Monday, March 17, 2014

Edge: Poor Grooming Hinders Suspension of Disbelief

Sometimes a filmmaker can't achieve something on screen because of a low budget -- but sometimes it's due to laziness and a lack of artistic commitment. It would have been just as cheap to shoot a scene correctly, but the filmmaker -- or the actor -- couldn't be bothered.

Hair styles are one example. Hair cuts and shaves are cheap. I've complained before about low-budget films that feature soldiers with beards,goatees, and ponytails. Edge, a low-budget film about a serial killer, makes the same mistake with its portrayal of uniformed police officers.

This cop from Edge (above) has a full beard.

And here's a cop (above) with a Mohawk. Not an undercover cop, mind you, but a uniformed officer.

Maybe this Mohawk is an "in joke" -- one of the film's producers is "Mohawk Lighting Productions." If that is the intent, filmmaker Jacob Whitley should at least be aware that his joke comes at the cost of detracting from the film.

How so?

It concerns suspension of disbelief. The lower a film's budget -- the cheaper its  sets, props, costumes, the sparser its cast -- the more difficult for viewers to suspend disbelief, and the more likely the film becomes Mystery Science Theater 3000 fodder. This is why low-budget filmmakers should do everything within their skills set and budget to achieve verisimilitude -- a sense of reality -- on screen.

Remarkably, Edge's end credits list four actual cops -- two "tactical advisors" (sic) and two "location assistants." (Their ranks are one officer, two sergeants, one captain.) True, these cops weren't part of the hair & makeup crew, but you'd think one of them would have mentioned something about the police characters' beard and Mohawk.

Edge's credits indicate the film was shot in La Palma, California. Is this how real cops groom themselves in La Palma? Even if that were so, Whitley should have known that such grooming is outside the norm, so his film would have greater verisimilitude with clean-shaven officers.

Edge's detectives have five o'clock shadows, but one can be more forgiving of that. Detectives are more often portrayed as casual in dress and grooming than are uniformed officers, so audiences are more likely to accept that.

But Edge has some other faults that break viewers' suspension of disbelief. In one scene, police officers storm into a house. They find a dead man, his throat slashed. Detective Rivers (Scott Butler) finds a knife in a sink filled with bloody water.

So Detective Rivers reaches into the water and picks up the knife.

He stares at the knife in disgust, then tosses it back into the sink.


Even if the serial killer had tried to wipe the knife of fingerprints, and wash off his DNA, wouldn't a professional detective have removed the knife with rubber gloves, then placed it into a plastic baggie, for further analysis? Instead, Rivers contaminates the knife with his own prints and DNA. And his partner beside him says nothing, as though this is normal procedure

I think modern audiences have been sufficiently sensitized over these past few decades of CSI shows that even lay people know better than to touch anything at a crime scene with bare hands. Once again, it would have been just as cheap to have filmed Rivers leaving the knife untouched, than to break the viewer's suspension of disbelief with his unprofessional behavior

Edge is not an entirely bad film. It's reasonably entertaining for its budget. DP David Molina's photography is sharp and his use of blue lights to evoke night nicely done. Although the film is set in California, Scott Butler has what sounds to me like an Australian or New Zealander accent (his IMDb page says he's from South London), but one can overlook that.

You can see Edge on YouTube:


For more about mise-en-scène, see Horror Film Aesthetics: Creating the Visual Language of Fear. This blog represents a continuing discussion of my views on horror, picking up from where the book left off.


  1. I was 19 with $3,000 when I made this film. This is really quite flattering to be honest. Thanks for the review.

    1. Congratulations on making a feature film at age 19. However, a low budget -- $3,000 in your case -- is no excuse for unrealistic hair grooming.

      One of my pet peeves is unrealistic hair in low-budget films. Cops and soldiers -- sometimes of elite SWAT or special forces units -- with long hair, ponytails, goatees, sideburns, full beards, etc. Such hair does not reflect the reality that, with rare exceptions (e.g., undercover work), most cops and soldiers are bald or have short hair, and are clean shaven. Many departments require it.

      I can understand if a low-budget filmmaker cannot afford a realistic looking police station set. Many low-budget police stations and hospitals are obviously set inside the filmmaker's house or apartment. Often, it's a bedroom with a city map or health chart hung on a wall.

      But a haircut and shave cost next to nothing. Often it can be done for free, just find someone with a beard trimmer. Whatever can be done on the cheap to improve a film, should be done. It seems that many low-budget many filmmaker just can't be bothered.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Thomas states grooming as one of his pet peeves. I certainly can see how focused he is one this. One more point, just gotta say it, why WOULDN'T a police officer have a mohawk? Are we stereo typing here? I sure hope we can see cops sporting whatever hairstyle they want!