While She Was Out
Director: Susan Montford
Writer: Susan Montford, Edward Bryant
Starring: Kim Basinger, Lukas Haas
I’d like to preface this review by saying that it has spoilers. Lots of them. But I’d then also like to jump to what I’ll end up saying at the end of the review, which is don’t watch this movie. So don’t worry about it, my interpretation is a better screenplay.
While She Was Out is based on a short story of the same name by Susan Montford, who also wrote the screenplay. This is important, as I think that the biggest flaw in the film is that somewhere in the adaptation process, the concept behind the story got muddled with stretching it into a feature length film. This is common with many adaptation processes, either trying to stretch a dense concept into a larger format, or condensing a broad idea into its relevant parts. But I digress; let’s delve into this bizarre world of Kim Basinger’s comeback.
The movie follows Della (with two L’s, which is strangely highlighted when she is ordering coffee, and is immediately handed the cup back by the employee who wrote her name wrong…). She is a forty something with an abusive husband and two twins, Tammy and Terry, terribly played by talentless toddlers. One of my favorite strange quotes is from the husband when he comes home angry and grabs her arm: “Don’t break my arm!” “Don’t tell me what to do!”. I knew I was in for a real character exposé.
It is Christmas Eve, and Della has run out of wrapping paper! Unfortunately the mall is packed, and she has trouble finding a spot. She does seem to find the patience to stop and leave a note on a bad park job, reading “How selfish can you be?!”. This pisses off the thugs who drive this vehicle, and they block her when she returns to her vehicle.
And let me tell you about this rag tag group of hooligans. All look about twenty, fresh faced, and not unlike a boy band. A Caucasian man named Chuckie is played by Lukas Haas, who also appears in Mars Attacks! as Natalie Portman’s friendly and politically inclined love interest. Makes sense that you cast him as the scariest thug in a gang of super scary thugs, right? Second is an Asian man name Vingh, who looks like the guy from Linkin Park. Next is Huey, a black man whose character work can be expressed in another favorite quote: “Aw shit, now my new kicks are dirty!”. Finally, a Latino named Tomas, as in “Tohm-awss”. He is appropriately tattooed and strangely older than the other three.
Anyways, they get around to Punk’ing her in the parking lot, pushing her around for some reason, and bragging about the gun they wield. A security guard who is conveniently and awkwardly introduced earlier shows up and is shot by accident. Della gets away, but now that she is a witness to this crime, the Randy River Crew must find her and kill her. You betcha.
They arrive at a new housing development on the edge of a forest, where Kim ends up crashing her car and grabbing a tool box for some reason, escaping into the forest. But in true thriller fashion, she stays close instead of high tailing it until she arrives at the police station. The guys show up, and slowly high center their car on a mound of dirt, and begin the chase.
What follows is a series of chase scenes with one of the thugs breaking away from the pack, and being killed by some implement that she carries in the tool box she lugs around with her. It is her gift and her curse, as it rattles when she runs, so she can be heard, but yet carries all sorts of weapons. Huey is first to die, although he just falls about a meter and dies from what I can only assume is his zyphoid process cutting his organs. Next is the Spaniard, who gets a wrench shoved up his nose. I can’t even make a joke about that. Finally Vingh gets a screwdriver through the neck.
In a final standoff, Kim Basinger shows off her acting prowess by seducing Chuckie while he points a gun at her, and ends up torching and shooting him. Returning home, she sings awkwardly, kisses her kids, and then kills her husband.
A short story translated into a movie is inherently flawed, as a short story’s plot is inherently that; short. Although this movie is just over an hour, it becomes apparent that there are many plot devices employed to justify the movies length. This comes up a lot in the form of character exposition. For example, Della meets the security guard when she unrolls the window and asks him if he can help her find an empty parking stall. Which never happens. Then we are supposed to care when he is the initial kill-off that sends the plot spiraling. Another instance is when Chuckie has a single line about promising Huey he’ll “take him to the ocean”. Then Huey dies, and Chuckie is really upset, talking about how all he wanted to do was “take him to the ocean”. It’s strange, and doesn’t really lend itself to us caring about the characters, but rather spells out that the particular character will most certainly be next to die.
The next flaw in the movie is the use of cliché. I don’t mind when a genre embraces its own faults by emphasizing some cliché or using it in an innovative way, but this movie really misses the mark. There are so many instances of something jumping out from nowhere that is totally irrelevant, just for a scare. Like when Della is driving down the road, and suddenly screams and slams on the breaks when a police check-stop jumps out from nowhere! There is also a moment when her daughter gives her a “secret drawing” that she can’t open until “later”. Conveniently it’s when she is in the forest, remembering her kids.
Finally, some of the writing is just plain strange. The examples of this abound: The asian guy pouring some of his beer onto the ground when the black guy dies (for real), Basinger having a real acting opportunity when she is hiding where she asks, ‘Where are you God?”, and then decides to pee in the river, or when conveniently placed crows give away her hiding spot at the end. But my favorite strange plot element is when Chuckie is reading from her dayplanner in a threatening way as she is hiding at the end, and he mentions “mechanic class” which comes right after yoga. Strange, but makes sense as a bizarre device when she is forced to hot-wire her car when she escapes.
The good? The cinematography was decent. There are some clever shots where you can see Della moving through the forest behind the thugs, with no music cues or anything to draw attention to her. There was a failed stab at Mothman Prophecies symmetry in some of the shots, which falls short because it is only employed in the first twenty minutes, and doesn’t relate to the plot as effectively as Mothman.
Acting – There is something dowdy and childish about Kim Basginer and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Like she’s always a little bit drunk. She’s foxy, but for some reason doesn’t quite come across as likeable, which tends to be important when you’re the heroine. Also, she seems like she has done a lot of heroin.
She’s also just clumsy enough to progress the plot, which gets frustrating. Although she is written as slightly intelligent, she is so physically incapable of hiding and running from the enemy that it fucks up any good idea she has. Hard to watch.
The thugs ruin the movie, but we’ll get to them later.
Writing – The concept is innovative. The execution and the ending are bogus. There are also contrivances that I would put money on being added in to make the story more interesting for screen.
MAKE – What could make the movie is the setting. The most innovative part of the film is when they are in the housing development. Also, the forest parts are well shot and reasonably ominous.
BREAK – What breaks the movie is the group of thugs. The casting is terrible. Not one of them is believable as a youth who has the potential to carry a gun, never mind kill a security guard and hunt down a mother of two.
BOTTOM LINE – Stop adapting stuff. Just…stop it. More often than not, the original is better (see any Stephen King novel). That said, I’ve never read While She Was Out, but there is nothing in the movie that stands out as being worth the translation. Kim Basinger is alright, but not nearly good enough for us to care what happens to her.
And just to wrap up, I’d like to include some of my favorite quotes from the movie that made me laugh. Because the movie is a thriller, these should of course be taken as insults.
- “It smells like that number five shit…Chanel.” (As they come across Della’s scent in the woods)
- “He who finds it shines it buddy.” (Chuckie when he finds the flashlight…said as though it’s a common phrase)
- “I can smell your sweat. I can smell your blood.” (Chuckie on the hunt)
- “You can’t even take your shoes off at the door? The Japanese do it! I do it!” (Disgruntled husband when she returns home, pre killing him)