USA, 2004. Not rated. 84 minutes.

Cast: Desmond Askew, J. Richey Nash, Michael Panes, Coleen Sexton, Katheryn Winnick, Deven May, Theo Hausen, Doug Wert, Della Askew (voice)
Writer: Ari Kirschenbaum
Music: Simple Simon & Jack Lingo
Cinematography: Yaron Orbach
Producers: Peter I. Sabat & Rob Bellsey
Director: Ari Kirschenbaum


Grade: D+ Review by Carlo Cavagna

Fabled is one of those movies you feel shitty for criticizing. First-time director Ari Kirschenbaum obviously has talent. The unknown actors obviously have talent. Talented people have to start somewhere. If productions like Fabled weren't possible, young new filmmakers wouldn't get opportunities, and we wouldn't get alternatives to The Chronicles of Riddick or Christmas with the Kranks. To cultivate the independent spirit, Fabled is exactly the sort of film that must be encouraged. Unfortunately, that doesn't make Fabled a good film.

Joseph Fable (Desmond Askew of Go) is going nuts. Abandoned by both his girlfriend Liz (Katheryn Winnick) and his dog, Joseph nevertheless continues seeing the same psychiatrist (Michael Panes) Liz does. He becomes convinced that the good doctor and Liz are having an affair, and that his co-workers are out to get him. Through it all, Kirschenbaum intersperses flickering images of, among other things, bullet shells on pavement and a dog digging under a fence. By the nineteen-minute mark, Joseph is already hearing monsters and cowering in the corner of his living room with a baseball bat. Shouldn't we build a little more to this extreme?

The doctor suggests that people who think they're being followed usually have a guilty conscience, and Joseph's actions seem to bear out this theory. Joseph's friend Alex (J. Richey Nash) refers to an unknown event (“She doesn't know what happened, does she?”) that we can presume the flickering images somehow depict. At the same time, Joseph is clearly hallucinating. Things get violent. And then…and then nothing. You never get a clear idea of how all these things relate to one another, and you're not too sure Kirschenbaum knows how they relate, either. Joseph remains an opaque character, and without a little audience empathy and a little more to go on, there's little motivation to try figuring it all out.

Desmond Askew
Desmond Askew hides from someone or something behind his turntable in Fabled.

Kirschenbaum attempts to add Significance to Fabled with a Kafka quote at the beginning of the film—“A belief is like a guillotine. Just as heavy. Just as light.” Then there's a recurring narrative device that might fool viewers into thinking Fabled has more narrative structure than is actually there. At regular intervals, a child (Della Askew, presumably related to the film's lead) narrates a fable about a “poisonous” crow named Ravetti (as in “raven”) and a wolf named Lupold (as in “lupine”). As for how exactly this relates to the events on screen—your guess is as good as mine. There appears to be some loose correlation, but that's about it.

Kirschenbaum almost makes up in style what Fabled lacks in story. Almost. The film features a number of musical styles mixed into a compelling, bass-heavy electronica soundtrack, lending a hip, chill attitude that accompanies an even more compelling visual landscape. Kirschenbaum and director of photography Yaron Orbach try everything they can think of with colors and effects, creating rich, saturated, impeccably lit frames. Despite what must have been a limited budget, Fabled has that fluid, supple look that can only be achieved by shooting on film instead of video. (If this is video, it's come a long way). Kirschenbaum is showing off, but he does have skills.

With one or two minor exceptions, the acting is also above average for this level production. As the psychiatrist, Panes (The Anniversary Party) employs a flat, dreary voice that's perfect for the paranoid tone of the film, while Askew is solidly convincing as a paranoid obsessive who sees things that aren't there.

Fabled's interesting components never cohere, however, leaving you with an unfinished, unfulfilling experience. It's too bad the film took two years to secure distribution, because now Fabled is stuck slinking into theaters on the heels of The Machinist, which takes a similar idea and does it much better.

Review © December 2004 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2004 Fabled LLC and Indican Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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