The case of Kim Basinger, actress, is a curious one. She’s a former model who’s appeared on screen in some undeniable clunkers, and at times exudes all of the woodenness of a teetotaling, midwestern Kiwanis Club secretary forced into giving some sort of public presentation for which she is ill-prepared. (And let’s not even talk about Cool World.) And yet Basinger is also an Oscar winner, for L.A. Confidential. Her latest film is While She Was Out, a harebrained, stalking, I-am-woman-hear-me-roar thriller, the sort of which would have starred Ashley Judd if it had somehow been produced during the late 1990s.
Basinger stars as Della Myers, a suburban housewife and mother of two who lives under the thumb of her abusive husband Kenneth (Craig Sheffer). After running out for some last-minute shopping on Christmas Eve, Della gets caught up in a web of violence, as she’s mercilessly stalked by a multi-culti
group of malicious thugs, fronted by Chuckie (Lukas Haas). Armed with only
the will to survive and a little red toolbox (perhaps a fairy tale signifier?) of knick-knacks from her wrecked car, Della fights for her
life through the night in an effort to get back to see her children
Executive produced, strangely enough, by Guillermo del Toro, While She Was Out is perhaps most notable in that it’s written and directed by a female, Susan Montford, which is unusual for a slice of such seemingly uncomplicated genre fare. Unfortunately, any notions of gender-infused subtlety and/or interesting narrative re-framing dissipate almost on contact, given that the movie starts from such a weird, emotionally heightened place. Not to belittle domestic violence, but Sheffer comes in and starts badgering and menacing Basinger from frame one. This actually has the weird effect of undercutting a good bit of the rest of the drama, because there then follows a laboriously extended, almost real-time set-up sequence of 15 to 20 minutes in which Della drives to the mall, sees an accident en route, smokes a cigarette while taking a call from a friend, has trouble parking, walks into the mall, goes shopping, runs into an old acquaintance who makes some snide, cutting remarks… you get the picture. It’s only when Della finally gets back outside that the movie picks up something resembling downhill momentum, when Chuckie and his crew acost Della, blocking her car.
That said, after this dreadfully strange and ill-paced opening, While She Was Out doesn’t totally overstay its welcome, running a mere 86 minutes. The problem is that
what’s there feels much longer and stretched-out than it should, since there’s so little going on underneath the surface, and all sorts of details crucial to the story’s construction don’t match up. The mall is so crowded that a parking space is almost impossible to come by, yet when Della exits the place is utterly abandoned. It also defies logic that Santa Claus is working late, and that the old college chum Della bumps into says she’s out to… get her hair done, on Christmas Eve?
These are but a few of the incongruities on display. And the dialogue is, across the board,
so stultifyingly absurd that almost instantly the movie seems designed as some strange, coded drinking game. If you aren’t laughing out loud in disbelief when Chuckie says, “You slipped an incendiary note underneath my windshield wipers, which is an invitation to war to me and my soldiers!” you most likely will be when one of his snarling cohorts steps in some mud and then exclaims, “Shit, our new kicks — they all dirty now!” The shadow-saturated, indifferently rendered cat-and-mouse moves of the film’s third act are meant to be given a weird, left-field charge by Chuckie’s incrementally increasing admiration for Della’s homicidal inventiveness as picks off members of his crew, but instead it just all feels like the playing out of a string. Through all this ridiculousness, though, Basinger actually manages to inject a credible sense of warped, wounded adrenaline — of sad-eyed victim reluctantly becoming the victimizer — into the movie (more on this below), certainly something that exists on a higher plane than anything else in the narrative proper.
While She Was Out comes to DVD in a regular plastic Amaray case in turn stored in a complementary cardboard slipcover. It’s presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a 5.1 Dolby digital surround sound audio track and optional English SDH subtitles. A 26-minute, full screen making-of featurette amusingly misidentifies producer Don Murphy as Ron Murphy, and cedes far too much of its interview time with the actors to Scheffer, just based on his total screen time. Haas admits he drew upon the experience of terrifying his younger brothers for his role, but it’s Basinger’s comments which prove most interesting, when she seems to allude to her turbulent marriage with Alec Baldwin in talking about the “emotional bank” from which to draw in playing a woman both put and held down for so long.
There’s also a feature-length audio commentary with Scottish writer-director Montford and Transformers producer Murphy. It’s the latter — despite his amusing description of a Vietnamese character’s offshoot native-tongue utterance as a “Chinese chant” — who teases out most of the interesting anecdotal details of the production’s rainy Vancouver shoot. These tidbits include a massive rewrite to incorporate an empty housing development instead of the woodsy outdoors, and the fact that apparently Montford slightly irked both Basinger and her cinematographer at one point when she didn’t tell them about a squibbed side mirror during an escape sequence. Oh, and Montford and Murphy talk, too, about the word “cunt” and its use on opposite sides of the Atlantic, which is rather amusing. Also included are the film’s theatrical trailer and two TV spots. To view the trailer, click here; to purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. D (Movie) B (Disc)