Friday 15 September 2017

THE DROP-IN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Beauty Parlour Catfight Action at TIFF 2017

Hmmm. Will there be a catfight in the shop tonight?

The Drop-In (2017)
Dir. Naledi Jackson
Starring: Mouna Traoré, Oluniké Adeliyi

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The Drop-In, an action thriller with an undercurrent of science fiction and politically-charged thematics, provides a raft of reasons why hair stylists closing shop for the day should never accept a customer with no appointment who pops by, desperate for a quick "do". In fact, it's probably best to keep the door locked and the curtains drawn whilst sweeping up the floor. But, it's a movie, eh. The door has to be open, or there wouldn't be a movie.

And so it is that a pretty stylist (Mouna Traoré) accepts a babe-o-licious drop-in (Oluniké Adeliyi) for a quick braid job. As the handiwork in the chair unfolds, it seems like both women harbour agendas and secrets which lead to a furious catfight of MMA gymnastics. Who will survive? What will be left of them?

First-time director Naledi Jackson displays considerable gifts for building tension and when the movie shifts to all-out fisticuffs, she handles the proceedings exactly how a director should. The superb stunt/fight coordination is presented so that we can actually appreciate/enjoy it with no annoying herky-jerky shots (mucking up the geography/choreography of the fight), endless closeups and ADHD-style cutting. God knows I detest the incompetence of filmmakers like Christopher Nolan and Sam Mendes who continually commit these cardinal action movie sins in pictures that have all the money and time in the world to do it properly.

The Drop-In, however, clearly had very little money and time to pull itself off and yet it puts so many contemporary studio genre extravaganzas to shame since Naledi doesn't resort to the tin-eyed. ham-fisted mechanics that filmmakers (who should supposedly know better) do in film after wretched film. There is one disappointment I had through this, especially given Naledi's clear directorial gifts.

The film is set in a hair stylist shop. The joint is overloaded with so many natural implements of violent carnage that are not (sadly) employed in all their glory. Clippers, scissors, blades, shears, curling irons, barbicide (oh magnificent chemicals!) and, of course, plenty of mirrors for bodies to go sailing into and allowing for shards of shattered glass - the list of items "natural" to the setting is endless.

One of the best classical examples of how a screenplay (and director) structure such a scene for maximum impact is Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain. In an old country kitchen in East Germany, a mathematician and a farmer's wife must kill a deadly Stasi agent, and they must do it silently. Let's just think of all the things in such a kitchen. Damn! You almost don't even need to see the scene to begin salivating at the prospect of visceral delights. Added to the mix are the political backdrop of the Cold War and memories of the Holocaust. Hitchcock did the math beautifully. The old country kitchen is equipped with a gas oven. Uh, you do the math!

Given the political edge in The Drop-In and its setting, the promise of so much more is palpable. Oh, you say, "Greg, you doth protest too much. These kids clearly had a small budget and little time." To that I say: "So what?" Compromise is especially egregious in no-to-low-budget films. (I can say this with a bit of been-there-done-that as someone who never compromised as a producer no matter how low my budgets were.)

There might be some light on the horizon, though. It comes by way of my other mild disappointment in the film. About halfway through I started to get the sinking feeling that I was watching a short film designed as a "calling card" for an eventual feature film version. I can smell this with the same olfactory repugnance I feel when I hit a skunk on the highway. Sure enough, the end title credits revealed that The Drop-In was financed by a fund set up to create just such a film.

So yes, the promise is here, the talent is here, a solid idea is here and there will no doubt be one hell of a terrific feature film to eventually be made. That said, I urge the filmmakers to study Hitchcock before the next draft of their feature screenplay. One can't go wrong using The Master as a primary influence.


The Drop-In enjoys its World Premiere at TIFF 2017.