Vipaka: Slamdance Review
Forest Whitaker tries to torture his way to closure in Philippe Caland's thriller.
PARK CITY -- Twenty years ago, Philippe Caland penned a story about torture and imprisonment motivated by sexual obsession; the resulting film, Boxing Helena, was notorious. He's back now with Vipaka, exorcising some of those old demons under a quasi-Buddhist rubric. The result, less reminiscent of Jennifer Lynch's Helena than its contemporary, Misery, is never as easily mocked as its predecessor, largely thanks to the heroic lead performance of Forest Whitaker. But its pulpy approach to cosmic comeuppance has limited commercial appeal.
Whitaker plays Angel Sanchez, a New Orleans construction contractor struggling with mental-health issues and the death, years back, of his beloved mother. He seeks out self-help author Thomas Carter (Anthony Mackie), but his requests for a private consultation are rebuffed until Thomas, trying to help his ex-convict brother (Mike Epps), finds himself in need of cash.
Thomas displays an off-putting confidence in his initial meetings with Angel, mixing psychology and spiritualism while he insists the troubled man can let his mother's spirit move on. When the sessions are ended abruptly, though, Angel undergoes an ill-explained change: He clubs the therapist on the head, locks him in a bomb shelter and starts torturing him in an attempt to make him confess unspecified crimes. Angel uses Thomas' own book against him, working through its platitudes as he wields syringes, a belt sander and other rusty gear.
Whitaker is unsurprisingly brilliant in the first act: damaged but eager to please, dubious despite wanting to believe he can be helped. Viewers may find themselves expecting more of the film, which as soon as we go below ground becomes a much more conventional hostage thriller than the esoteric title (a term referring to the consequence of karma) would suggest. Tech values are competent across the board, but neither glossy nor gritty enough to sell the film to mainstream viewers who've seen plenty of similar films in the past.
Production company: Significant Productions
Cast: Forest Whitaker, Anthony Mackie, Mike Epps, Sanaa Lathan, Nicole Ari Parker, Ariana Neal
Director: Philippe Caland
Screenwriter: Shintaro Shimosawa, based on the film "The Guru and the Gypsy" by Philippe Caland
Producers: Philippe Caland, Forest Whitaker, Nina Yang
Executive producer: Rachid Rizk
Director of photography: Denis Maloney
Production designer: Ray Pumilia
Music: Mark Kilian
Costume designer: Meagan McLaughlin
Editors: Lee Haugen, Rick Shaine
No rating, 93 minutes