Cohen's The Skulls sums up everything that is both right and wrong with
contemporary thrillers: it boasts a wonderfully creepy atmosphere, courtesy of
the spectacular sets and lighting, which drench every scene in a thick Gothic
cloak like something out of an Anne Rice novel. At the same time, however, the
convoluted plot sleepwalks towards its laughably silly climax with so little
energy that the film seems to have given up on itself long before the audience
has. Does anyone out there truly believe that the events in this story would be
best resolved with -- of all things -- a duel at ten paces? Didn't think so.
McNamara (Joshua Jackson) is a student at a prestigious Ivy League school. A
champion rower who is well liked by everyone, Lucas is nonetheless struggling
with a bleak financial situation that will almost certainly prevent him from
attending law school. To make matters worse, he is starting to fall in love with
his friend Chloe (Leslie Bibb), though he fears that she will never consider him
"good enough" for her.
only hope is to be accepted into The Skulls, an elite secret society which,
according to rumors, handles every financial obligation of its members. After
Lucas is initiated into the club, his life improves: he hob-nobs with the cream
of society, he is constantly surrounded by beautiful women, and a surprise gift
of $20,000 finds its way into his bank account. Life couldn't be better...
until, that is, Lucas' best friend, Will Beckford (Hill Harper), dies
mysteriously. Will was a journalist, working on a story about The Skulls. Are
the two events related? Lucas isn't sure, but the untimely passing of his friend
forces him to reconsider the benefits of belonging to a group whose membership
must be kept secret at all costs.
with blue-tinted shots which foreshadow the film's dark tone, The Skulls
follows the usual cliches, depicting anything "secret" or
"elite" as evil. Does paranoia really run rampant in all secret
societies? I doubt it, but the tone is nonetheless appropriate to the story, and
I'll let it pass. The film truly does feel like a paranoid delusion, and this
feeling of unease is well-crafted by director Cohen and screenwriter John Pogue,
who escalate crisis after crisis with considerable skill. Even after you're sure
you know where the story is going, there's always a new twist, a new tangent.
Best of all is the scene in which Lucas instills unrest and dissent into the
ranks of his fellow Skulls... by forcing them to adhere to their own code of
honor. Great stuff!
the film loses itself -- and the audience -- by refusing to pay attention to
detail. At times, the movie seems like a little kid who has told so many lies
that he can no longer remember the truth. It's made clear, for example, that
surveillance tapes of the Skull meetings are placed in a storage vault every
day, at both ten a.m. and ten p.m., on the dot. So why does one scene depicting
this act look as though it was shot at twilight? How did Lucas and his friends
have the foresight to plan a seemingly random ambush in an alley? This lack of
attention is also present in the film's editing: have a peek at the bathroom
love scene between Lucas and Chloe, which looks like it was shot several months
after the rest of the film (and it may have been, knowing how studios often
insist on inserting "steamy" material in teenager-themed films). Look
carefully and you'll see that the background scenery in this particular scene
doesn't quite match from shot to shot.
The Skulls is a semi-fun diversion, but it doesn't offer enough variety or depth to transcend its genre. If you don't mind an occasional cinematic Twinkie -- and can overlook plot holes big enough to fly an airplane through -- then you may have a good time.