James Jay Edwards reviews The Five Rules of Success, a crime thriller written and directed by Orson Oblowitz and starring Santiago Segura. (Ambassador Film Group)
During the pandemic, most film festivals were forced to go virtual. This allowed for critics and fans alike to still make important cinematic discoveries without jeopardizing their health and safety. Discoveries like The Five Rules of Success, which was one of the most talked-about films of The Fantasia Film Festival.
The Five Rules of Success is about an ex-con, known only as X (Santiago Segura), who dreams of owning his own restaurant. He comes up with a plan, complete with “five rules,” to accomplish this goal. He gets a job as a delivery boy at a local eatery, hoping to work his way up and gain experience. Unfortunately, he finds that life on the outside is not as easy as he thought it would be, and his past behaviors slowly begin to creep back up on him.
(The Five Rules of Success, theatrical release poster, courtesy Ambassador Film Group)
The brainchild of writer/director/auteur Orson Oblowitz (Trespassers, The Queen of Hollywood Blvd), The Five Rules of Success is a trippy film. For such a young director, Oblowitz has a very distinct visual style. He serves as his own cinematographer, and the photography is slick and spastic, almost anxiety-inducing. In a startling bit of self-awareness, there’s even a seizure warning title card at the very beginning of the film. The camera movement is swirling and nauseous, with Oblowitz mounting his lens just about anywhere he can to provide fresh and unique angles. It’s dizzying, making it impossible for the audience to relax. And that’s a good thing.
Technical virtuosity aside, The Five Rules of Success is a frustrating film to watch, and that’s by design (and also a good thing). Although he’s been locked up for most of his adult life, X is eager to make a fresh start, yet he is hindered by everyone from his abusive and manipulative parole officer to his new boss’ jackass son. He wants to be a good guy, but over the course of the movie, he makes a handful of poor decisions that may cripple his life chances. And as his past is slowly and methodically revealed, the viewer learns more about him and roots for him, even though he does make these poor decisions.
(The Five Rules of Success, courtesy Ambassador Film Group)
The Five Rules of Success is a clean and tight 83 minutes, which is a bit surprising, as there are a few threads left unfollowed. Subplots and revelations involving X’s parole officer and boss’ son/new buddy are left unexplored. Which lets the movie focus completely on X and his journey, and that’s who the audience cares about. But these threads affect X, so it’s a bit puzzling that they just fade away. But hey, viewers should applaud any edits that help to keep a movie neat and concise. So, more power to Oblowitz for deciding to leave some stuff out.
The biggest advantage to film festivals going virtual is that the viewership increases. Without being limited by theater size or geographical location, festival slates are open wide. Not everyone can get themselves to Montreal for Fantasia Fest, but almost everyone has a computer. And virtually, they can all discover great movies like The Five Rules of Success.
The Five Rules of Success is available on VOD on both Amazon and iTunes.
Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.