The real-life inspired horror in “Scrapper” is compelling and bone-chilling, but does that translate to satisfying onscreen thrills?
The crime/drama/thriller Scrapper (originally titled The Scrapper) landed on VOD in late 2021. Read on to find out if you should Rent it, Stream it, or Skip it.
Is there anything more terrifying than the American Dream? That is the question that 2021’s Scrapper poses.
Horror throughout the decades, and at its most effective, has been a reflection of our times. And the consequences of a disintegrated American Dream are what provide the basis of real-life horror at the beating heart of this New York set crime-thriller.
Antiheroes, and the race to escape a pervasive cultural collapse, have fascinated audiences for decades, coming into the mainstream with the late 90s cornerstone The Sopranos as well as the early 2000s game-changer The Shield, finally coming to a screaming apex with 2008’s Breaking Bad.
Where those stories soared in their unique perspectives, Scrapper mostly screeches to a halt with a handful of unearned moments of intended catharsis that mostly fall flat due to a screenplay that does not delve far enough into studying its morally tenuous main characters.
Opening with a gentle and focused voice-over speech from our main character Jake, portrayed with a wide-eyed sympathy by Bari Kang (who serves triple duty as actor, writer, and director). In a very short amount of time, Kang is able to garner a considerable amount of audience engagement for a plight that many can relate to.
That plight is the pursuit of a better life and breaking free from the chains of segregation — a struggle that continues for many Americans to this day.
Further complicating Jake’s struggle is the invalid brother he must look out for, as well as a wife and child on the way.
Gugun Deep Singh and Ava Paloma portray these two characters (JB and Kitt, respectively) with a decent amount of genuine humanity. JB, often acting as a moral compass, consistently reminds his de-facto parents of Jake & Kitt that their constant arguing is not good for the baby that will soon come into the world they are trying so hard to escape.
Paloma’s portrayal of Ava is a trickier balancing act, one that requires her character to not necessarily approve of the means that Jake will have to take in order to acquire the currency he needs for his family’s goal of a better life. Yet, at the same time, she does nothing to stop him from it. These brief, but layered moments of ambiguity are some of the highlights that the film has to offer.
Lamentably, these subtler moments do not comprise the bulk of the film.
Instead, Kang favors scenes of savage violence and grisly sections of bodily harm. The camera lingers on these moments with reckless abandon, and the viewer’s appreciation for them will vary depending on preference.
Pacing also poses a problem for this already abbreviated 85-minute film.
The inciting incident (our anti-heroes’ big bid for their slice of the American Pie) occurs a bit too early in the film, with little to no setup or much background information for our characters save for some brief moments of exposition.
Additional moments feature conversations that are undeniably and universally true, on the perpetual nature of segregation, and the tendency for power groups to take advantage of immigrants in search of better prospects.
Composer Julian Cassia imbues such scenes with an understated but conspicuous arrangement of affective notes; likewise, cinematographer Saro Varjabedian paints the movie’s frames with exceptional visual flair — especially in the villain’s lair, calling to mind the rich compositions Larry Smith brought to Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2013 saturated crime opus Only God Forgives.
These individual elements are memorable enough but unfortunately do not cohesively unite, in a screenplay that is lacking and filled with trite scenes of dialogue and narration.
Lines like ‘close to the world but not of the world’ and ‘wherever you go, there you are’ have been heard before, and while true in sentiment, little in the way of a fresh perspective is added (aside from the more unique Punjabi-Latino descent of our main characters).
Sadly, one of the more interesting of these characters, the protagonist’s sister, is barely offered any screen time — instead affording said time to the comparatively uninteresting villains of the story. And while it is appreciated to feature an ethnicity not typically seen on-screen, the inclusion feels more surface quality than anything.
A tighter script and more time devoted to the complicated — and sympathetic — characters at the heart of the story would likely result in a stronger film.
As it is, there are tonal elements at odds with each other.
Those looking for a film with fully developed characters, and genuine stakes may be left desiring more.
Gore junkies, on the other hand, will find a handful of things to revel in, and it may be worth seeking out when the film lands on a free streaming service.