Suicide, kidnap, familial dysfunction - just a normal day in the community of Hillside, the setting for Arie Posin's poisonous tale of disaffected youth struggling to make a connection with their narcissistic parents and the world at large. Full of pill-popping kids, dark secrets and hallucinogenic apparitions, comparisons to Donnie Darko are both inevitable and unflattering. But The Chumscrubber, which takes its rather bewildering moniker from a headless computer-game hero whose vigilante exploits embody the bitter resentments that simmer just beneath the surface of this cosy middle-class enclave, is not the pale imitation it first appears.
Take the cast, for example: an eye-catching collision between up-and-coming talent (Jamie Bell, Camilla Belle) with established veterans (Glenn Close, Allison Janney) and visiting Brits (Ralph Fiennes, Jason Isaacs). Not a bad ensemble by any measure, though it wouldn't mean much without a script and characters that allow each to make their mark without upsetting the delicate equilibrium of the whole.
This writer Zac Stanford achieves by drawing clear parallels between the youngsters' Ritalin-fuelled numbness and the therapeutic panacea (self-help manuals, vitamin supplements, New Age mysticism) the grown-ups use to insulate themselves from the reality of their lonely existences. Ignorant to their shallowness, the parents don't even notice when their children go missing, busying themselves instead with planning elaborate weddings or self-glorifying book tours.
Okay, it's hardly deep or particularly original. But it is witty and subversive, with flashes of magical realism and apocalyptic CG that both provokes and unnerves. "I'm not dead, but who could call this a life?" mutters the eponymous entity. It's a bleak realisation all Posin's creatures must reach if they're ever to escape their isolating narcolepsy.
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Posin's film battles in vain to find a consistent tone. But a fine cast and a smart script ensure it's far better than its terrible title suggests.