heady is always a welcome face, too, though I did find her latest genre effort, THE BROKEN (whose poster looks an awful lot like the one for TELL-TALE), to be quite boring.  But one of the main reasons to see TELL-TALE is actually for Josh Lucas, an actor I’ve always felt has the charm and the chops to be doing more than the occasional romantic comedy or big budget disaster movie.  He has a lot of emotions to work with here and he comes out the other end no worse for the wear.  And even though I have always liked him as an actor, this is the first film I’d recommend seeing specifically because of him.

It doesn’t hurt, either, that the rest of the film is consistently engaging.  It’s well shot, well scripted, and well paced, which are three checked off  boxes that I think most people probably aren’t going to be expecting from a film that went straight-to-video in the United States.  The technical merit of the production isn’t much of a surprise, however, when you learn that TELL-TALE was co-produced by Ridley and Tony Scott’s Scott Free Productions.  Director Michael Cuesta may not be as well known a name as his producers, but judging from this film alone I’d be willing to keep an attentive eye on whatever projects he attaches to in the future.

The only thing holding me back from declaring TELL-TALE one of the best straight-to-video discoveries in a while is because, though it’s well made, it’s not necessarily all that ambitious.  There are no edge-of-your-seat moments nor jaw dropping twists and turns.  You’ll come away pleased by the performances and how well-plotted the script is, but it’s a little light on the energy necessary to be wow’ed by it all.  Still, it may not be the best STV arrival in a while, but it’s certainly better than most.  And as far as modernizations of Poe’s classic story go, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a more enjoyable bending of the tale the heart is telling than this.

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comments are closed
  1. May 27th, 2010 | 6:32 pm | #1

    i can’t wait to see this!

  2. May 28th, 2010 | 1:50 pm | #2

    I really like this version’s take on the surgical side of horror as an update to Poe’s classic tale.

  3. June 5th, 2010 | 12:04 pm | #3

    I love Edgar Allen Poe. This sounds interesting. I might have to check it out. That is if I can find it where I am!

  4. Jeff
    June 16th, 2010 | 1:14 am | #4

    This sounds interesting. I think this movie has a potential to be great… The poster reminded me of my logo design, which was designed by my designer from logodesigncreation. It turned out amazing. I think the poster fits well with the plot judging by the looks of it. Early reviews on this movie sound promising.

  5. Mikey11
    June 16th, 2010 | 9:59 am | #5

    Agreed. Any movie adapted from Edgar Allan Poe screams “automatic classic.” His short-story Ligeia was recently formed into a film. It’s part of Fangoria’s FrightFest.

    Does anyone else find this appealing as I do?

  6. June 23rd, 2010 | 7:14 pm | #6

    I’ve been wondering whether to throw this in my Netflix cue or not. I think I’m off to do just that now.

  7. July 5th, 2010 | 4:43 am | #7

    Only just heard about this movie, how did it pass me by?! Really looking forward to seeing it.

  8. Leon
    October 7th, 2010 | 12:50 pm | #8

    I decided to view this film after visiting the Poe house in Philadelphia last week. The film and the house were well worth the time. Tell-Tale
    deserved a theatrical release. Cast was excellent as were the production values. I’m glad I did not let this slip by.


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