**/**** Image A Sound B Extras B
starring Treat Williams, Linda Hamilton, Jonathan Jackson, Gordon Clapp
screenplay by Donna Powers & Wayne Powers
directed by Wayne Powers
by Walter Chaw An example of the sort of generational paranoia film that cropped up following the flower-power strangeness of the late-Sixties, Skeletons in the Closet is a definite product of the post-Columbine cinematic zeitgeist: it all but demands a re-examination of our relationships with our disenfranchised youth. In a very real way, it plays as an interesting companion piece to McGehee and Siegel's arthouse thriller The Deep End. Both are interested in how single parents deal with criminal delinquency (real or imagined) in their confused children, and both are showcases for actors who are either relatively unknown (Tilda Swinton in The Deep End), or sadly marginalized (Treat Williams).
Each, as well, is indicated by a dedication to detail and craft betrayed by the ultimate conventionality of its story progressions. Skeletons in the Closet, written and directed by the husband-and-wife team of Wayne and Donna Powers (the fine minds behind Deep Blue Sea and Valentine), touches on some thorny issues, for sure, but it devolves into a kind of red herring-laden serial-killer thriller that fails to follow through on potentially troubling themes of familial collapse.
Will Reed (Williams) has a troubled relationship with his teenaged son, Seth (Jonathan Jackson, reunited with Williams from The Deep End of the Ocean). Though Will tries his best as a single dad, events conspire that lead him to think Seth has gone from truculent to homicidal. As evidence mounts and Will begins to believe that his own life and that of girlfriend Tina (Linda Hamilton) might be in danger, a disturbing series of deep dark secrets float to the surface about the Reeds and the mysterious fate of Seth's absent mother.
Skeletons in the Closet doesn't do a very good job of creating tension through scripting and editing and, consequently, feels like little more than a movie-of-the-week melodrama, with an ending that's never much in doubt from the start. The high-definition format in which it was shot reinforces this impression; while the grain-less image is acceptable in terms of clarity, I question the viability of the format as anything greater than a relatively inexpensive platform for aspiring filmmakers.
Treat Williams is fantastic, however, in portraying the entire spectrum of emotions experienced by a father who feels as if he might be losing touch with his child. Affecting and natural, the mature Williams has never garnered the kind of respect (nor opportunities) that he deserves. Ever since being robbed of the Best Actor Oscar for Sidney Lumet's underestimated Prince of the City, he seems to be trapped in roles of declining quality and prestige--and more's the pity. His work in Skeletons in the Closet is delicate, fine--especially when one considers the decidedly middlebrow quality of the screenplay and direction. Less effective are Jonathan Jackson, entirely too one-note in his portrayal of a disturbed kid, and Linda Hamilton, who's not given much to do and fails to seize the opportunities she does have within the confines of the character.
Skeletons in the Closet is a sober, well-intentioned movie that lacks the intelligence and commitment to truly honour its topical subject, though it doesn't do much to embarrass itself on its way to failing. It is adequate, and for a direct-to-video product from a pair of artists who have a reputation for schlock, merely adequate is a few steps up from what anyone could reasonably expect. It gains more resonance than it earns for the primal power of its subject matter, for sure, but Skeletons in the Closet, as knock-off micro-budget afterthoughts go, is a pretty decent way to spend your time. It was almost worth watching just for its quick homage to Dargio Argento's Deep Red.
The Artisan release of Skeletons in the Closet features a sharp and true transfer enhanced for 16x9 televisions. As the "negatives" were originated in HiDef, the visuals are predictably precise and, if possible, too sharp. There is no trace of color bleed nor image artifacts--it looks as good as super-video can look. A 5.1 environment is largely wasted in the included Dolby Digital mix despite a soundtrack stinger here and there that gets good play in the rear channels. The dialogue is crisp and consistently comprehensible.
A commentary provided by Wayne and Donna Powers is surprisingly technical and self-critical. Wayne provides the bulk of the deconstruction and offers numerous valuable insights into the trials of low-budget filmmaking, his disappointments with how a few of the scenes turned out in comparison to their screenplay counterparts, and some amusing anecdotes concerning the locals at their New Hampshire locations, who occasionally extorted small bribes for the use of their property. Donna is likewise engaging and intelligent, the couple together making a good case for a purchase of an otherwise negligible film.
The disc is capped off with a twelve-page "production notes" section that provides a detailed history of each of the actors' involvement in the project, a trailer, and the standard cast/crew biographies. Originally published: August 26, 2001.