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March 28, 2013

While She Was Out

by Franz Patrick


While She Was Out (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

Della (Kim Basinger) is a stay-at-home mom whose main responsibility is to take care of her twins (Luke Gair, Erika-Shaye Gair). When her husband, Kenneth (Craig Sheffer), returns home from a bad day at work, his annoyance from seeing a messy house turns into anger misdirected toward his wife. After an altercation, Della decides to go to the mall just before Christmas Eve to cool off and buy some gift wrappers. When she gets back to her car, four hoodlums (Lukas Haas, Leonard Wu, Luis Chávez, Jamie Starr) decide to terrorize her because of a note she left on their windshield about inconsiderately taking up two parking spaces.

Written and directed by Susan Montford, “While She Was Out” is an interesting hybrid of fairy tale and feminism. Della is supposed to be Little Red Riding Hood and the thugs are the wolves. This is supported by the red toolbox that Della carries throughout the intense, sometimes frustrating, chases to the young men sniffing the scent of her perfume in order to track her in the dark woods. Unfortunately, the picture’s ambition to tell a story from that specific scope is only supported by a thinly veiled plot. The lesson is obvious: In order for Della to be able to stand up to her husband, she has to learn to be tough out there in the wilderness without a gun, a cellphone, and a means of escape.

There are hints of Della’s unhappiness in being a typical upper-middle class suburban mother, particularly when she encounters a friend from college at the mall, but her feelings are not explored in meaningful ways. And while Basinger proves very capable with mixing extreme emotions and mindsets like sadness and fear as well as savagery and ruthlessness, I was not fully immersed in her performance because I felt I did not know her character enough.

Haas, playing the leader of the thugs, is quite interesting to watch. Depending on the lighting, there are times when he looks angelic. Conversely, there are certain angles where he looks very much like a predator who would heckle anybody for sex or money. His subtle but important physical transformations, depending on the situation, is loyal to the wolf’s skillful underhanded tactics to achieve his goal. This requires more attention.

There are several unintentionally funny scenes that plucked me out of the moment. Della saying goodbye to her children before she heads out shopping is a painfully obvious hint that either she is never going to make it back home or, if she does, nothing will ever be the same again. Also, one of the thugs suddenly sounding like some wacko mystic halfway through feels too forced. He begins to claim that there is an otherworldly reason why she keeps getting away from them, something about her soul. I wondered if they were on drugs which could explain their inefficient tactics.

The ending is inappropriately handled. After rooting for Della for so long, we deserve a resolution that feels right for her character. It turns into a slasher flick that just cannot help but add that one final twist. It cheapens everything else that came before. “While She Was Out” might have intended to empower women or it might have been made for pure entertainment. Either way, it is only marginally successful.

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