Take “Inception.” Drop in “Black Swan.” Add a dash of cosplay fantasy and a hint of “Excalibur” and a pinch of “Return To Oz,” and then blend until liquified. At that point, shoot the whole thing in Zack Snyder Dream-o-vision and brace yourself for “Sucker Punch,” the director’s first original feature film, not based on any source material.
And I can honestly say that after visiting the Vancouver location for the film, after talking to the director, the cast, and Deb Snyder, one of the film’s producers, I still don’t feel confident saying that I could “describe” the film to you accurately. I get the feeling that until it’s done, polished, and every last detail is in place, there’s no way to get your head around exactly what it is that Snyder’s tried to do.
When I compare this film to both “Inception” and “Black Swan,” don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying Snyder was influenced by those movies. He wasn’t. It’s just that there are thematic ideas he’s chasing that those two films also explore. He’s been chipping away at “Sucker Punch” with his co-writer Steve Shibuya since before he made “300,” and he’s just finally gotten himself to a place where he has the expendable clout to make something that is this purely an expression of his own interests and fancies. His relationship with Warner Bros. and with Legendary is very similar to the relationship they have with Christopher Nolan. They have a faith in him and his overall vision that extends well beyond any one film. They are in the Zack Snyder business, and they plan to be in that business for as long as they’re still convinced that Snyder has a connection to the zeitgeist.
A movie like “Sucker Punch” is a gamble. No other way to put it. It’s not based on a comic book or a video game or an anime series or a pre-existing property of any kind. That’s rare and brave in today’s market, and Snyder has so far made a lovely career out of retelling someone else’s story, but in his visual voice. For him to make this jump, it’s safe to assume that he has found something that he feels like he has to tell, something that allows him to express himself in some important way.
So what story, exactly, is he telling?
First, there are the girls. And at the age of 40, I have to call them all “girls.” They are half my age in most cases, and they were picked by Snyder to represent a broad spectrum of particular fantasies and types. Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, and the central figure in the film, Emily Browning… all of them strong and talented and young, all of them game for this crazy ride of Snyder’s. Over the course of the long day I spent on the set, I had time to speak to each of the girls, and I was struck by the physical dedication they showed to the film they were making, and by the genuine sense that they had cohered into a team of people who have a secret connection. I’ve seen this with other casts, and when it happens, it tends to result in some very interesting and combustible performances. When a cast connects in the way that it looks like this one has, you can push them to all sorts of extreme places because they know they have support. A young cast like this is going to be up for the adventure of it all, and with Snyder trying something as outrageous as this, he needs conspirators who are up to the task. Add in the support of the older supporting cast, including Carla Gugino, Jon Hamm and Scott Glenn, and it’s a cast that seems primed to explode.
Emily Browning is Baby Doll, a young girl who lives with her sister and an abusive father until the night her father finally snaps and beats her sister to death in front of her. He knows Baby Doll could tell the authorities what happened, so he has her committed to a mental hospital and scheduled for a lobotomy. In the time between her admission and the time she is set to be lobotomized, Baby Doll experiences a series of “escapes,” most of them involving the other girls on the ward, with the goal of a real escape before they finally take her mind. In one level of reality, the hospital is a dance hall/whorehouse, and in other levels of reality, there are robots or dragons or vaguely creepy world wars. In each world, the girls are different versions of themselves, variations on variations, both physically and in terms of personality.
And… that’s all I can say for now. Because the real set report will run closer to the release of the film. For now, I’m limited to 800 words and a new image, embedded below, as well as a question: based on what you’ve heard so far, are you intrigued?
Because according to the film’s tagline, “You will be unprepared.”
We’ll have more on “Sucker Punch” for you soon here on HitFix. If you want a fresh look at the film, the new trailer premieres on Apple.com tonight at 8:00 PM EST.
“Sucker Punch” will be in theaters March 25, 2011, and will be presented in IMAX in select engagements.