Rick (Brad Hallowell) meets mysterious old guy Jay (Todd Verow) whilst working in a bar. Jay invites Rick to his cabin where he resides with his boyfriend Mike (Brett Faulkner). After having a threesome, Rick arranges a return visit but this time only Jay is there. What follows is a story about rape told from the perspectives of the three characters giving a full rounded picture of the events that took place leaving Rick HIV+.
Tumbledown is the newest film from writer/director/actor Todd Verow and follows his charming 2012 feature Bad Boy Street. Unlike that film, Tumbledown is a dark and at times harrowing exploration of sexual assault that is uncomfortable to watch. Penned by its stars Verow and Hallowell, the story is said to be based on true events. From that knowledge we expected a realistic and emotive story but that isn’t what we get.
Telling the story from three perspectives is a novel narrative technique. We’ve seen it used in a handful of other films and it can serve up some real plot twists and surprises for the audience. That simply isn’t the case with Tumbledown. It doesn’t really serve to offer anything different and kind of misses the point the film is trying to make about the reliability of one person’s perspective. That old saying of there being three versions of the truth – my version, your version and what actually happened – is certainly true but it’s not done effectively enough here.
What undermines the story that Verow and Hallowell are trying to tell is the gratuitous sex scenes. The film opens with a sex scene, there’s a threesome scene that leaves little to the imagination and then the rape scene, that forms the centre of the film, is overly long and unpleasant. It feels more like the film-makers are trying to titillate the audience rather than tell a realistic and unsettling story.
The performances are wildly varied too. Hallowell is the best of the trio and he works with what he’s given with. We kind of felt sorry for him having to film and endure the extended rape scene, but then again he did co-write it! Coming out of it less well is Verow. Whilst his performance isn’t terrible, he doesn’t really convince as the mysterious Jay. There’s nothing going on under the surface of his performance.
We can see what Verow and Hallowell were trying to do with Tumbledown but unfortunately it just didn’t work. The clever narrative technique aside, the story feels under-developed punctuated by gratuitous and unnecessary sex scenes. The saying ‘less is more’ is certainly applicable in this case and with a little more care and attention Tumbledown could have been so much more.