ales of the Unusual" is essentially a
"Twilight Zone"-inspired movie about 4 very different stories linked
by a common sequence. But where other anthology movies usually have a constant
theme (for example, horror or science fiction or mystery), "Unusual"
goes for 4 distinctively different genres in its 4 story segments.
The film opens and closes with strangers trapped in a bus
station because of a torrential downpour. There, they encounter a man in a suit
and black shades who tells them 4 stories to help past the time. It's unclear
who the man is, what he's doing there, or where he got these stories. Then
again, what does it matter?
The first tale is called "One Snowy Night", about
survivors of a plane crash in the snow-covered mountains. The segment is
essentially a Ghost Story, with one of the survivors being killed and returning
to haunt the others. The segment is well done, the writing is strong, and the
actors are top notch. There are scares aplenty and for a moment someone even
attempted a "Blair Witch", complete with skullcap and a video camera
in close up. (I don't think there was any nose drool, though.)
The second tale is a mixture of comedy and fantasy called
"Samurai Cellular," where a cellphone appears to a cowardly Samurai
Lord in 18th century Japan. The voice on the other end of the
cellphone claims to be a historian from 300 years in the future doing research
on the life and times of the Samurai, who proves to be more afraid of his
destiny than he is of the cellphone. The episode is played mostly for laughs,
although the ending is surprisingly poignant.
"Chess" makes up the third tale, and is probably
the weakest segment in the entire movie. Besides featuring one of the most
obnoxious and annoying soundtracks in modern cinema -- well, that really is the
only reason to hate this segment. The director quite literally tries to drown us
in music, and as a result there is barely two straight seconds when the segment isn't
covered in a showy, pretentious soundtrack that just grinds on you. The segment
is about a former chess champion who gets caught up in a chess game involving
real-life chess "pieces" that can die if he makes the wrong move. I
know, the premise sounds interesting, but you've been warned about the music.
The last segment, "Marriage Simulator," is
surprisingly just as strong as the first one. The story is a lighthearted
Romance about two 20-somethings who meet, fall in love, and agree to test their
love in a futuristic device that can "simulate" what their marriage
and life would be like together. The segment works because of two good-looking
actors who make us believe what they're feeling, and an ending that, although
sappy, is appropriate.
Of the four tales, "One Snowy Night" rates as the
best, and its quality is obviously the reason why it was put up front.
"Marriage Simulator," a strong contender for second place, was used to
close out the movie for (once again) obvious reasons. Of the different tales,
"Chess" is most painful to endure, with its unrelenting and
overbearing soundtrack. "Samurai Cellular" is a harmless tale with
some nice laughs, but is otherwise too middle-of-the-road to exist in any other
place except squeezed in between the stellar "Night" and the
surprisingly effective "Simulator."
To be honest, I had expected the connecting sequence to
have a twist at the end, but sadly there was none. Most American anthology
movies are known for their twist, which shocks us by showing that the people
listening, or the one telling, the stories are not who they appear to be. There
is nothing like that in "Tales of the Unusual."