The Skulls (15)
THE idea of Pandora’s Box has fascinated people for eons, and this uneasy little drama is, at least in part, a filmic version of the wonders to be found within something which promises untold riches, power and a taste of paradise.
Yet, whenever Pandora’s Box is opened, there is a dreadful price to be paid, and so it goes in The Skulls, in which a working class college boy is initiated into a secret society consisting of America’s highest elite.
It stars Joshua Jackson, the dark-haired, chunky kid from TV’s Dawson’s Creek, here making his first break for freedom from television and bid for film stardom.
Jackson is Lucas McNamara, the blue collar slogger at an Ivy League College who is “tapped” to become a member of The Skulls, the most elite of the elite and a murky body which offers guaranteed success in the future.
The Skulls, like our own Freemasons, display exceptional loyalty to fellow members above everything else. All transgressions are forgiven, all crimes and misdemeanors covered up for the greater good of all.
“It may not be right, but it worked,” says one character about the Skulls’ methods.
It is into this oppressive, controlling environment that McNamara finds himself drawn, attracted by the prospect of an easy ride through his college years – a far cry from the burden of crippling student loans.
Yet as a friend warns “If it’s secret and it’s elite, it can’t be good”, and soon Lucas is thrust into a maelstrom of murder and lies which weaves a web around The Skulls.
He is thrust into an Orwellian/Kakfa-esque world of constant surveillance where his life is no longer his own. Escape appears impossible, and he faces a future where everything act he commits is governed or sanctioned by the Skulls.
Director Rob Cohen has an agenda from the start of this movie – an agenda which pours scorn on the peculiarly American class system which is based around money, influence and prestige, and built on lies, deceit, blackmail and arrogance.
It is no surprise that the bad guys are named Skulls, and that the chief villain is named Mandrake – an evil wizard casting spells over all those he wishes to control.
The film, from a screenplay by John Pogue, considers the issues of honour, of parental control, class, privilege and race. Perhaps it is labouring the point too much by making the main victim a young black man, while his killers are white Anglo-Saxons.
The main problem with The Skulls is that it appears to be an amalgam of a number of films which have gone before, principally combining the unease of The Firm, the 24-hour spy scenario of Ed-TV and the sinister backdrop of The Truman Show.
It also contains more than a few holes, and takes a predictable turn halfway through before coming to an equally predictable conclusion. The Firm did it far better.
Jackson plays with an intensity which marks him out from the TV serial crowd. Like his Dawson’s Creek stablemate Katie Holmes, he appears destined for bigger and brighter things.
Once he loses a few pounds of puppy fat he could metamorphose into a more than capable film actor. From the evidence here, he appears to display a reasonable range even if he has been conditioned by his years on TV.