By John Young
Updated January 28, 2011 at 07:42 PM EST
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Image Credit: Matt RoeBefore its Wednesday night premiere at the Eccles Theatre, I Melt with You costar Rob Lowe offered me this prediction: “If we did [the movie] right, a percentage of the audience will walk out.” That were certainly the case during the packed screening, although it’s hard to gauge the magnitude of the walkouts. The Eccles holds 1,270 people, and from the corner where I was sitting, I saw 20 or so people head for the exit. (The press-and-industry screening, held earlier in the week, reportedly prompted nearly 50 walkouts). EW critic Owen Gleiberman already offered his scathing review of the film, and I’m pretty much in agreement.

The movie is about four 40-something guys who head to Big Sur, Calif., for a week of reliving the good ol’ college days, which essentially means consuming every kind of drug known to man. But then something goes terribly wrong, igniting a chain reaction of decisions that made the young woman sitting next to me shield her eyes every 20 minutes. It’s a torturous movie to get through, but clearly a divisive one, too. Many of the audience members who participated in the post-show Q&A professed their love for the film (one man positively equated the movie with being on a bender), and on my way out, I chatted with another guy who thought the picture was commendably brave.

Brave is an appropriate adjective for I Melt with You, and while visiting EW’s Sundance Photo Studio, director Mark Pellington (Arlington Road) and costars Lowe, Jeremy Piven, and Thomas Jane made it clear that they knew the project was a tremendous risk. “We all have opportunities every day to do a bunch of safe stuff,” said Lowe, “and this whole exercise was to be in something that was not safe.”

Pellington shot the film on-the-fly (and in chronological order) in only 18 days and for less than $1 million. Jane, for one, reveled in the opportunity to experiment and improvise during the unorthodox shoot. “The camera just followed us around,” said Jane. “We felt like we could try out stuff, and Mark would keep rolling [the camera].” The cast (including Christian McKay, who plays the fourth, and most reflective, guy in the group) also went in knowing that the project would test them as actors. “It was a complete emotional root canal,” confessed Piven. “But we all committed completely to it and went to that very dark place.”

Whether audiences will want to venture to that dark place with these guys is yet to be seen. (Magnolia Pictures acquired the U.S. theatrical rights to the film). But I will say that, unlike many other films here at Sundance, you’re likely never to forget I Melt with You. “It’s not pretty at all, and it may make you a little bit uncomfortable,” said Piven, “but I’m not going to apologize.” (Although, during the post-screening Q&A, Piven did apologize to his mother, who was sitting in the audience and apparently hadn’t been properly warned about this sledgehammer of a film).

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