Thoughts On: Nick (a.k.a Outlier) (2016)
Having managed to find a film for a country we missed in the World Cinema Series, we’re going to backtrack a little for a film made in Ordino, Andorra by Jose Pozo.
Nick is a mystery thriller centred on a self-secluded police officer whose troublesome half-brother has been sent to stay with her. Within days of arriving, her brother, Nick, witnesses a murder that nobody believes he saw. It’s from this point on that the brother, sister, her friend as well as another police officer struggle against disbelief as they try to find some common ground and resolution amongst one another.
Though this sounds like a simple film, Nick is a pretty ambitious attempt at tackling complex themes. Well directed and shot, the only real issues with this film come down to the acting, sound design and elements of the script. In such, the script does well in building many of the characters into complex and compelling people, but has lapses in which characterisation is flat and weakly exposited. Moreover, the acting ranges from pretty good to rather shaky, which further emphasises the intermittently bland characterisation of certain figures – Nick primarily. And lastly, the sound track often works well in sustaining an atmosphere, but the use of sound in the jump scare sequences is pretty terrible and entirely unneeded.
This all leaves this film with a pretty solid tone and aesthetic that only momentarily appears sub-par. One detail that really didn’t help this, and was rather jarring, was what seemed to be the shutter speed or frame rate. In such, some scenes had a rough sense of movement to them whilst others were more fluid. This seemed to be an intentional effect at some points, one that had links to the narrative and so implied artifice in photographic technology, but, at other points, this play with the shutter speed or frame rate seemed like a mistake. I could be wrong as this is a small detail that is hard to pick up on, but there was certainly some elements of movement and action in this narrative that brought in a somewhat ugly aesthetic.
From this point we will be delving further into the narrative with spoilers, so I’ll end this segment by saying that Nick was a surprisingly good film that I’d certainly recommend.
To all those who have seen this film or don’t mind hearing more about its details, Nick is essentially a blend of Antonioni’s Blow-Up (a film we’ve covered) and Scorsese’s Shutter Island. In such, it uses the facade of a mystery or thriller film to explore notions of reality – both in relation to technology and psychology. What’s more, there is a twist of fantasy and horror that doesn’t really amount to much.
So, as this narrative builds and the case of the witnessed murder is investigated, it becomes quite clear that the plot is not really the focus of this narrative. Instead of answers being the end goal, this film is more about the process of understanding. We see this as characters grow to trust one another, learn to read each other better and in turn facilitate and empathise with them. A key element of the narrative in which this occurs is a sub-plot concentrated on an old woman whose newspapers are being stolen every morning. It eventually turns out that she was falsely reporting this just so that our protagonists would come visit her every morning. We see a very similar paradigm play out with another figure, a woman who has lost her dog. Again, she falsely reports this just for the attention and eventually is given a dog to take care of.
This all plays out in-parallel to the main plot of Nick trying to solve the case of murder whilst surrounded by disbelief to imply that maybe he is just doing this for attention. What we see develop over this narrative is our main character, Margret, coming to terms with such an idea and growing to trust/empathise with her brother like she did the two ladies who falsely reported cases for attention. This was the aspect of the narrative that hooked me and kept me invested as these are interesting themes that are explored quite well. However, with the ending, after an ambiguous anti-climax involving the killer, it turns out that maybe Nick wasn’t making things up. This all comes down to the final image of a missing persons file that seemingly confirms the fact that the people Nick saw were in fact murdered – or are at least missing.
However, there are still questions to be had with this end. Nick took pictures of the killer, but he never shows up in them. He surmises that this is because he is a vampire. This is incredibly ludicrous and, in not seeing the point of this being a fantasy film with vampires within, I don’t think the twist ending is as simple as it seems.
At first, I thought that this implied that even though we should falsely trust people at times, facilitating their lies as to be kind, we sometimes can be wrong in extending such a courtesy to someone and should maybe try to believe others. This is an all right ending that throws a monkey wrench into a conclusion that’d be much like that of Blow-Up’s – though also a weakly handled caveat to the narrative message that wasn’t built towards very well. However, having gone over this narrative in my head for a while, there’s an element of this script that has become more and more prominent to me. Almost all of the main characters in this film are women; the only police officers are women and there are in total about 7 guys in the town. Maybe this comes down to the fact that there are so few people in the town all together, but there is nonetheless a clear concentration on male and female dichotomies.
With the ending, the ‘killer’ lying about his identity as to go on a date with our protagonist’s best friend – and possibly to kill her – this is further emphasised. Furthermore, this killer murders a couple on a date and all of the women in this narrative have conflicts with men – they either don’t like them, have lost a partner or are struggling to establish a relationship with one. When you add the character of Nick into the situation, who is an asshole throughout the film that threatens and intimidates his sister constantly, it seems that there is an intention to comment on males and females through this narrative.
However, having mulled over this for quite some time, I can’t find a good reason for this to be an element of the narrative as there are no clear relations to themes of reality, delusion and trust depicted. So, if you have seen this film and have an idea of the point that this builds to, I’d like to hear what you think down below.
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