An explosion, a death, a tiny deck of cards. These are the things tying the two strange worlds of Isaac Ezban’s The Incident together. The director upends genre, taking the conventions of a drug-police thriller and a domestic family drama and turning them into something entirely different.
Three men are trapped in a never-ending apartment building staircase. Somewhere and sometime (maybe) else a family of four is caught on a never-ending, desolate highway.
At first blush The Incident feels like it’s going to be a series of Twilight Zone-esque vignettes, but director Ezban intertwines them in unexpected ways. The most satisfying moment of his film is at about the midway point when, following the family’s desperate attempt to reach an end of the road, there’s a fade to black…followed by a fade back up to the staircase. The structure had previously played towards a less meaningful grouping of loosely linked short stories, so the return of the first part of the film promises something larger and much more fulfilling.
Ezban likes diegetic music, and he keep a lot of the tunes in here sourced through headphones, car radios, and a piano, but the actual score of the movie is very present – sometimes, too present. Edy Lan’s score blares through the film, hitting every movement and key point, particularly during an otherwise-arresting climactic crosscut.
But pervasiveness aside, the score furthers the interconnected series of events, punching up the doomed inevitability of the narrative.
Where Ezban most excels is in the sense of gritty humanness and odd companionship running throughout the film. It’s uncomfortable at times, but always captivating: a younger, physically fit man pulling an outrageously decrepit man painfully up a staircase; an old couple having sex nearly at the point of death.
Even the props – huge piles of inhalers, books, empty beer bottles, and water bottles full of waste; nine floors worth of wall space covered in scribbles and drawings – though occasionally over-emphasized to the point of pride, feel so used and tangible.
The Incident’s homemade production design has the feeling of recent predecessors Primer and Timecrimes, two films that excelled in the combination of small budgets and big ideas. Ezban’s film isn’t far behind. There’s an overly expository reveal where one wishes that some of that information might have come out earlier to replace a sometimes-redundant fascination with the production design, but otherwise the pacing is good, the plot unpredictable.