STUDIO: Sony Home Video
MSRP: $24.96
RATED: Unrated
RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes
• None.

The Pitch

“It’s every parent’s second-worst nightmare!”

The Humans

Britt Robertson (Dan in Real Life), Ron Eldard (Ghost Ship), Kelly Preston (Amazon Women on the Moon)

The Nutshell

Young Trixie (Robertson) has just been dumped by her boyfriend, Jason, but doesn’t quite want to let go of him. Scheming to get him back, she tarts herself up at a party so he can see what he’s missing. The night ends with Trixie in the hospital, claiming that Jason has raped her. Lies, accusations, self-destruction, infidelity, and rudeness follow in short order.

No inference should be made of this picture.

The Lowdown

I don’t have a whole lot of experience in the field, but I think it’s kind of a bummer that sexual maturity and emotional maturity aren’t proportional. Teenagers, especially, accelerate like mad up the sexual maturity scale, and might not even hit average levels of emotional maturity until a few weeks after their first college kegger. To be clear, when I say “sexual maturity” I don’t mean “able to control giggling at the mention of the word ‘penis.'”

This naturally-occuring tension between sex and emotion provides more than enough substance to fuel a drama, as can be witnessed in every episode of Degrassi. Some writers deal with it sympathetically, others mine it for humiliation; The Tenth Circle, based on the novel by Jodi Picoult, uses it as a set of anvils, substituted for the parachutes of the core family of protagonists on their swift descent to hell-on-Earth.

Looks like Ted Rall is improving, but he still can’t draw a woman without three boobs.

I’m not familiar with Picoult’s brand of fiction, having only overheard the occasional conversation in the lunch line about her, so I can’t say this with authority, but: Damn, she hates her characters. Not only do they suffer what amounts to an apocalyptic tragedy, but they do so with a great weight of sins and secrets already on their backs. It’s a strange way to generate sympathy, in my opinion; heaping piles of burning backstory onto your characters will either make the audience pity the characters or feel a distant repulsion to them. Rarely, in my experience, does it help to form any sort of bond.

At first, I thought it was just a quirk of Picoult’s writing, or that of the adaptation. The further I got into the story, though, the more I realized that the giant boulders piled onto the main characters were there just so they would make a bigger splash when they inevitably his the bottom. There’s no request for sympathy; there’s barely even a hint of schadenfreude. As the plot twists layered darkness over darkness, I couldn’t help but think the whole thing was just an experiment, the kind a mad scientist might do.

“What is the deepest hole I can create in the ground by pushing a man off a cliff?”

Aaaaaand… splat.

Also splat. Ew.

The only character without a significant background is that of Trixie’s boyfriend Jason. But that’s all right, assuming the philosophy of the story is as above, because he still ends up making quite a splash.

Whatever the authorial motivation behind them, the series of stumbling blocks laid in the path of our heroes do manage to produce a reasonably affecting tragedy. Plot conveniences are the name of the game, but the expressions of loss, anger, self-punishment, and confusion are usually emphasized with enough restraint so as not to become overbearing. Robertson, in particular, does a terrific job emoting and withdrawing as called for. I’ll be looking out for her in the future. Kelly Preston doesn’t do a terrific job of anything, but that’s possibly because her character is the most petty and thoughtless of all those Picoult punted off the cliffside.

As the story winds to a close, and our heroes near the bottom of their descent, the tragedy suddenly vanishes in a puff of Preston. Just before this point, I was ready to score the movie for managing to conceal its intentions fairly well while producing an engrossing, if not engaging, experience. After the last bit of revelation visits the family, I was a bit more confused. Less articulate, too. The choice of ending sabotages the development of even the tiniest bit of sympathy for the characters by turning the blame for all the tragedies entirely over to their hands.

God damnit I thought I cleared out my history.

Essentially, what began as a story about people responding poorly to difficult situations turns into a story about people responding incredibly poorly to difficult situations they created out of whole cloth. As a group, the family has fucked up a life, knowingly and otherwise, though not in conspiracy. And yet the final scene suggests we are meant to imagine the family is now journeying out from the hell of their own invention with a (trite) meditation on new-fallen snow.

On the other hand, an overly large amount of time is devoted to explaining that the ninth circle of Dante’s hell is akin to being frozen for eternity. Good lord… Could I possibly not be reading enough into this story? That’d be a first for me.

As a final note, the shoehorning of literary references into a piece of lesser writing ought to be grounds for removal from the WGA. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go read some Proust and eat some cookies.

The Package

Nada. The phrase “Lifetime Original Movie” was cleverly left off of the cover.

4 out of 10