Taking its cue from the uneven-sided triangle after which it is named, “Scalene” presents three disparate accounts of a central event, the rape of a college girl by the mentally handicapped 26-year-old she was hired to tend. Carefully crafted and impressively thesped, particularly by Margo Martindale, Zack Parker’s ambitious, self-styled thriller channels a wide spectrum of high-concept classics, from “Rashomon” to “Memento.” But the resolution of its conflicting truths proves so bizarre and idiotically off-the-wall that it mitigates all that precedes it. Self-conscious pic may attract a cult following in limited release.
The film’s three segments, presented successively, differ in content, duration, structure and style, depending on the character’s vantage. First we get the perspective of Janice (Martindale), the mother of Jakob (Adam Scarimbolo), a neurologically damaged young man. The second story unfolds from the p.o.v. of Jakob himself, and the third from the viewpoint of Paige (Hanna Hall), the college student Jakob allegedly raped.
Opening on a closeup of an eye, an homage to “Vertigo,” complete with Bernard Herrmann-flavored score, the first section begins with an action-packed if largely ineffectual display of murderous female-on-female hysteria as Janice seeks vengeance on the girl she holds responsible for her son’s incarceration. The narrative then slowly works its way backward toward calm, tracing a taut parabola in reverse a la Pinter’s “Damage.”
Jakob’s yarn lasts a mere nine minutes, to Janice’s half-hour, and mimics the character’s temporal and spatial disorientation, leaping from the teenage glue-sniffing session that cost him his mind to later abuse by his father and an amorous lakeside interlude with Paige. Time expands or conflates, bits of experience flashing by achronologically, with fantasies or projections reconfigured as real. Sometimes, a wandering camera imitates Jakob’s errant attention span. Yet despite the playful lensing, Jakob’s thread functions more successfully as narrative shorthand than as perceptual reconstruction.
The film’s final and longest stretch recounts the story according to Paige and, except for a 360-degree pan around her room tracing the passage of a day through changing light, proceeds in linear fashion. The segment, however, violates basic laws of logic, leaving time and space largely uninvolved as Paige makes a desperate, completely illogical stab at solving a perceived dilemma.
It’s possible that Parker could have made Paige’s actions more comprehensible in a more traditionally developed framework. Offered as the final piece in a suspenseful cinematic puzzle, though, the ultimate revelation produces bafflement rather than catharsis, unless one subscribes to the theory of intrinsic female irrationality.
Martindale is a joy to watch in a complex role that gives her considerable talent free rein, and Scarimbolo and Hall acquit themselves well. Lensing, music and editing, while accomplished, often feel more abstract than fully engaged.