Released by: Cinema Epoch
    Released on: 10/26/10
    Director: James Avallone
    Cast: Tiffany Bowyer, James Duval, Rob Terrell
    Year: 2010
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    The Feature

    After discovering the necktie-strangled body of his neighbor and sort-of girlfriend Stephanie (Tiffany Bowyer), a shook-up hipster musician named Clark (James "I'm not Keanu" Duval, THE DOOM GENERATION) calls the police and immediately becomes suspect numero uno, at least according to lead detective Steven Lambord (Rob Terrell), who seems to take a particular interest in this case.

    Before long, it becomes clear that Stephanie was a kinky bunny that not only enjoyed a variety of fetishes (of which neckties are only one), but also took great pleasure in videotaping all of her sexual escapades. Naturally, the clue to the killer's identity must be somewhere in the hours upon hours of video shot and collected by the victim, and Lambord takes it upon himself to move in to the crime scene (while asking his partner to keep this fact quiet) and dig through the footage.

    While this would be a daunting task for most, the suddenly-revealed fact that he is her father (from an earlier marriage) makes the whole undertaking just that much more creepy, and as the recordings become more in-depth (Stephanie likes to give interviews and make confessions) as well as increasingly twisted sexually ("Call me Daddy!!"), Lambord goes further and further over the edge into an emotional abyss that places him in direct center of the proceedings.

    The debut feature from director/writer James Avallone, PLAYBACK is certainly a claustrophobic viewing experience, with the audience eventually becoming as disoriented and unnerved as protagonist Lambord. That said, the endless parade of sex scene snippets featuring the victim come off more as exploitation of the subject matter rather than tools to shock and appall, which is a bit of a shame given that by feature's end it becomes quite clear that Avallone has more on his mind than to simply push hot buttons for the sake of sensationalism. The irony, of course, is that some of these sequences are the most effective in the film, and though Terrell gives all he's got in the more emotionally desperate moments, the end result lacks the intensity that could really push PLAYBACK into the viewers consciousness as a powerful and thought-provoking experience.

    There are twists and there are turns, but these potentially shattering revelations are handled in such a way that if the mind wanders even slightly, you'll be reaching for the rewind button to make sure you didn't miss it. One can cry "subtlety!" all they want, but it feels more like an afterthought than it should, and weakens the impact of the story through the beloved arthouse tactic of non-linear storytelling.

    Though not short on visual style or sincerity toward its characters, PLAYBACK has little to recommend a second look.


    PLAYBACK is presented in an SOV ratio of 2.35 and is anamorphic. Much of the feature's look is of a drab, indoor, low-light variety, perfect for the story but rendered less attractive by a blurry appearance. When colors (and outdoor scenes) are actually introduced, the image improves (and this is not to be taken as a slam on the disc's presentation), but overall it has the appearance of a first project.

    Audio choices are Dolby 2.0 (the disc's default) or a 5.1 mix, with the 2.0 pumping the music portion of the soundtrack out the center and 5.1 offering more spatial placement across the field. Either one will probably do nicely, depending on the viewer's system.

    Extras consist of 11 plus minutes of "behind-the-scenes" footage (and a Godard quote!), 18 (count 'em!) deleted scenes, an image slideshow of 35 stills (production and candid), 3 trailers for the feature, and an "also available" slideshow of 59 cover images for the Cinema Epoch catalog (including Christiane Cegavske's phenomenal BLOOD TEA AND RED STRING).

    The Final Word

    Cinema Epoch brings you PLAYBACK, a creepy glimpse into a detective's obsessive wrangling of a sex murder case to which he is much too close. Though it achieves its apparent aim of placing the viewer deep inside at least one of the lead's psyches as well as calling attention to some unnerving statistics, PLAYBACK is undermined by the age old problem of seeming to exploit the very subject matter it aims to have sensitivity to.