Rose (Hannah Schick) lives on a farmhouse in a rural part of America with her parents. Her father owns a few local properties, including a house with a notorious past. The building in question has stood derelict for many years, empty save for a mysterious squatter - a middle-aged woman called Haviland (Nancy Murray) - who's been spotted inside it from time to time.
Rose is tasked by her dad Mark (Kenneth Hughes) to serve an eviction order on the woman. She's initially reluctant to do so, but he reasons with her that the building is unsafe to live in and will most likely be condemned shortly, as well as forcing Rose's hand by threatening her with homelessness herself if she doesn't do his bidding.
And so, Rose warily embarks on a journey to the house and to confront old lady Haviland. The woman is certainly spooky enough, so it's hardly surprising when a cookie she offers to Rose soon takes mysterious effect upon the girl. Before she knows it, Rose feels woozy and faints. From that point on, events become increasingly surreal for young Rose...
ROWS is a difficult film to synopsise without giving too much away. Partly because its story is such a strange, dreamlike one with an almost fairy tale-like vibe to it (the stories of the Brothers Grimm have been cited as an influence). And partly - mainly - due to its non-linear framework, coupled with the cycle of repetitious acts which unfurl in a manner akin to GROUNDHOG DAY during the film's final hour.
Just when you think you've got to grips with the unconventionally-told plot, as Rose and her best pal Greta (Lauren Lakis) return to the empty house and murder Haviland, subsequently burying her corpse in the nearby cornfields, writer-director David W Warfield throws a few major curveballs our way: the introduction of sinister farmer Jack (Joe Basile); a return to an earlier juncture in the story where events seem similar, and yet play out differently. And so it goes, ROWS progressing with its twisted, nightmarish plot filled with clever but occasionally maddening shifts in time and character (you can never truly trust the motivations of anyone, as they all assume differing traits [victim/hero/villain etc] each time the clock resets itself).
Is it all a part of the spell Haviland's cookie concoction has placed upon Rose? Or is it our protagonists' guilty conscience trying to process her deeds and find her way home - spiritually - as signified by being lost among the rows of tall corn for so much of the movie?
Warfield has written several screenplays over the years, most notably that of KILL ME AGAIN, an underrated John Dahl thriller from 1989 starring Val Kilmer. He knows how to write intriguing characters of both sexes, and is adept at creating intriguingly labyrinthine plots. ROWS examples such strengths but perhaps could've benefitted from a more experienced director to realise its undoubted clever contrivances.
It's not so much that the plot suffers from gaping holes. It's more that it feels as confused in execution as it is confusing to watch. Sloppy editing doesn't help, nor do uneven performances (Lakis and Murray are great; everyone else is inconsistent). And, perhaps due to the time-hopping approach to the storytelling, there's no real climax to be found. In fact, the ending felt convenient and tagged-on.
Still, full marks for having the bravery to eschew common low-budget horror traits such as torture and gore (there is minimal bloodletting) and attempting the surreal content of a David Lynch celluloid nightmare. It has to be mentioned that the film's visuals are often highly attractive too.
ROWS comes to region-free DVD in its uncut variant, courtesy of Indie Rights (via distributors MVD Visual Entertainment).
It looks very good in a strong transfer which boasts vivid colours and sharp, natural imagery while retaining the original ratio in a cool 16x9 transfer.
English 5.1 audio is evenly channelled, clean and clear throughout.
The disc opens to an animated main menu page. From there, a scene selection menu allows access to the film by way of 12 chapters.
There are no bonus features. This is a shame as I bet a film as complex as this would've greatly benefitted from an audio commentary track at least.
ROWS is ambitious and unusual, often beautiful to look at, and clearly made with great thought and care. It doesn't quite succeed in its aspirations, however, and it becomes something of a chore to keep caring for an answer to its mystery once you hit the midway point. Interesting, but flawed.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Indie Rights|
|see main review|