Despite the strides made in America over the past 50 years towards acceptance and equality amongst the many different types of people that make up our population, prejudice and hate are still very real parts of society. As much as we’d like to think otherwise, they affect all of us on one level or another everyday, but how would you deal with it if such attitudes were present within your family and friends? What if it was more than just idle talk or the odd crude joke every once in a while? That is what director Anthony Spadaccini attempts to address in his film “Unstable” — specifically homophobia and its potential consequences.
The film opens as Anthony and some friends are gathering to go on a camping trip. All is well until Anthony’s friend Bobby (Bobby Hamilton) arrives. It turns out that Bobby is gay, a fact that does not sit well with Anthony’s childhood friend, Jim (James Schaeffer). Despite some early tension, Jim agrees to go along on the trip with Bobby, and when they reach the campgrounds, the campers partake in the usual camping activities, namely drinking beer, eating hotdogs and telling jokes. However, as day turns into night, Jim’s constant tormenting of Bobby sends the other man running off. Things take a terrible turn for the worse the next day, with an event that leaves a rift in the camp, and Anthony caught in the middle. The rest of the film deals with how the campers, particularly Anthony, deal with what has happened, as he’s forced to resolve the conflict between loyalty to his friend and guilt.
Spadaccini uses a curious recursive premise to set up the film — he and his friends are out camping to celebrate his film “Unstable” winning a local film festival, except that “Unstable” is about the camping trip that they are about to embark upon. I’m not sure why he chose to set the film up this way since it doesn’t really make sense and detracts from the authenticity of the film itself. Spadaccini could have just as easily set the movie up as a camping trip to celebrate someone’s birthday, or because they had a three-day weekend, or any number of more plausible scenarios.
The script for “Unstable” is straightforward and I could tell where the film was going about 10 minutes in. The fate of the central character is also telegraphed in standard Hollywood horror movie fashion, and the fact that Spadaccini doesn’t take any risks with the script is a bit disappointing, but much of that could perhaps be chalked up to time and budgetary constraints. Once the film’s path is set, the narrative doesn’t deviate from it very much, with only the fate of the antagonist, although somewhat contrived, coming as a bit of a jolt because of the abrupt manner in which Spadaccini presents it.
For an amateur production, the acting in “Unstable” is surprisingly good. The cast is composed of Spadaccini and a group of his friends, and they’re all solid in their low-key performances. Also, the familiarity within the cast lends realism to the interactions between the characters and to the delivery of what appears to be mostly improvised dialogue. I never got the impression that these people were ‘acting’, but rather, was just being themselves. Writer/director Spadaccini is particularly effective in the lead, conveying his internal strife over Jim’s behavior with strong emotion, yet subtle delivery.
The movie’s setting and the use of handheld black and white camera does invite comparisons to “The Blair Witch Project,” but that’s neither here not there, as I don’t think it was Spadaccini’s intention to be compared to “Witch”. There’s also an issue with the camera focus. I realize that shooting video in the dark is difficult, especially when relying on the camcorder’s auto focus function, but there were a few sequences in the movie where the camera would be fixed on a person talking but still be completely out of focus, resulting in a light grey person-shaped blob on a dark grey background.
Overall, “Unstable” is a competent effort in the indie/cin’ma v’rit’ tradition. I liked the characters, their interactions, and the film held my interest for its entire running time. However, the movie is less successful as a message vessel, even though I give Spadaccini credit for tackling a tough and pertinent issue. Unfortunately “Unstable” doesn’t really offer any new insights into prejudice and hate as it simply gives an example. In fact, when held up to the message that the film’s epilogue espouses, “Unstable” seems like an after school special littered with “F” bombs.
Anthony Spadaccini (director) / Anthony Spadaccini, James Schaeffer (screenplay)
CAST: Steve Brown, James Schaeffer, Bobby Hamilton, Anthony Spadaccini, Wayland Harris, Chris Erickson, Eric Simpson, Amy Kies