Movie Review: Ten

Ten poster

David Paul Hellings take a deep breath and counts to Ten for his review…

Directed by Sophia Cacciola and Michael J. Epstein.
Written by Michael J. Epstein, Sarah Wait Zaranek, Jade Sylvain and Sophia Cacciola.


“Ten women find themselves in a vacant mansion on Spektor Island in December, 1972. Each believes she’s traveled to the house on business, but they all agree that something seems strange. For one thing, the entire house is full of pictures and statues of pigs. The women all come from drastically different walks of life. None of them would have chosen to spend the night together in such an eerie place, but the last ferry for the mainland has just left, and a terrible storm is rolling in. Trying to make the best of an unpleasant situation, they raid the mansion’s wine cellar and throw a party. As the night creeps on, however, it becomes clear that someone–or something–has lied to get them in the house. It’s not long before someone mentions that Spektor Island is supposed to be haunted. Of course, no one in the house believes in ghosts. At least, not until the first murder. What do an actress, a religious zealot, a renegade, a coed, a model, a singer, a medium, a real-estate investor, a historian, and a doctor have in common? None of them is who they seem. Yet, the fate of the entire world may rest in their hands”.


The surreal opening and trippy, cool cartoon credits (nicely done) of Ten promise much, even if the credit feel and music scream Rodriguez/Tarantino in grindhouse mode. It’s an interesting start. After that, it’s downhill all the way.

The characters are designed to be quirky, speaking dialogue that wants to be cool and out there, delivered as though we’re in a giallo version of Scooby Doo, but this quickly comes across as a gimmick rather than something that serves the story, becoming almost dialogue from a stage play rather than a film. The overall feel is of a theatrical piece, which is a pity as Catherine Capozzi’s cinematography is first rate; but the content needed tightening, reaction shots seeming like a rough cut at times with characters in frame, pausing before responding, as though they’re waiting for the director’s cue to speak, or though the editor didn’t get around to trimming the scene down and thus slowing the pace and effecting what we’re watching to the point we wish they’d hurry up a little. If you want to know how to shoot a lot of people around a table, check out the diner scene in Reservoir Dogs or even Django Unchained.

There’s an ongoing pig motif, at the start, in the credits, the doorbell. It means something, but we’re not sure what. Stylistically, there are nice ideas. The pseudo Godard/Weekend 360 degree camera move becoming blurrier as the characters get drunker is a sweet touch. The all-female cast work hard, even if they often come across as inexperienced drama students getting their first shot in a friend’s film.

image from Ten

The music video backgrounds of the directors comes through, too much at times, with style triumphing over content, and too many nods to Amer (which, in itself, was a nod to giallo, but had a reason to its style), but this is a collection of characters without depth who talk and talk in dialogue that wants to be cool and clever and informed, but comes across as contrived in a wannabe hipster-chic kind of way. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to care for characters that we have no kind of empathy with. Who are these people? Have we ever met anybody like this outside of a pretentious art gallery opening? No. There are four writers credited, but it seems unlikely they were ever in the same room when they came up with any kind of script. Ten wants to be witty, but proves how difficult comedic moments are to do right.

The characters speak basically with the voice of one of the writers, who knows which one, delivering lines that might work at a chic party, but who talks like this? It tries to be clever, but just isn’t as clever as it thinks it is. As one character gets artistically and comedically knocked off, it’s simply one less annoying character to try and fit into the frame. Rather than care, we’re just glad that another pretentious cartoon is out of the picture.
Ten at times looks like it had a reasonable budget, so why not hire a professional writer, or at least listen to them if they did? Why do filmmakers think they can avoid a solid script? Try building a house without some kind of blueprint. The Three Little Pigs (a pig story that actually has a point and gets referenced very briefly if badly here) showed what happens to two of the pigs who didn’t have much of a plan. At least they had a smarter relative that knew to build his house on solid foundations and the actual house of bricks. At least the Big, Bad Wolf was a villain that had a motivation: eat the pigs. Simple. Not profound, but understandable.

Ten wants to be a cult film. Cult films don’t get made, they happen by accident, because nobody saw them at the cinema, then pick up a following after the event. “Ten” wants to be art house. It wants to say something. It’s neither horrific nor funny, which leaves nothing.

Ten is one of those films that thinks it’s being witty, intellectual and knowing, where the filmmakers think they’re smarter than the audience. That’s a problem if you don’t understand the basic structure of filmmaking and how characters work. These people are there invited for no seeming reason to an expensive mansion with little, plastic pigs in so many shots, as though this is a clever motif. It’s not. It’s an empty elongated music video punctured by stagey dialogue in which characters say a lot, but in reality are saying absolutely nothing at all. It’s a film that says “if you don’t get what we’re trying to say, it’s because you’re not cool enough, or avant garde enough, or smart enough, or you just don’t get ART!”. Ten is an art foundation school project made for an audience of two: the directors. Which is fine, if you have only want to patronise your audience. Ten may have worked as the short it originally was, but it sure doesn’t work as feature, they need something called plot, story and some kind of structure. By the end, you wonder if it would have worked better with songs, in a “Rocky Horror Picture Show” kind of way. Maybe not. It starts off trying to be clever, then gives up, drifting into a juvenile reveal that wasn’t worth waiting for.

“We’re all stuck in pens”, says one character. Was that the point of the film? To make that wannabe-deep saying? “We’ll swallow anything we can get our hands on”, she says. If so, the message and the rest of the imposed cod-philosophy goes out of the window in favour of sub Scooby Doo land of spies and microfilm minus the fun, plot, story, or interest. Good luck if an audience swallows any of this poorly written, badly acted work. 

There was a little seen British horror-comedy called Funny Man. The filmmakers described the optimum viewing experience as “going to the pub with your mates, getting blind drunk, buying a curry on the way home, then sitting with it in front of the TV, eating and drinking more as you watch the film”. They were right. That was the best way to watch Funny Man. There’s an optimum viewing scenario for Ten. It would be good to know what it is.

Disappointing. On a positive note, it only runs 83 minutes.

David Paul Hellings

Images provided by Brinkvision

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