Public Access represents a disturbing, dramatically cloudy, technically proficient feature debut from young helmer Bryan Singer. This very low-budget study of malaise lurking beneath the tranquil surface of a typical small American town is serious-minded and bounces around some provocative ideas, but is vague about important matters as key story points, motivation and overriding theme.
Handsome, flinty and disconcertingly creepy, Whiley Pritcher (Ron Marquette) takes a room in a small boarding house in the sleepy community of Brewster run by the grizzled former mayor (Burt Williams) and immediately takes air time on the local public access channel, where he launches a call-in show dubbed Our Town, and poses the simple question, ‘What’s wrong with Brewster?’
Whiley becomes an immediate local celebrity. While beginning a romance with sincere librarian Rachel (Dina Brooks), he takes some heat from locals for getting involved in matters he knows nothing about. Polite, smiling and affable in public, Whiley allows neither other characters nor the audience behind his steely persona – he’s a man with no known background, psychology or motivation.
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What Singer and his co-scenarists seem to be getting at is a critique of Reagan-era greed, hypocrisy and antihumanism, as well as a commentary on the power of the media and its ability to distract the public from issues with attractive surfaces.
Technically, the production is impressive, especially considering the $250,000 budget and 18-day schedule. Individual sequences are very well staged, shot and edited, and confrontation scenes carry a fair measure of tension.