1993, NR, 92 min. Directed by Bryan Singer. Starring Ron Marquette, Dina Brooks, Burt Williams, Larry Maxwell, Charles Cavanaugh, Brandon Boyce.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 17, 1995
Before there existed The Usual Suspects -- director Bryan Singer's scintillating thriller that's been blasting audiences nationwide to attention over the last few months with its intoxicating blend of visual flair, internal wit, narrative complexity, and ingenious performances -- there was Public Access, Singer's first feature-length film. Made in 1992, Public Access is just now receiving limited national distribution despite having won the top Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 1993 and also having a cult reputation as one of the great unseen movies of recent years. Amazingly, upon viewing, Public Access lives up to its hype and, perhaps, even exceeds The Usual Suspects in its structural audacity and chilling content. Both films share more than their similar story lines about the evil done by devils on earth. Singer co-wrote both films with collaborator Christopher McQuarrie, and John Ottman edited both movies, in addition to overseeing their music. (The music in both pictures is a key ingredient to their creative success.) Essentially, Public Access is the story of a mysterious stranger who comes to the small town of Brewster, rents a room in the home of the ex-mayor, and begins a public access TV show called Our Town that airs in the Sunday night “family hour.” He appears in a tidy suit on a bare set, faces the camera, and then asks, “What's wrong with Brewster?” Week by week, the calls start pouring in and the commentary gravitates from the general to the specific. About 45 minutes into Public Access, you begin to realize how insidious the movie is and that the somewhat geeky and, frankly, rather boring access producer we've been dutifully following is up to so much more than we could ever have imagined. By then, it's too late; we've been lured in by our notions about the sanctity of free speech and are then blindsided with the reality of vigilante expression. Public Access is a prime example of the kind of elliptical storytelling that has become so popular these days and though it suffers some consequential narrative ambiguities, they do not mar the film's overall impact. By the time he made The Usual Suspects, Singer's narrative concepts gained a pleasant assist by the seasoned professionalism of its knockout cast of actors. But where The Usual Suspects tells a polished and convoluted caper story, Public Access is a morality play in the guise of a suspense tale.