Daniel is a young man who is distraught after being rejected by a woman that he cared deeply for. Isolating himself from the rest of the world by hiding out in his house and popping pills, Daniel becomes haunted by apparitions of two men who committed a horrible crime in what is now Daniel's home. Plagued with nightmares and constantly being under the influence, Daniel is becoming separated from his own reality and may just repeat the history of those who haunt him.
"Pop Skull" is the sophomore effort of Adam Wingard and his follow up film to "Home Sick", the balls out indie horror flick that was quite surprising for a first time feature. But Adam is back with "Pop Skull"; an interesting movie that blends a heavy amount of character drama into an experimental-esque horror movie. That will inevitably split the audience from those who get it and appreciate it, to those who wanted another blood drenched "Home Sick".
Calling it a drama maybe off-putting to some and others may disagree with that label but "Pop Skull" is a character driven movie dealing with a theme about obsession. Daniel is a young man who turns to pill popping to help him cope with his life and his struggles, mostly with a young woman whom he is in love with but doesn't seem to want to return his affection. His only friend is Jeff, an alcoholic that spends most of his time running his mouth and talking down Daniel. The worst thing though is Daniel's home seems to be haunted by the spirits of two young men who had a violent past and committed a grizzly crime in what is now Daniel's house. The more pills that Daniel takes the more he seems to become separated from reality and becoming lost in delusions and nightmares of death and murder.
"Pop Skull" is not horror in the traditional sense even though there is the part of the story with the ghosts of the two young men that torment Daniel. Really though, the movie is all about Daniel self destructing from his obsession with a woman he cannot have and eating pills to escape his own depressing reality. At times the story of Daniel and the woman he loves, or at least thinks he does, makes it easy to relate to the character and at times understand his need to escape even if it is through the form of pill popping. Adam and his crew are able to blend the two storylines and concepts together very well and create a movie that is quite haunting with atmosphere and visuals. While it may not make you jump or sleep with the lights on, it still gets to you from that chilling-melancholy mood.
The way "Pop Skull" is edited and filmed is a major selling point in setting the mood, getting into the head of the viewer and making you feel as disjointed as Daniel is. The movie is extremely intense visually; before the movie even starts there is a warning to those with epilepsy and the chance of seizures resulting in watching the movie. At first, I brushed this off; I figured this was just a cheap grab for attention and making the movie seem more dangerous or intense than it is. As I found out though, it is a serious warning. There are several moments where the deranged hallucinations become flashy and I have to say even I found myself wanting to look away because it gets that intense. It is something that probably could have been left out as the rest of the movie is still visually strong, but this intense flashy segments work to help you feel what Daniel is feeling while he is breaking down. It makes you question the reality of what is occurring and wonder where the line is between drug induced nightmares and what's real.
While I don't see "Pop Skull" resonating with horror fans as strongly as "Home Sick" did because it doesn't approach the horror aspect of the story in the traditional manner. For me though, while I like "Home Sick" I thought it was a good movie and overall a lot fun, but for me "Pop Skull" is a solid movie and Adam's best so far. It is a wonderful character driven movie that is sold by solid performances that can be relatable in some aspects of the story and has a fantastically dark and haunting atmosphere. Adam taking a chance and making it as visually strong and intense as he did also paid off. It helps to make it one of the more worth while indie horror films out there because it is a little more unique as a result. With this being Adam's only second feature length movie, I can't wait to see what he has in store for us in the future.