Marc Robert should be very proud of himself. The director's lofty 2009 arthouse horror outing "Able" has both frustrated and impressed me, a feat which is, contrary to popular belief, quite difficult to achieve. I'm split right down the middle, divided in two, unable to shift my opinion one way or the other. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I honest don't know. There are plenty of positive and negative elements swimming throughout this strange little picture, so much so that they tend to cancel each other out, leaving me with a very difficult review to write. If only all of my problem were this taxing.
"Able" starts out fragmented, focusing on a number of characters as they deal with a peculiar plague that has stricken the unsuspecting citizens of Berlin. The disease in question slowly paralyzes its victim, and, over the course of three days, the infected individual watches in horror as their body gradually shuts down. It's as unpleasant and unsettling as it sounds, especially once these sagging skin sacks reach the "stare blankly and scream silently" phase of the illness. It ain't pretty.
As the story progresses, we are introduced to a pair of distinctly different men: one strives to follow the path of righteousness, while the other tortures and molests those who cannot fend for themselves. Their respective paths, as paths tend to do, will eventually cross, though not quite in the sense you might be expecting. This is where my love/hate relationship with "Able" kicks into overdrive, as Robert could have used this intriguing scenario to fuel a brutal climatic showdown which would have tightly bound these straying storylines together. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
For a large portion of the movie, I was confused -- moreso than usual. Trying to differentiate the scattering of characters that populate this dark and dreary picture became a daunting task, due in part to Robert's desire to drench every single scene in inky black shadow. If you don't want to clearly identify the residents of your murky cinematic universe, no problem, but at least give us a few clear shots so we aren't left connecting the proverbial dots with invisible ink, so to speak. It wasn't until roughly 40 minutes into the film that I figured out who those pale, sickly girls were and how they related to the other characters in the film. Perhaps this was Robert's intention all along.
Despite how the first portion of this review may read, I do have several praises to bestow upon Marc Robert and his freaky little film. I was, at times, profoundly disturbed by the unsightly events unfolding on-screen, in particular an uncomfortable sexual encounter between a paralyzed girl, the aforementioned nefarious male, and what looks to be a blood-encrusted toilet snake. And while Robert doesn't go so far as to actually show you what happens when said instrument is inserted inside an unwilling female participant, it's enough to give yours truly three complete cases of high-quality creeps. It's an image I won't soon shake.
Do you see my problem? Understand my dilemma? Comprehend my confusion? “Able” is a tense, gory, thought-provoking horror film that does several things very well. At the same time, I'm afraid, it gets plenty of things wrong as it stumbles blindly into that dodgy realm of artsy-fartsy horror. I'm all for bucking mainstream trappings, but even I know where to draw the line. Marc Robert is definitely a talent to watch, and I wouldn't frown rudely if he decided to deliver another chapter in this oddly engaging premise. Either way, I'm eager to see what he does next.