Ten is an ambitious movie, and it deserves credit for that. That said, its ambition might also be its greatest flaw. About halfway through my viewing, I got the sense that the filmmakers might be trying to incorporate too many genres and tones into the narrative. The movie begins with a brilliant scene in washed-out blue, in which a terrified young woman flees from a maniacally gleeful and murderous butcher. Based on the exhilarating and stark opening, I was expecting a moody, straight-forward horror/slasher movie. Instead, Ten also contains elements of comedy, noir, arthouse and others. Frankly, I felt that these distinct genres and tones tripped over themselves a bit and ultimately sacrificed a sustained and successful build-up of tension.
Of course, there is much to praise about the movie as well. Albeit out of place at times, the dialogue is generally clever or poignant, and the acting is solid. The aspects that impressed me the most, however, reside on the technical side. The cinematography (by a first-timer I’m told) is excellent. The editing is great, and the soundtrack (though not entirely consistent) provides some excellent tone-setting.
As for the actual plot, Ten is confined to the setting of an old mansion on Spektor Island, Massachusetts in the year 1971. Ten strange women meet at the mansion. At first, these characters appear to be nothing more than a wide-range of various caricatures. There is a representative for the ditzy, sexy, nerdy, quirky, religiously fervent, etc. As one might guess, the women are gruesomely murdered in unexpected and mysterious ways and drop off one by one.
That’s all fine and good, and there’s a particular scene about a third of the way in that really ramps up the tension–a truly frightening reveal in an upstairs bathroom. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t really build upon this briefly established tension. As far as the horror element is concerned, said bathroom scene is its high point, and unfortunately this occurs pretty early on. Returning to my initial narrative critique, the characters reactions to these gruesome murders don’t do much to establish tension. Some of the characters seem to take the horror with humor, and most of them seem to forget about each one within 10 minutes or so. Frankly, I had trouble telling if the characters were more amused or terrified. The body count just didn’t seem to be amounting to anything. In other words, the middle third is the weakest. A lot of stuff was happening, but I didn’t get the feeling that it mattered. The narrative almost seemed to be repeating and resetting itself. It felt as if there were some dead ends that didn’t add to the narrative or contribute to the sense of tension. To the movie’s credit, however, the ending ties things up pretty nicely. And all things considered, it’s a pretty satisfying finale, full of twists.
As mentioned in the intro, the cinematography and editing are Ten’s greatest strength, and the opening scene is probably the best example of this. The quality camera-work holds steady throughout the whole movie, though at times I felt it was at odds with the action unfolding on screen–a mismatch of tense camera work and relatively silly dialogue and character interactions. However, I must say that there is a party scene early on that successfully combines humorous one-liners and hypnotic, captivating camera work–very well done. During this particular scene, as the camera rotates around the room, it pauses on individual conversations between characters that often contain funny one-liners.
Ultimately, I think, the filmmakers’ reach sort of exceeded their grasp by attempting to pull off such a multi-faceted narrative. I wish that the filmmakers would have zoned in on enhancing and building tension and the horror element, rather than incorporate a hodgepodge of different tones or funny dialogue. That said it would be unfair to expect, from burgeoning filmmakers, the genre and tone blending skills of Tarantino. The scene of horror and murder are the most effective, due to in large part to the camera work and editing. This movie is really worth seeing for a handful of powerful, tense scenes. I think if the movie was re-edited to something half the length, it could be a tense, hypnotic nightmare that’s very cool to look at. But that’s not my call, and definitely kudos to all involved for completing a challenging project. Well worth seeing, I recommend it.
An alumnus of the UMASS Amherst Journalism undergraduate program, Michael lives in Medford, MA and spends his time in local parks, contemplating life. Michael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.