A Scanner Darkly review

Interpolated rotoscoping — a pretty scientific sounding term for what seems to be tracing. Having another go at the process used in Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly’s animation was clearly a painstakingly long process, computer animating each frame of live footage has got to be a right pain in the arse by the end of production. Lucky it’s not just a gimmick then. Creating a disturbing smack-addled world, the animation serves up a discomforting skew on reality as we know it while providing the possibility for some pretty bizarre special effects by blending in "standard" animation with the rest of it. The result being that people turning into giant beetles or non-stop aphid infestation of anything hairy (be it a dog or Rory Cochrane’s head) appears as nothing out of the ordinary. As such the relation of the situation to the real world is just a little bit shit-yourself terrifying.

So that’s the animation bit done, how’s the rest of it? Well look at the cast, author, director and you know it won’t go far wrong. Firstly, you’ve got to hand it to Robert Downey Jr, who’s a good enough sport to do the film and be able to use his experiences to bring James Barris to life. As you’d expect, his performance is spot on to the point he almost runs away with the film, almost. When you’ve got Woody Harrelson thrown in there too you know you’re getting your money’s worth; however both fall short of Cochrane’s brain fried portrayal of Charles Freck, a guy at the end of his rope with no one to help, he’s weird, wacky, hilarious and pitiful. In fact the only real dud would have been Reeves who’s as wooden as ever except that his best plank of wood impression seems to fit the situation pretty well.

The script holds its own too, as the film is peppered with some hilarious scenes such as the group’s deduction that the people who sold Barris a bike had been planning to con him for ages as Harrelson’s dopey-arse Luckman manages to miscount the gears. Donning a "scramble suit" (a set of overalls that displays about a million combinations of images), Arctor the cop is enough to give you a headache as he trundles through his day-to-day business while trying to hide the fact that he’s wasted from his anonymous colleagues. As he falls further and further towards a drug-addled stupor, one thing becomes clear through the mish-mash haze of Arctor’s claustrophobic world — it’s an interesting situation, but it’s not exactly a pleasant one.

Jordan Brown is a Screenjabber contributor

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