With a central cast of Milo Ventimiglia (Kiss Of The Damned, Heroes, The Divide), Sarah Shahi (Chicago Fire, The Congress) and Sara Paxton (Innkeepers, Cheap Thrills, Shark Night, Last House On The Left), you might be immediately skeptical that Static is just a dud of a chiller with a ‘pretty people’ cast as the only thing going for it. Thankfully that isn’t the case and it is, instead, a showcase for three solid actors and a first-time director with a steady hand and a penchant for unease over jump-scares. The film isn’t entirely a success, but, for a first feature it is well done and interesting and is a good stylistic jumping-off point for writer/director Todd Levin.
The film centers on a troubled couple, Jonathan (Ventimiglia) and Addie (Shahi) recently relocated to a beautiful rural home and suffering through a tragic loss involving their son. The film opens with equally lovely and disturbing imagery of the couple laying lifeless against the backdrop of a pastoral scene and picnic trimmings. What this tells us about the arc of the story is murky at best and quite frankly could be interpreted as symbolism at that early stage. We don’t know these people or their story so this imagery is more like a painting than a narrative device.
We are forced to ride shotgun to some seriously uncomfortable scenes early on with Addie and Jonathan having to navigate their marriage with this horrible weight around each of their necks. The longing we see in both of them to be ‘normal’ is quite striking and sad and plays perfectly against the muted backdrop of greys and silvers and blues that make up their country estate. This is not happy business but it is human business at its most basic level and feels authentic and lived-in. Again, both actors inhabit these roles seamlessly. There is no casting-distraction to be had here.
Very soon this solidarity is broken up by a knock at the door and a young lady, Rachael, (Paxton) who seems seriously spooked by someone or someones that are after her along with car trouble. It is this immediate threat of one or more problems with this woman who immediately puts us on the defensive. What is the real deal here? Is she the threat, or, will this devolve into your basic home-invasion breakdown from some masked force? It doesn’t help that Rachel acts kind of funny and seems to know entirely too much about Jonathan’s writing and career. She floats one line that totally made my hair stand on end and it isn’t a consequential line either. Her arrival and the pretenses that prompt it feel so entirely false that every bit of strangeness out of her is unsettling. Credit Paxton for creating a balanced character that you can’t get a read on.
Things get seriously screwy with the unseen assailants becoming suddenly seen and snatching one of the three of them right out of the house. Again, the reactions of each, particularly Paxton, don’t jive with reality and so as it goes from bad to worse, you really don’t know what to think.
Then in a wash of revelations in a hurry, it all comes to a tension-filled head and an overly expositive final push. Now, it would be one thing if we had any damned clue as to what might have led to the series of tense and scary events that punctuate the second half of the film but we absolutely don’t. Not that they don’t mesh with all you’ve been shown to that point but I’ll be damned if I could’ve given you even anything accurate as a guess to what the story really is. That is, however, until they explain it all to you.
When you have a film as artfully crafted as Static is, with three strong actors and a director with a great eye for space and an internal metronome for tempo and tension, why? Why make this crutch of a choice? If the film’s second half was done too abstractly, was the worry people wouldn’t piece it all together? Honestly, I don’t know but the expositive overload seemed to cheapen the somber, unsettling and well-assembled film that preceded it. Save for that choice, the film would be a solid-turn of a first feature but that waning moment decision stole so much of the strength and sadness built up over the film’s slow, measured pace. Trusting the audience to fill in some of the gaps would’ve greatly enhanced the film but one thing Static does do is, again, give director Todd Levin some stylistic identity from which to grow.