Australian ensemble film 2:37 follows a number of teenage students during a day at school. Right from the start, we know something bad happens as we see blood seeping out from under a locked bathroom door. Someone is seriously hurt. Suicide? We suspect as much. What we don’t know is who the blood is coming from. The film then goes back to the beginning of the day as we try to piece together the clues to find out what will happen.
There’s no shortage of likely candidates for self-harm, as all the students we follow have their problems to deal with. Macho jock Luke (Sam Harris) seems care-free enough, but he’s a bully and may be compensating for insecurities. His girlfriend Sarah (Marni Spillane) is obsessed with being in love and has developed an eating disorder. There’s Steven (Charles Baird), constantly teased for his medical conditions that have given him a pronounced limp and partial incontinence. There’s Sean (Joel Mackenzie), resident pothead, outsider and struggling homosexual. Marcus (Frank Sweet) is pressured by his father to always excel at everything he does and shows signs of cracking. And then we have the one person we know isn’t the victim: Marcus’ sister Melody (Teresa Palmer), who’s the one to first spot the blood at the beginning of the movie. Something is not right with her either, though the full extent of it isn’t revealed until later on.
2:37 is the first and so far only film made by Murali K. Thalluri, who was only 22 years old when he completed it. As a debut project, the film shows potential and good intentions. There are problems in the execution, however, and while I don’t presume to know Thalluri, many of them seem to stem from a lack of confidence in his own story. There are gimmicks used throughout the film that serve as little but distractions. The movie isn’t entirely chronological, instead opting for a Memento-ish approach at times by having Scene A followed by Scene B, which shows the events immediately leading up to Scene A. Which is a fine method of creating intrigue, but it doesn’t work here because there are no hooks. It’s the difference between making the audience go “Oh, so that is how they got here”, and making them go “Huh? Okay, so now they’re here?”
Another puzzling inclusion are the numerous segments in black & white where the various students in close-up talk about their lives and thoughts. I don’t see what these are supposed to represent. The characters aren’t speaking to us, because they’re looking off to the side as if being interviewed on a TV show. But the context and what is said doesn’t indicate that they’re actual interviews either. Are they inner monologues? No, because they’re speaking as if revealing past information to the listener, which doesn’t make sense when speaking to themselves. So just what are these segments? I don’t know. A cynic might say it’s laziness. “Show, don’t tell” being ignored. Having recently watched Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, I know there is great beauty and mystery to be found in the human face on film. More experienced actors might have been able to provide nuances and intrigue through these scenes no matter what the reasoning for them were. Alas, such is not the case here.
Watching 2:37, my mind often wandered to Gus Van Sant‘s Elephant. Both films deal with an ordinary school day ending in tragedy, and both shift focus between various characters. Much like Elephant, 2:37 employs plenty of long uninterrupted takes showing students walking through the school. Useful for making the setting come alive and feel like a familiar place, but it worked better in Van Sant’s film due to that one’s structure: a normal and uneventful day punctuated by horror to jerk you right out of the lull. In 2:37, we’re in dysfunction junction all the way through, and there’s little reason to make the day feel normal. This could have been off-set by having a character or two who weren’t facing dire issues that culminate on this one day, but there’s no such thing to be had. The impression I got was that everyone in the entire school had earth-shattering problems.
But for all its shortcomings, I find it hard to really hate 2:37. While the characters aren’t terrible interesting, I still found myself caught up in their struggles from time to time, soap opera-ish as they may be. The eventual mysterious happening in the bathroom never left my mind, and Thalluri is smart in setting a number of scenes in there throughout the day. Every time someone enters, I wonder if this is when it’s going to happen. The intrigue is always there, and it’s resolved in a powerful and effective climax. More importantly, the underlying message of the movie is an important one. I’d say this would make the film good viewing for teenagers, although the its graphic scenes of sex and/or violence probably prohibits that.
I can’t give the film that high a score; the flaws in the structure are too numerous and recurring, the acting doesn’t impress, and the tone is uneven. But it’s a movie I would like to have liked, which is a reaction many films fail to instill in me. I hope Thalluri makes more films in the future, so that I may one day look back at this one as the uneasy first steps of a good career. The potential is present.