The Ugly (1997)
★★ / ★★★★
Simon (Paolo Rotondo) has been institutionalized in an insane asylum for six years under the care of Dr. Marlowe (Roy Ward). Despite having killed numerous documented victims, he has a chance of being set free. Simon believes that he is cured so he requests to be reevaluated by Dr. Schumaker (Rebecca Hobbs). Fresh off the media’s limelight due to a prior case, Dr. Schumaker thinks she is ready to assess the patient objectively. However, despite their time together, she begins to feel as though her questions are consistently given roundabout answers.
Written and directed by Scott Reynolds, “The Ugly” has a coating of a self-conscious thriller. Instead of telling the story straight, it is hampered by one too many false alarms, oblique dialogue desperate to hide things that are not worth concealing in the first place, and editing that communicates confusion from behind the lens rather than of its character who happens to have an abnormality of the mind. Despite these shortcomings, I found myself caring about what will happen next and whether Simon will be set free.
It is fortunate that the picture is mostly comprised of flashbacks because everything else seems to lack a level of believability, from the look of the so-called mental institution to the interrogations conducted by Dr. Schumaker. The griminess of the interiors requires a bit of effort to get used to. It does not look like an asylum but a place where drug addicts go to get their fix. Because the environment looks like it is being satirized but the tone is deadly serious, the conflicting elements become another unnecessary hurdle for the audience to surmount prior to being immersed in its story. For a picture with a relatively short running time, it is disappointing that it is not more efficient.
Also, Dr. Schumaker is supposed to be a smart person and yet her techniques when it comes to questioning leave a lot to be desired. Though Hobbs tries her best, her character is not given much dimension by the screenplay. It is critical that we feel she is at least as cunning as the serial killer she faces so we can, in a way, identify with her. Halfway through, I realized that just about anyone, with or without a medical degree, can ask the questions being brought up. Still, I liked that Dr. Schumaker feels an undercurrent of attraction to Simon. She lets him get away with a lot.
The flashbacks are interesting because they paint possible reasons why Simon has a deep desire to murder. A predictable terrible home life when Simon was only a child is present, but it is in the inadequacies that he felt as a teenager that shows promise, after he had been released from an earlier institution at the age of seventeen. This promise does not lead anywhere surprising or insightful, however, because the Dr. Schumaker character is not written to ask the pointed and difficult questions.
“The Ugly” requires too much suspension of disbelief in order for the narrative to hold together strongly. A major rewrite might have helped to underline its more provocative themes. For instance, since the psychiatrists and orderlies do nothing special anyway, do away with them and leave us with Simon staring through a wall. Then allow us to enter his mind and wade through his sad and horrifying memories.