REVIEW: Yellow [2013]

Score: 5/10 | ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 77 minutes | Release Date: 2013 (USA)
Studio: Soft Cage Films NFP
Director(s): David A. Holcombe
Writer(s): David A. Holcombe / Rory Leahy & Nick Reise (co-writers)

“You have a right to be here”

I can’t help but conjure images of the over-the-top, campy horror atmosphere in Dario Argento’s Suspiria when hearing the word ‘giallo’ as it’s probably the only film of the Italian genre I’ve seen. As such, anything I say on the subject is of course nothing but my own opinion and taste trying to reconcile my lack of appreciation for the style with what its fictional aesthetic of crime and mystery entails. The term itself was derived from a series of cheap Italian paperback novels with yellow covers originated in 1929, so one must acknowledge the less than serious tone and highly erotic subject matter is kind of the point. These are pulpy tales taking place in the shadows with psychological breaks, violent murders, and as much sexual tension as can be provided.

Suffice it to say, I found myself only slightly intrigued when David A. Holcombe’s debut feature Yellow came across my desk because it’s all a little too much for me. Calling it a “modern giallo horror” was fascinating, though, and I thought seeing the tropes in Argento’s and Mario Bava’s work transferred to a more contemporary setting could be cool. The odds were against it to win me over completely, but I entered with an open enough mind to at least enjoy its 77 minutes of mood and atmosphere. Because whether or not the plotting itself proves more than mere homage to a highly fantasized style, one can’t deny the off-kilter beauty of experimental film techniques and the confidence to play with sensory conventions through angled frames, superimpositions, and sound design.

In this respect Holcombe’s work excels at recreating the look and feel I so readily connect with the colorful artifice of something like Suspiria. There is a grainy quality to the stock with a yellow tint that keeps everything just left of real world clarity and firmly entrenched in the anxiety-ridden mind of lead character Arianna (Margaret Grace). She is as unhinged as the camera with shots at a 45-degree angle and focus pulls of sharply cut montages appearing to be the nightmarish memories she simply cannot forget. City life is new to her with only one friend in salon stylist co-worker Renee (Kyle Greer), so the quiet of her isolation eats away at her resolve until a postcard with a bikini-clad woman and the number 1-900-SEX-CHAT provide an opportunity for companionship.

But while her fears and insecurities make that first call little more than heavy breathing and the click of her receiver, the woman on the other end (Jill Oliver’s Jackie) will not be denied. This is where Yellow takes its dive into the deep end as reality and fantasy merge to the point of becoming inseparable, keeping us at arm’s length to decipher what exactly is going on. Questions like how and why Jackie has taken such a shine to her customer crop up as her infatuation and refusal to accept Arianna’s shyness leads toward an intimate relationship beginning the moment a vase of flowers shows up at the stylist’s door. Time then becomes muddled as Arianna’s life spirals out of control and her nightmares begin to come true.

Yellow continues by showing more and more glimpses into the events that have brought Arianna to such a fearful state of frayed nerves. Accompanying her fractured memories of what can only be sexual abuse, however, come forebodingly scored evening scenes of present-day murder by a knife-wielding killer picking off everyone who has wronged her. The music swells way beyond superfluity into comedic territory that matches certain instances of humor incongruous to the more thriller aspects at the film’s core—especially where kooky salon owner Lyla (Shelley Nixon) is concerned. While it’s a weird juxtaposition that has a tendency to shift tone on a whim, I guess it’s all part of the game when your genre takes its name from trashy paperbacks more about shock and sex than straight story.

Assumptions begin to form as Arianna’s life exponentially unravels after an eccentric Detective (H.B. Ward) pays a visit so that the potential for schizophrenic split personality can become more than just a possibility. Meeting her out-of-touch mother (Joette Waters) and psychopathic brother Danny (Derek Ryan Brummet) only help bolster this interpretation as they set-up what was more than likely a devastatingly horrific childhood. But in a welcome maneuver by Holcombe and co-writers Rory Leahy and Nick Reise, the validity of such a hypothesis is left solely to the audience with no concrete answers and plenty of footage seemingly impossible without these two women being real and separate. Whatever the case may be, however, Arianna and Jackie are both far from innocent and each highly volatile.

Independently filmed in Chicago with many members of the local Trap Door Theatre Company, Yellow does suffer from broad performances and less than perfect effects where the bloody deaths are involved. There is a theatricality to many of the supporting roles that hinders pure authenticity, but thankfully Oliver and especially Grace prove exceptions. The former’s Jackie adds to the mood when engaging in her phone sex shtick as well as possesses a believably violent streak in her matter-of-fact delivery when the body count mounts and the latter’s Arianna provides a solid lynchpin for everything to surround. You feel her fear and anxiety every second of the way until her escape from the past ends in a malicious exhale. I just wonder how much more I’d have enjoyed it without all the giallo camp.

[1] Jill Oliver and Margaret Grace
[2] Margaret Grace
[3] Antonio Brunetti
courtesy of Facebook

2 Thoughts to “REVIEW: Yellow [2013]”


    FYI, Suspiria isn’t a Giallo. Anybody who has more than a passing knowledge of (or interest in) this genre is aware of this distinction.

    I know you make clear, from the start, that you know next to nothing about the Giallo genre, but even your starting position is flawed. Suspiria is an example of a director (one inexorably linked to the Giallo genre, because of his defining works within it) doing a supernatural Gothic horror film. (Which is itself a rich and diverse genre, not only in Italy, but in wider European cinema as well. E.g., nearly half of the films that Mario Bava is today known for have nothing to do with the Giallo genre; they are Italian [or, if you prefer, Euro-] Gothics.)

    I have no idea if the film you’ve reviewed is or isn’t a Giallo, or what my reaction will be when I’m able to watch it, but starting a review with such a fundamental misstep makes the whole exercise seem like a waste of time.

    Also, the notion that a “less than serious tone” is a defining characteristic of the genre is another fundamental flaw in your writing on the topic. For one, within the context of the 400+ (some academic studies put that number above 5 or 6 hundred) Giallo films made since the early sixties, a number of subgenres and subcategories have developed, many with their own unique tone, own unique plot mechanics, own unique narrative conventions.

    Some are by-the-book adaptations of Agathe Christie’s seminal “And Then There Were None”; some are the black-gloved killer version made so famous by Argento and Bava; some are German, or Spanish, or UK reworkings of the existing tropes (that bring with them a whole other cultural context and set of norms); others are almost unclassifiable. Some are “light” and “comedic”; some are “grim” and “nihilistic”.

    But just because your own, narrow, highly subjective aesthetic viewpoint prevents you from being able to take their tone seriously (a tone that, by your own admission, you basically haven’t ever encountered, as you’ve never seen a Giallo) doesn’t mean that this is, in any way, shape, or form, a defining characteristic of the genre under discussion.

    (Case in point: You’re apparently able to “take seriously” the “campy horror” of a film like Black Swan, which is, as a number of reviewers have correctly pointed out, highly influenced by [or, highly derivative of] quite a few conventions of the Giallo genre. For whatever reason, you feel that it’s “okay” to take seriously such a campy, cartoonish, melodramatically executed film. Good for you. But maybe try to be self-critical enough about your own inherent “likes” and “dislikes” when watching a genre that you [again, by your own admission] literally know nothing about.)

    If you can’t be bothered to do your research, then why should we be bothered with a deeply flawed (and outright incorrect) “review”?

    1. you shouldn’t. but by the Giallo love essay you’ve written, maybe you should if only to help educate those unfamiliar with the genre. judging by your self-righteous tone, however, education obviously isn’t your game. therefore i don’t actually care what you have to say. thanks for reading.

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