Toronto After Dark 2013: Solo Review

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Rudimentarily shot, predictably written, with mediocre performances and painfully stilted dialogue, Solo fails to thrill or scare. The story sets up far too many plot lines, and struggles to keep them together, making most of them irrelevant. Sadly, this was the weakest link at this year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival.

Gillian is a troubled teenager. Recovering from an undisclosed traumatic accident, she decides the best way to cope is to take a job as a counselor at a summer camp. As part of her training, and before her hiring can be made official, she must complete a solo camping trip on a nearby island. Told ghost stories by the other counselors, and hearing strange noises once on the island, terror begins to set in. Gillian may not be alone, and must fight to survive what lies within the woods.

Horribly stilted dialogue forcefully gives us the details the writer’s were too ham-fisted to delicately lay out as the film progressed. Instead, we’re beaten over the head with the facts. Gillian (Annie Clark) is a troubled teen! She needs to get away! She’s done something bad! She’s angst-ridden! Okay, we get it. The problem is, we’re never made to care. As such, she fails as a heroine.

Instead of carefully crafting her back-story, it’s simply slapped together with some glue and duct tape, and seldom revisited. Her grave transgression is eventually revealed, and attempts are made to tie it into what’s happening on the island. However, the connection is weak, and poorly pieced together, rendering that plot point moot.

When we finally lay eyes on our villain, a full-grown man in a teenager’s worn out t-shirt and short shorts, he’s less terrifying than obnoxious. You wind up more afraid of his pit stains and body odour than his insanity and wrath. The decision feels lazy, and more based on an inside joke than true thought.

Admittedly during the Q & A that followed the screening, when asked how the villain was chosen, cast and crew replied with “the one who looked creepiest in a tiny t-shirt.” The creation of a masterful villain should never be left in the hands of one department. It should be carefully built from the ground up. Even Jason, a character with an iconic costume, was well crafted before they put a hockey mask on him. It feels as if they were too lazy to create a well-written character, and instead relied on cheap tactics to instill fear.

I could continue, but then I fear my criticism may appear to be little more than knit picking and cease to hold water. It’s unfortunate that Solo fails as it does. It has good bones. Sadly, its development and production simply wasn’t handled with the care and attention it deserved, resulting in a disappointing film.

8 Comments

  1. I have to disagree with Solo being the weakest link of Toronto After Dark.  I liked Silent Retreat (which played the day before) much less.  Then there’s Cheap Thrills, which actually angered me with how tasteless it becomes.
    Still, I completely understand your criticisms of Solo, even if I somewhat liked the film.

    Reply
  2. Sean Kelly I obviously don’t need to restate my criticisms – you know them! That’s one of the beautiful things about film. At the end of the day, there is no right answer. Its subjectivity is what speaks to people in so many different ways. If you liked SOLO, then that’s wonderful. It did something for you. I just wish it’d done the same for me. Sadly, it didn’t.

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  3. ArielFisher Sean Kelly My best hypothesis is that the screening attracted a lot of Degrassi fans (for Annie Clark) and they were planning for vote 5 no matter what they thought about the film.

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  4. Sean Kelly ArielFisher I think it was based more on the fact that it was a locally shot feature so it enabled a lot of family/friends to attend the screening (lots of applause during credits sequences). Not to accuse anyone of voting for the people involved as opposed to the film, but I think a certain amount of bias from the audience probably weighed heavy in that final vote. 
    I was one of the frustrated ones…

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  5. BobTurnbull Sean Kelly I’d have to agree on both counts, that there was ultimately a bias. For the most part. In Sean’s case, clearly he enjoyed it, and that’s great. I’m sure there were others in the audience who did really like it. 
    Another impasse! Drat! Agreeing to disagree (for the most part) seems to be a trend.

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  6. ArielFisher BobTurnbull I liked the film, but not enough to agree with it being the runner-up for the audience award.
    I actually think it might be a similar bias that resulted in Silent Retreat (my second LEAST favourite film of the festival) getting picked as Best Canadian film (that and there were only three Canadian films in the festival).

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