Director: Todd Berger
Cast: Katie Cassidy, Drake Bell, Jerry Trainor, Austin Swift
Watch Cover Versions online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Sky Store / Google Play
If you’ve ever thought that Rashomon would be improved by adding rock music, Cover Versions is the film for you. Todd Berger’s nifty little thriller takes place just before the start of a popular music festival, with indie rock band Starfoxy ready to make an impact with their biggest gig to date. Things go wrong, though, when a party spirals out of control, and a fan winds up dead in their pool.
Picked up by the police, the band immediately begin to recount what happened – but, of course, the members’ account aren’t in tune. So far, so familiar. But what makes Berger’s twisting plot effect is that every clash is fuelled by character, as well as by the need to keep us guessing who’s responsible.
First up is Jackie (Katie Cassidy), the mature, sensible one, who actually understands how big a deal their upcoming concert is. Adamant that they should not be partying the night before their breakout performance, she’s collected, frustrated and a natural frontwoman for the group – when it comes to writing songs, it’s no surprise that she’s the one with the little red book containing the secrets.
She’s contrasted effectively with the rest of the band, who are far more laidback about the group’s chances of stardom. Kirk (Austin Swift) is the most irritating of the bunch, an immature musician-for-hire, who’s already looking to develop his own solo career. When it comes to partying, he, of course, is the one who shows up at their house not only with booze, but with a trio of groupies – Amber (Ashley Argota), Lucy (Jenn An), and the brilliantly named Maple (Debby Ryan). Watching on is Travis (Jerry Trainor), who is mostly high, and caught in the middle of it all is the well-meaning Byron (Drake Bell).
With each of their tellings, the story twists in ways both striking and subtle. Jackie’s places most of the blame on Kirk, albeit with no answers given, but the picture becomes more muddied with every new refresh. Kirk, on the other hand, feels underappreciated and paints Jackie’s behaviour as ruder and more suspect – and gives himself a starring role, as he plays his own composition to a room of adoring fans. But it’s the tiny touches that keep you on your toes, as not only events change but the room layouts and costumes switch too; while some films would enjoy seeing the same choreographed dialogue delivered on a loop from new angles, Berger takes full advantage of his premise, each jarring key change highlighting how differently each character views the others.
It could fail if the performances weren’t up to scratch, but the actors play their parts with gusto. The result is a convincingly awkward portrait of a band that has spent too much time together, brought to life by the quartet’s amusingly spiky chemistry. Cassidy, in particular, is a standout, while Ryan, Argota and An have a lot of fun drifting between ditzy laughs and darker flashes. Having Austin (brother of Taylor) Swift on hand doesn’t harm either, amping up the rock ‘n’ roll quotient to go with the sex and the drugs. Rashomon with rock music? It’s worth giving this indie treat a listen: over 90 minutes, the ensemble strike up a catchy piece of tense cinema, and deliver a cool soundtrack to boot.