Showing posts with label The October People. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The October People. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Found. (2012) : An Unsettling Indie Must-See

In some ways, director Scott Schirmer's FOUND feels like a love letter to horror fans, in particular fans that enjoyed the days of perusing the video stores looking for the nastiest VHS cover and judging the movie by that instead of actually reading the synopsis on the back.  I remember those days very well, the short jaunt to the video store, heading straight to the horror section (back when they didn't ask for IDs so anyone could get an R-rated flick) and pulling titles like ZOMBIE and DEEP RED off the shelves. 

But we're not talking simple horror-fan homages here, though there are those within this disturbingly thought-provoking film.  Marty (Gavin Brown) is a horror-obsessed fifth-grader who spends his free time creating graphic novels and watching (crappy) horror films.

He seems like your typical pre-teen, but he's got problems with bullying at school, which leeches into every aspect of his life, causing him to find solace only in the latest B-movie crap-fest.  He does have one friend, David, who is also interested in horror and comics, but who doesn't defend Marty very well when the kids at school pick on him (so in my book is a pretty shitty friend). Lest you think this is a simple tale of grade-school bullying, I'm here to tell you it's so much more than that.

When the film opens, we immediately find that there's more to this film than meets the eye.  Narrated by Marty, he starts by explaining that he recently went into his older brother Steve's (Ethan Philbeck) closet to borrow his bowling ball and much to his surprise, he found a severed human head inside the bowling bag instead of a ball.

Steve is a serial killer.

I'm not giving too much away with this revelation, as like I said we're told straight off that Steve is a bad guy. Marty, after discovering Steve's secret, struggles with keeping it to himself while harboring feelings of confusion and fear. Marty's parents are not fans of his horror-centric obsession, and in particular his mom tries to steer him away from his passion.  But when Marty has a particularly bad day at school, she allows him to stay home the next day and watch movies, and she willingly permits him to choose horror films to watch.  When selecting videos at the store, Marty sees a particularly gruesome cover for a film entitled "Headless".  Dismayed to learn that someone has stolen the video and it is unavailable, he settles on a couple other films.

At home the next day he finds himself sneaking around in Steve's room, searching for more horror films (because Steve has a vast selection of his own, go figure).  Imagine Marty's surprise when he finds a case with a handmade label that reads "Headless".

Later when pal David comes over, the two watch the film, which dare I say is pretty fucked-up (for lack of a better term).  Featuring copious amounts of the red stuff, a depraved plot, and a completely wacko killer, Marty is utterly repulsed by the movie, even having to turn away on several occasions as the killer has a field day removing victims heads and performing perverted antics with them. But even more frightening are the visions of his brother as the killer in the gory film. It's obvious Marty is having more than a little trouble dealing with (and hiding) the fact that his brother is a deranged murderer.

When Steve finds out Marty is being bullied, he demands to know who is responsible, and with much hesitation Marty divulges the delinquent classmate's name.

It's not hard to figure out what happens next, but things take an even darker turn when Steve instructs Marty to fight back when the bully throws his punches and Marty begins to believe he can stand up to those who mercilessly torment him.  Is he starting to look up to his brother as someone who can use violence to gain what he wants? Is that something he could do?

I really don't want to say much more about the plot, I'd prefer it be experienced without any more information. Suffice it to say I enjoyed this movie so much more than the countless other remakes and lifeless films I've seen in the past several years.  It brings something new to the table, all the while slamming you with a stark dose of reality and a macabre vision.
Just knowing there are probably scores of 'Steves' out there somewhere, just waiting for a reason to remove someone's noggin and hide it in a bowling bag is enough to shatter anyone's pleasant view of the real world.

While the first part of the film feels a little like a coming-of-age tale, there's no doubt by about a third of the way through that you are slam-dunk in the middle of a very disturbing horror film.  A downward slide just keeps on getting worse and worse, and any chance Marty had at keeping a normal modicum of decency and an unaffected thought process are long gone. 

This terrific yet unsettling independent film written by Schirmer and Todd Rigney (author of the novel the film was adapted from) was recently picked up by The October People (The Invoking) for distribution, so thankfully everyone should be able to check this one out before too long.  It made the rounds at festivals, racking up honors and earning praise at every turn, so I can't wait for it to be available to the masses.  Believe me when I say you need to check FOUND out, because chances are you may not see a more intriguing film all year. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Invoking (a.k.a. Sader Ridge) ~ Indie Horror Done Right

In horror, there must be a gazillion movies about a group of people heading to a cabin in the woods only to find themselves hunted down by a mass murderer/supernatural being/evil presence.  So what makes a film different enough to make an impression on a seasoned horror fan?

One word: Atmosphere.

For whatever reason,  a film that started out as Sader Ridge ended up with the much more horror-centric, cinema-friendly "The Invoking".  I for one, prefer a title that isn't so obvious, and therefore found the Sader Ridge title more to my liking.  That said, whatever the title may be, it is a film that should be sought out and watched - and one that I was pleased to have the opportunity to see while it is still on the festival circuit.

Written and produced by John Portanova and directed by Jeremy Berg, The Invoking  is an independent film that was made for peanuts but certainly doesn't appear any less impressive. Shot in a matter of days, it is the tale of Sam (Trin Miller), who has inherited a house in the country from an aunt she knows nothing about. She's brought along three friends, Caitlin (Andi Norris), Roman (Josh Truax), and Mark (Brandon Anthony), to explore the property and have a little vacay.  The trio is a relatively typical (or should I say typecast?) group, with Caitlin being the eccentric, fun friend, Roman reeking of jealousy because Caitlin is flirting like crazy with Sam's ex, Mark - who by all accounts is pretty much the asshole of the gang.  Sam herself is quickly established as your average, pretty girl-next-door type who is by far the most down to earth of her friends.

Adopted at age five, Sam has no recollection of her heritage, so when they roll up to the gate to the property nothing seems familiar. Even after meeting the caretaker to the property, Eric (D'Angelo Midili), who claims to have been a playmate of hers when they were little, Sam still can't recall anything.

A few words about Eric. At once peculiar, his quiet demeanor and reclusive nature is unnerving, only adding to the dread that seems to creep up on you throughout this quiet film. He seems to know more than he is telling, and even with prodding by Sam, he is still reluctant to say much.  He makes himself available to the group even when it's more than clear that the two other men aren't too thrilled with him being around.

Almost immediately after arriving, Sam begins to have some distracting and downright disturbing feelings being in the house.  She hears Caitlin saying prayers out loud at night, and witnesses on several occasions arguments and interactions between her friends that don't actually happen. Is she realizing repressed memories? Or is something in the house trying to tell her something?

While checking out the grounds, the four visitors run into the property line adjacent to what is called Sader Ridge and though Mark and Sam aren't too enthused, Caitlin and Roman talk them into crawling over the barb wire fence and checking things out.  As darkness falls, the group somehow gets separated and Mark ends up lost in the woods and Sam's visions take on a life of their own.

With a bare-bones film like this, the less said the better.  What makes The Invoking uniquely different from all the other "cabin in the woods" movies is the fact that we are only given tiny tidbits of information at a time to try to piece together the story.  We want so badly (perhaps because we are so used to this gimmick in most horror films) to have things explained to us that we almost feel frustrated when nothing here is black and white. There is no demon to contend with, no menacing killer outside the door- just a woman struggling to put together the story of her youth and find out what happened to her biological parents, as well as the reason she was given up for adoption at age five.  What she discovers is handed to us soooo slowly that fans of action-horror and gore will likely be disappointed here.  But for those of us who enjoy a slow burn, this is just the type of film that will get inside your head and plant itself there with no intention of leaving.

The cast, in particular Midili, is really effective here. They bicker amongst themselves and appear, for all intents and purposes, like a bunch of old friends who are so close they have basically all slept with each other and formed lasting friendships that are certainly peppered with relationship issues and raw feelings. Midili's Eric is downright creepy at times, but we're never really sure of his intentions until the climax sneaks up on us.

There are eventually some moments of sheer terror that are shocking and unexpected yet deserved. In a film like this there feels like there has to be a reward for waiting for something to happen, and we are compensated nicely here. When a plot isn't completely obvious and holds back on gruesome effects (there is very little gore), it really is so much more focused and effective.

But although the ending doesn't completely tie things up in a nice neat bow, it feels right.  A short running length helps things move along, but again I have to mention we are trucking along at a turtle's pace.
 
But the ominous sense of dread that wraps itself around the entire film more than makes up for any lack of action and gore.  In my book, atmosphere far outweighs blood and guts, and we've got the former in droves.

Keep your eye on this production company, The October People. I have a feeling we'll be seeing more quality work from them in the future. At least I certainly hope so!