Twelve Pole (2017)

Twelve PoleA good opening scene that grabs the viewers attention is very important for setting the tone of your film, especially in a horror movie. Conversely, when the opening of your film is so misguided that the audience is already rolling their eyes at minute one, you’re not off to a great start. Unfortunately, this is the case for Twelve Pole, which makes an incredibly lame attempt to be edgy by opening the film with a voice-over, warning the viewer about how graphic the movie is. Problem is, actual warnings like that aren’t a thing! Legitimately hardcore films don’t bother with such gimmicks, and for a film that doesn’t even qualify as Extreme Cinema, they’ve got some nerve pretending that a warning is required. Still, you can’t judge an entire film by a single misstep in the beginning, so let’s see how well the film itself holds up.

In a plot that can be best summed up as “Redneck Amityville Horror” a group of good ol’ boys purchase a dilapidated house in order to fix it up themselves and sell it for a profit. The fact that a violent crime had been previously committed on the property means that the house is a real steal, but naturally, it isn’t long before the cursed property starts affecting the men in strange and horrifying ways.

The first thing I have to say about this film is that at least everybody tries, which is not something to be taken for granted. Being that it’s a micro-budget film, the acting is bound to fall on the wrong side of realistic, but there is at least a sense that the cast is fully committing. I also appreciate that, while it may not be the most ground-breaking concept, at least it doesn’t take place in the fucking woods, and the story itself is something that is well suited to a single primary location and a small central cast.

There is certainly nothing wrong with a classic haunted house set-up, and the fact that certain characters start behaving in drastically different ways after being in the house too long, is a time-tested concept that is effectively unsettling. In fact, the overall concept is a very solid one, and basing a film around real-world anxieties, such as buying a house, is a smart, logical setting for a horror film. Unfortunately, Twelve Pole also makes some very illogical choices, such as having two of the characters spend the weekend in the abandoned house to guard it (!) until the locks are changed. That’s also not a thing! Why would you need to guard an abandoned house that sat there untouched for years and doesn’t even have any of your stuff in it yet?

There is one key area that this film does really deliver in though, and that is the gore. While this may not be an example of Extreme Cinema, there is no denying that it is plenty bloody. That, in and of itself, isn’t always a wholly positive trait in micro-budget films, but what sets Twelve Pole apart from many of it’s contemporaries is that it pulls off the effects very well. From a gloriously realistic hanging to ripped out throats, graphically broken limbs, barbwire strangling, disembowelments, and so much more, the uncompromising violence is by far the best part of this experience.

Since the gruesome parts of this movie are so well done and many of the scenes in between are weighed down with lackluster static shots and awkward, stilted dialogue, I honestly feel that this would be far better if it was trimmed down to a short film. At 20-30 minutes Twelve Pole could be a visceral, kick-ass ride that grabs the audience by the throat and gets right down to business. As it is, the good parts are there, but the lack of convincing characters and a less than compelling plot make it hard to justify waiting for them.

*Reviewer’s Note: After my review posted, I was contacted by the film’s director, Sam Hodge, who let me know that he will be removing the opening warning from the final version of the film, which I think will be a substantial improvement.

2-stars-red

Murder Made Easy (2017)

Murder Made EasyEstablishing the proper tone for a film can be very difficult to get just right, especially when your film incorporates elements of black comedy as well as horror. When it works it can be a very entertaining blend of genres that properly balances both, and when it doesn’t, it quickly devolves into a confused mess that serves neither. Today we’ll see if Murder Made Easy is able to strike the right balance with its modern take on an Agatha Christie style murder mystery.

A year after her husband Neil’s death, Joan (Jessica Graham) and her good friend Michael (Christopher Soren Kelly) invite several of their friends over for dinner to discuss and remember Neil. Of course, as the title clearly suggests, there are far more nefarious elements at play here. That’s about as specific as I can get because with a film like this, twists and revelations are a big part of the central experience.

This film definitely does wear its theatrical influences proudly on it’s sleeve, even name-checking Mousetrap several times throughout. In fact, the experience of watching it was very reminiscent of watching a play, and with its heavy emphasis on dialogue and single location, this is a film that could very easily be adapted into a stage production. To be clear, this is not a negative, and the superb acting and engaging plot make use of the single location in the same manner that great theater productions do. MME pic 1

Since theater itself, and in particular a specific production of Mousetrap, are integral to the plot, the centralized location actually works in service of the film to help establish the desired tone and feel. Director David Palamaro is clearly shooting for a specific aesthetic and is able to capture the look and feel of a classy murder mystery incredibly well. The use of music here is spot-on and the different elements of horror, thriller and black comedy are well balanced to create a cohesive experience. Well, mostly…

MME pic 2While I can see why the overall plot itself was structured the way it was, the very device of having sequential guests show up does make much of the general plot rather predictable, and even a bit repetitive. Fortunately, as more of the larger story is revealed most of the characters have enough substance and variety to keep the interactions entertaining throughout…..with the notable exception of Cricket (Emilia Richeson). While most of the other characters are represented as slightly heightened archetypes, Cricket is full-blown New Age stereotype and her segment is the film’s most overt (and misguided) attempt at comedy, and a clear low point in the overall film itself. Had she simply been rewritten as a slightly more realistic character, her segment would have worked far better.

Regardless, this is a very entertaining film overall that knows what it’s going for and embraces it wholeheartedly. Well acted and enjoyable to watch, this is one dinner party you won’t want to be late for.

3-stars-red

The Small Woman in Grey (2017)

Small Woman in GreyAhhh the woods, the go to, ready-made set that is the favorite location for countless indie horror films. I understand the practicality of using this as a primary location, but aspiring filmmakers would do well to keep this advice in mind before they start lugging their cameras into the wilderness: If you are going to set your teen-massacring film in the woods, as we’ve seen countless times before, you’d better bring your fucking A game and show us a very creative and interesting twist on the most tired premise in horror. Otherwise, don’t bother showing up. So, even though it’s utilizing the most played out concept in horror cinema does The Small Woman in Grey elevate itself above the masses with a quality script and innovative filmmaking? Well, let’s discuss.

The film centers around a group of teens who go into the woods to party. Coincidentally, they happen to run into a man who got separated from the rest of his broad daylight ghost hunting group (!) and is conveniently able to tell them all about the ghost that allegedly haunts the woods. Predictably, it’s not long before members of the group start dying mysteriously, and it’s up to the remaining survivors to try and figure out why before it’s too late.

So, clearly writer/director Andrew Sean Eltham-Byers wasn’t looking to break any new ground with the concept here. But, even a film about (yawn) teens partying in the woods until a mysterious stranger imparts plot exposition can still be worthwhile if the characters are well-crafted and compelling. Well, that’s unfortunately not the case here because while the characters aren’t the overt caricatures we sometimes see in these kinds of films, they are still completely insufferable and uninteresting. The fact that this is a micro-budget film means that the painfully amateur acting is somewhat forgivable….but the generic, plodding script is not.

Still, I’ve seen plenty of films that may not have had the most innovative plot but still managed to deliver a high level of entertainment value through well-crafted kills scenes. Sadly, this is where Eltham-Byers commits the most egregious cinematic sin and opts for bargain-basement CGI effects over practical ones. Shame! Shame! Shaaaaame! Seriously, this is a decision that I can’t even wrap my head around. I mean, even CGI effects on multi-million dollar productions often end up residing in the dreaded uncanny valley, but when your budget is next to nothing, the chance of pulling off convincing CGI is about the same. It’s a lot smarter move to scale back your set pieces to what you can effectively execute so you don’t end up with cartoony graphics that look like they were made on a home computer in the 90s.

Okay, this film has a lot of self-inflicted wounds but there were still some aspects that I did genuinely appreciate. For instance, it was refreshing to see a film where the primary romantic subplot involved a homosexual couple but was presented as casually as a heterosexual relationship, which was a nice, progressive touch. There are also a few times that the film was effectively creepy, but they were the all too infrequent times that Eltham-Byers opted for the subtler, less-is-more approach. Any scenes where the ghost was on full display in all her CGI glory were just awful, but the couple of times she was limited to a sinister voice and a shadow crossing the scene were (not surprisingly) far more effective.

Between the terrible pop music, worse special effects, lame script and unironic use of montages there isn’t really anything about this film to make it worth recommending. It is clear that everyone involved put a lot of effort into the production, but if Eltham-Byers had spent a little more time on the script and effects and a little less time on figuring out how to make text bubbles pop up on screen then perhaps it would’ve paid off with a better finished product.

1-star-red

Baskin (2015)

BaskinWhen you think about the country of Turkey, ‘horror films’ probably isn’t the first thing that pops into your mind, but after the international success of Can Evrenol’s Baskin, that may be changing, at least a little. It certainly isn’t the first horror movie made in Turkey, but it is by far the most successful and just as A Serbian Film did in 2010, it puts an unexpected country into the international horror conversation. Based upon the 2013 short film of the same name, Baskin is a surreal and gruesome journey into a nightmarish world.

The central characters are a group of police officers who we first see hanging out in a small restaurant late at night, casually chatting about bestiality (!) and fucking trans hookers….like you do. After beating up the waiter and leaving, they receive a call for backup and head out to a decrepit house in the middle of nowhere, where they stumble upon a gruesome Satanic ritual and perhaps the gateway to Hell itself. Needless to say, shit starts to go south in a hurry.

The first thing that stands out about this film is how incredibly well shot it is. The cinematography is incredible by any standard but the fact that Evrenol was able to achieve such rich, gorgeous visuals in his first feature on a budget of only $350,000 is truly impressive. He also uses the surreal storyline to create some incredible set pieces such as the dream scene of Arda (Görkem Kasal) plunging into water and being rescued by giant hands. Most importantly though, the film is laden with grotesque imagery, genuinely unnerving set design, and gloriously brutal violence.

Beyond just the quality of the image itself, Evrenol also makes some smart stylistic choices that pay off very well. One of the most notable is the casting of visually striking character actors for some of the roles that give the film a surreal authenticity that you simply cannot replicate with latex. There are a few here, but the standout is, of course, the casting of Mehmet Cerrahoglu, who’s unique physical condition makes for one of the most memorable and interesting faces you will ever see on film.

The story itself is heavily imbued with dream logic and a surreal, almost Lynchian quality that gives the feeling of being trapped in a waking nightmare. Because of this, Baskin may require a few viewings to fully process it’s meaning but that’s okay because the twisted visuals and copious amounts of blood are entertaining enough to keep sick fucks (such as myself) coming back for more. Overall, a very interesting, unusual film that makes me excited to see what Evrenol (as well as Turkey as a whole) have in store for us in the future.

4-stars-red

Short Film Review: I Baked Him a Cake (2016) Duration: 5 min

I Baked Him a Cake - Official PosterCreating a short film that tells an interesting and compelling story within the span of minutes can be challenging. Shorter films don’t have to hold the audiences attention for as long but also have less time to develop the plot. In the case of I Baked Him a Cake, the running time of only five minutes requires that a lot of story is packed into a very short amount of time, so let’s see if director Vanessa lonta Wright is up for the challenge.

The first thing that I noticed with this film is that it’s very professionally shot and the opening scene sets the tone with some great high-contrast shots and excellent sound design. It also helps that the first shots are very engaging and leave you eager to see how it will play out. Of course, bad acting can instantly derail even the most interesting stories, especially when only two actors are involved. Luckily, in this case, both actresses do an excellent job with their respective roles and imbue the scenes with the realism, tension and underlying menace that is needed.

Everything here is competently done, so my only real complaint is that I feel like the film shies away from gore in some key places. Aside from the blood-soaked bathroom, we don’t really see any, and rather than having the opening scene represented with shadows, it would have been more effective to show a nice, graphic practical effect. I also felt that the ending was a bit abrupt and would have benefited from having a gruesome reveal to close it out instead. Obviously, these were stylistic choices made by the director, but unless there is a strong reason not to, it’s always best for horror films to really lean into the gore and violence, and it looks like this production had the means to do so.

It also could be that the film is deliberately open-ended in order to expand the story more with a future work. I’m hoping that the latter is the case, as there are a lot of questions about motivation and what happens next that would be very interesting to explore.

Thematically, the film brings up some interesting ideas such as how much influence a caretaker has over a child who must look to them to provide a sense of normality, even in a very abnormal situation. In the end, this is a short but sweet film that packs a surprising amount of emotion into its tiny runtime and actually made me feel for the character of the daughter quite a lot, which is not an easy feat to pull off in something that’s the length of two movie trailers. It also made me want to see more about what’s going on in these characters’ lives and look forward to hopefully seeing what Wright can do with a feature some day.

3-stars-red

Short Film Review: Coming Home (2017) Duration: 15 min 57 sec

ComingHomePosterWhite _July2017Even though it’s a tremendous amount of work creating a short film, it is undoubtedly a far more achievable task then attempting a feature, and a great way for indie filmmakers to hone their craft as they try to break into the business. Still, it comes with a unique set of challenges and being able to tell an interesting, concise, story in a very limited amount of time, is the most important (and difficult) of all. Given that most shorts are made independently, with very limited resources, there’s bound to be some rougher edges, but discerning audiences are willing to overlook such things as long as there is a compelling story at the core. So, does Coming Home have what it takes to be an indie short that’s worth your time? Well, lets discuss.

The story centers around a goth teen serial killer who goes by Craw (Nicholas Trivisonno) and a man named Richard (D. Duckie Rodriguez) who is trying to track him down with the help of his wife and son. The film also makes a point of explicitly letting you know that it takes place in 2003, which is curious since the date has no relevance to the plot and the entire story takes place within the same year. However, the conclusion is very open-ended and it’s possible that the date would be a factor in a sequel or if the short is adapted into a feature. I’m hoping that’s the case and the date wasn’t just put in to justify the tepid jokes about computers being “magic boxes that everyone will have someday” even though by 2003 they were already ubiquitous.

For a short film to work, it must get right into the action and immediately pull you in. Fortunately, Coming Home does just that and, right from the cold-open, sets up a world that you want to see more of. Director Shiva Rodriguez is able to strike just the right balance by naturally revealing the information you need without resorting to clunky exposition to move the story along. She is also able to imbue the story with enough mystery and intrigue to make the viewer want to watch until the very end to see how it will all play out.

Trivisonno gives a very solid performance as the emotionally damaged Craw, but a few of the other actors fall a bit short of being able to portray their characters with enough emotional resonance for the audience to properly suspend disbelief. Now, it was clearly a stylistic choice to have the first murder occur in the background out of focus, but it undercuts the power and emotional weight of the act if we don’t properly see it. If there is going to be violence in a film, it’s always better to show rather than imply unless there is a good reason to hold it back, such as keeping the identity of the killer secret, etc.

As I mentioned before, the conclusion of this film leaves the story open-ended but rather than feeling unfinished, it simply makes me want to see it continue. I don’t know if Rodriguez has plans to adapt this into something longer, or continue the story with another short, but I very much hope she does. At sixteen minutes, we’ve only scratched the surface of this world and the twisted characters in it, and when the credits rolled, all I could think was “I want to see what happens next”.

3-stars-red

Raw (2017)

RawSometimes the trailer for a film is so compelling and intriguing that you instantly know it’s a film you absolutely must see. For me, Raw was such a film and the dark, unusual, and clearly well-shot movie that was promised was one that I couldn’t wait to watch. Of course, a great trailer followed by months of waiting can certainly raise expectations for the film itself so the question is, did Raw live up to the hype and deliver on the high promise of the exquisitely made trailer? Well, lets discuss.

The story follows Justine (Garance Marillier), a young woman from a strict vegetarian family, who is going off to the veterinary school that her rebellious sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf ) already attends. After being forced into eating meat in an initiation ritual, Justine soon begins to have an insatiable craving for flesh that she struggles to control. That’s about all I want to reveal about the story because, truly one of the best things about it, is the shocking twists and unpredictable plot.

What’s instantly apparent when watching this film is just how incredibly well made it is. The cast, primarily consisting of young adult actors, is absolutely flawless and their strong, realistic performances are a huge part of what makes it successful. The lion’s share of the credit, however, belongs to writer/director Julia Ducournau, who’s brilliant script and assured direction, are responsible for creating a film that is visually stunning and thoroughly compelling.

It’s utterly amazing that this is Ducournau’s debut feature because, the way she skillfully balances the elements of a coming-of-age drama that’s infused with horror, is nothing short of masterful. The story is not only very different from what I assumed it would be going in, but also remained unpredictable throughout and was certainly a far cry from what Hollywood would have done with the material. The twists in the story make for some surprisingly shocking moments and the subtext about discovering one’s sexuality (and the horrors that go with it) is expertly infused into the story.

The fact that Ducournau relied on real animals and practical effects over CGI adds to the overall realism and, while this is not an extremely bloody film overall, the gore effects that are present are pulled off perfectly. All in all, this is a film that actually does live up to the promise of it’s trailer and, although it’s not exactly a horror film, it’s a horrific and beautiful journey that is very much worth taking.

4-5-stars-red

Kudzu Zombies (2017)

KudzuNo matter the size of your film’s budget there are always challenges to face. Big studio pictures have nearly unlimited resources but the filmmakers must contend with meddling producers dumbing down their vision until it’s palatable to a wide enough audience. Conversely, indie filmmakers have the freedom to explore innovative ideas regardless of their marketability but face the challenge of attaining the resources to properly execute their vision. Despite this disparity, both indie and Hollywood films are fighting for the exact same prize, the limited time and attention of a finite number of viewers.

Considering the fact that there is no shortage of entertainment to spend our free time indulging in, why would anyone choose to watch films with inexperienced actors and homemade special effects over slick, high budget entertainment? Well, the reason you chose to overlook the rougher, DIY aspects of indie films is because they are the ones that push the creative boundaries and try daring new things that the high-budget films don’t have the balls to attempt. However, when an indie film simply tries to replicate the same generic experience of a Hollywood film, but with a fraction of the budget, you are left with a product that is truly the worst of both worlds. So, is Kudzu Zombie up to the immense challenge of not only overcoming its very modest budget but also being an innovative entry in Horror’s most over-saturated sub-genre? Well, let’s discuss.

The film tells the story of Lonnie (Timothy Haug) a crop duster who tries out an experimental new chemical at the behest of a pair of corporate scientists and, since this is a zombie film, you all know exactly how well that works out. Once the outbreak is in full swing most of the action takes place at the town’s music festival as Lonnie, his friends and the remaining uninfected must battle the hordes of the undead. There isn’t really much more to the plot than that, and that in and of itself is Kudzu’s biggest failing.

Now, let me be perfectly clear about this, if you are going to attempt to tread down one of the genre’s most well-worn paths, you absolutely must bring a serious amount of innovation to the table. Unfortunately, this film seems content with rehashing the same basic “group survival” plot we’ve seen countless times before and doesn’t even attempt to break new ground. It pays lip service to the invasive plant species the film is named after, but instead of using it as a launching point for a creative and original storyline, it is simply an arbitrary catalyst that results in a very by-the-numbers outbreak.

Okay, so even if a zombie film isn’t willing to go to far outside of the box, it should at least deliver solid, well defined characters and brutal, realistic gore. At this the film also fails, as it portrays generic, one-dimensional characters with melodramatic, cliched subplots that will only succeed in making you hate them more. There is quite a bit of blood but not much in the way of gory practical effects and the ones that are attempted stand out as fake and poorly executed. There is, however, a whole lot of bargain-basement CGI used for everything from the blood splatter, to the explosions to the cartoonish looking fire, which all seem designed to ensure there isn’t even the faintest suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience.

To be fair, in this mess of CGI blood splatter and poorly conceived characters, there are some moments that the filmmakers do pull off effectively. The part where the fire-breathing sideshow performer uses his talents as a weapon against the zombies is well conceived. Similarly, the plane propellers chopping zombies and the RPG being fired into the town are heavily reliant on CGI but still pretty cool to watch.

Ultimately, this is a failed effort, but not because the filmmakers lacked the resources to make a zombie outbreak film, it fails because every instinct the they had was wrong. They didn’t innovate when they should, used CGI when they shouldn’t, and insisted on bad jokes and melodrama in place of realistic character development. Discerning horror fans would be far better served spending an hour and a half re-watching zombie films that actually do innovate the concept of an undead outbreak like Wyrmwood or 28 Days Later than spending their precious free time on a story that’s been done to death.

1-star-red

Night Kaleidoscope (2017)

Night KaleidoscopeSome movies are created with an emphasis of style over substance, a deliberate attempt by the filmmaker to craft a compelling and surreal world that does not adhere to a standard narrative format. Suspiria, Lost Highway and Beyond the Black Rainbow are just a few examples of when this artistic gamble really pays off and pulls viewers into a compelling, living nightmare that brings you along for the ride, even if it’s not always clear where that ride is taking you. Conversely, when not done properly a lack of narrative only succeeds in creating frustration and quickly bores the viewer with a series of meaningless images. So, where does a film with a hallucinatory, dream-like style like Night Kaleidoscope fall on the spectrum? Well, let’s discuss.

The plot (such as it is) centers around Fion (Patrick O’Brien) who uses his hereditary psychic abilities (along with the unknown mystical drug he smokes) to help solve crimes. His current case involves a vampire couple that are responsible for a series of murders in the city slums. He is soon joined by Isobel (Mariel McAllan) a mysterious young woman who seems to have a personal stake in wanting to defeat the vampire couple.

First of all, I want to acknowledge the style of this film and the fact that director Grant McPhee effectively uses a variety of techniques to create an authentically surreal, dream-like experience. Quick edits, single-color saturation scenes, deliberate out-of-focus shots and a purposely shaky handheld camera all work together to deliver a fluid sense of movement that is disorienting and nightmarish in the best possible way. The pulsating and ominous 80’s style synth score that’s underlaid throughout adds to the hallucinatory effect of the film and perfectly compliments the striking visual style.

However, one key aspect that separates this film from other surreal classics like those I previously mentioned is the fact that it doesn’t commit fully to the surreal tone it establishes. Swirling, disorienting montages are broken up by scenes with more standard structure and pacing. That’s not necessarily a bad strategy in general as you don’t want to burn out your viewer with images that risk becoming repetitive and meaningless, plus it can be a good time to communicate key plot information. But, in the case of Night Kaleidoscope, this is where it comes up short because unlike films where the whole plot is up to interpretation, this one has a pretty straightforward narrative, it’s just got some holes in it.

For instance, the fact that there is clearly meant to be a greater significance to the character of Isobel but it is never properly established in the plot. This leaves unanswered questions about her connection to the vampires that feel more like an oversight than a deliberate omission. Similarly, plot threads involving Fion’s employer who suddenly wants him off the case and his “psychic drug” supplier’s motivations are not properly fleshed out. This adds to an overall feeling of characters and plot points being introduced without the filmmakers having a clear understanding of how these elements work in the context of the story as a whole.

In general, the world the film creates is certainly strange. It’s a world where there don’t appear to be any mythic creatures other than the vampire couple but their existence is instantly and unquestioningly accepted. It’s a world where psychic detectives are commissioned by mysterious clients when a murder needs to be solved and actual police never appear regardless of the amount of bodies that pile up. In most cases, people in this world also seem very complacent when faced with the threat of death from the vampires but that fact does also lead to an interesting interpretation of this film as an allegory for drug use. Although, it remains unclear if that was the filmmakers’ intention as other aspects of the plot don’t necessarily support it.

Narrative issues aside, I really can’t overstate just how accomplished this film looks visually and the fact that it was made for the astoundingly low price tag of under $5,000 makes it all the more impressive. It also shows a tremendous amount of raw talent for visual flair on the part of McPhee who is a director that one would do well to keep an eye on. In the end this makes for an experience well worth having if you can let nagging concerns about plot melt away and embrace the mesmerizing surreal imagery. Indeed, this is the kind of film that is best when consumed late at night and slightly under the influence.

3-stars-red

 

 

Flytrap (2015)

FlytrapPsychological horror is often the best route to take for micro-budget films as it places more emphasis on creating an atmosphere of dread rather than elaborate set pieces. That being said, it can still be difficult to execute properly because without the gory spectacle to entertain viewers there is a greater importance placed upon the performances and the quality of the script to keep the audience engaged. The smaller the cast and fewer the locations the more important the acting and story become. So, does Flytrap, a film with one primary location and a very small cast have what it takes to provide an hour and a half of quality entertainment? Well, let’s discuss.

The story follows James Pond (Jeremy Crutchley) an English Astronomer who drives cross-country from New York City to California to take a teaching job at UCLA. He has nearly arrived when his car breaks down in the suburbs and with no cell signal to be found he is forced to knock on the nearest door and ask to use the phone. He is graciously welcomed in by the home’s beautiful but strange occupant Mary Ann (Ina-Alice Kopp) but soon finds leaving much more difficult as he becomes ensnared in a sinister plot that could effect the human race itself.

The first thing I want to say is that I think the concept itself is solid and there’s no reason that a great film couldn’t be made using it….but this is not that film. It starts off promisingly enough with an intriguing voice-over and great cinematography but after about five minutes the dialogue begins and the film takes a hard nosedive and never stops plummeting. I’d like to believe that given a better script and direction the actors here could be capable of decent performances but the writing is just so irredeemably poor that it’s honestly hard to tell. What we are left with is awkward, stilted performances that don’t portray anything resembling authentic characters and quickly become a chore to watch.

I do want to point out that I know that the performances are supposed to be somewhat off because Mary Ann and her comrades are in fact aliens disguised as humans. However, even for that, they severely missed the mark and Crutchley’s awkward performance makes him unintentionally come off as the most alien of all. What is clearly intended to come off as charmingly befuddled comes across as cringingly awkward and socially dense. Oh, and don’t worry, the extraterrestrial revelation isn’t a twist that I spoiled, it’s something that’s clumsily introduced very early in the film when Mary Ann blurts out that they’re from….(sigh) Venus. Okay, here’s a free tip for writer/director Stephen David Brooks; if you’re going to pick a home planet for aliens don’t pick one that we already fucking know can’t support life!

However, this may have been one of the film’s many failed attempts to inject comedy into the production, an ill-conceived move that proved to be the biggest detriment to it’s success by far. The attempts at humor are relentless and fall completely flat every time making for an unbearably irritating experience. Most baffling of all is the fact that so many of the “jokes” involve references to Gilligan’s Island (!). Apparently, Brooks thinks this target audience will be primarily made up of fans of bad sitcoms from half a century ago.

I also take issue with this film in any way even associating itself with the term “horror”. This is at best a weird comedy/drama with elements of a thriller that provides absolutely no tension or dread and primarily focuses on a Stockholm Syndrome induced romance between characters you will hate. And truly, this is a real shame because all this terrible, awkward dialogue is delivered in scenes that are surprisingly well lit and competently framed. This adds to the feeling that this was an enormous missed opportunity that could have had a very different outcome if Brooks had ditched the “comedy” and workshopped the script more before shooting.

I think it’s fitting that this film is posted after Romeo’s Distress on my site because they represent opposite ends of the spectrum for how a micro-budget film can turn out. I wasn’t given information on the budget of this one but it couldn’t possibly have been lower than the $2,500 spent on Romeo and that film managed to be fascinating, engrossing and highly watchable. In other words, the complete opposite of this, which can best be described as a really shitty version of Misery…..with aliens.

half-star-red