Wednesday, April 22, 2015
If Pieces of Talent is any indication, writers David Long and Joe Stauffer must have at least a dozen unsold, completed screenplays laying around between the two of them. The realistic, everyday dialogue and careful attention to character development should be a welcome relief to horror fans. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Pieces of Talent focuses on Charlotte, a down on her luck, struggling actress working as a waitress in a strip club who is also trying to support her alcoholic mother. After he is assaulted and beaten up, Charlotte meets David Long and goes out of her way to make sure he is ok. David says he's a filmmaker who has a great role for her in the perfect project. That role however is not what it seems.
The film is Joe Stauffer's full length directorial debut and is a bit of a slow burn in the vein of Ti West. This is a straight up horror movie and is not hindered or slowed down by typical horror stock characters or any goofy friends thrown in for comic relief. No, Pieces of Talent wants to feel real, it wants to be a story that could happen in the town next to yours. And it succeeds.
The dialogue is written the way people actually talk, which had me hanging on every word. Another strong point of the film is it's character development. We spend a lot of time with Charlotte and her mother and seeing the world that Charlotte lives in. We also get a lot of time seeing Charlotte and David simply having conversations. One scene in a diner leaves the viewer feeling as though they are eavesdropping. That's how rich and authentic these characters feel.
Credit must be given to the actors here as well, David Long and Kristi Ray do phenomenal work in their roles. David Long is never not believable as the aging, optimistic, surfer-dude filmmaker he portrays (also named David Long in the movie), and excels when his perfect "project" comes to light. The guy has creepy and disturbed down to a tee when that side of him is revealed.
The actress Kristi Ray does a superb job as the languishing young actress. She exudes melancholy and vulnerability and hope. She brings to mind the sensibilities of Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha and other roles in the way the world seemed to be happening to her and she can't get a handle on it but desperately wants to and is left just passing the days, hoping for something better. She's that good and I hope to see her more.
The horror of the movie builds as we begin to see what the "project" is that David Long is talking about. The disturbed Long lures young actors to a remote field where he then chases them until he catches and kills them. All of this happens while he is filming and it is the ultimate reality TV. Actual fear and real deaths on camera. One scene in particular stood out to me as Long sat with his bloodied victim, talking to him and laughing not far from a road and only behind a couple trees. A few cars pass and it seems sadly real that none of the drivers would notice a bloodied person not far from the road, or if they did that they wouldn't stop anyway. The horror of all that is that David Long knows this.
I will not go into the role that Charlotte plays in this project to avoid spoiler territory. But I will say that the climax of the film is an inspired piece of obsessive mania.
Pieces of Talent is a fantastic effort from David Long, Joe Stauffer, and everyone involved. It's an independent horror film that breaks the norms: it looks great and displays excellent performances. Catch this one if you can, it is currently making the festival/convention rounds. You'll be glad you did.
Thursday, April 16, 2015
Zombie Killers is the latest from writer/director Harrison Smith and the movie starts off in an already established world where zombies have taken over and people have to fight to survive. The movie focuses on the town of Elwood, a fenced off safe haven seemingly in the middle of the country and far from any city where all the characters live. The location was well chosen for the film as it conveys the sense of people both adjusting to a new way of life (without modern technology or electricity) and the possibility of having to start over as a civilization. Like in his previous effort (Camp Dread), Smith tackles common horror movie tropes with tongue in cheek as one character determines out loud that there's no way the shoddy fences around the community will hold up if a number of zombies pushed up against it.
And that is exactly why the movie worked for me and why I had such a good time watching it: it is a self aware movie where the characters know they are dealing with zombies because they've all seen zombie movies. It's this not overly serious tone that makes the movie fun to watch, these are still real people with real personalities still stuck in the modern world they were once a part of. Watching these characters interact with each other in this new world taken over by zombies is like witnessing a group of friends live gaming Left 4 Dead over their X-Box 360's. The not overly serious tone feels real as the characters seem to still be adjusting and perhaps still in denial.
All of that is not to say the movie doesn't offer a little serious social commentary. The cause of the zombies is said to be a possible side effect of fracking and the community has an inner struggle regarding religion. The outspoken leader of the religious faction (Felissa Rose, channeling the expressionless fervor of Angela from Sleepaway Camp) demands that the group turn to God for protection while shunning those who feel as though God is not there to save them. It raises the debate of God's plan Vs. free will.
Other highlights of Zombie Killers include zombie deer and fish. Animal zombies have always been lacking in the zombie genre and it was cool to finally some in a movie. Some viewers may balk at the obvious and outdated CGI used to create these zombie animals as it looks like something out of a PlayStation 2 video game. However, this is low budget horror and I won't hold that against the filmmakers. I'll save that for $50 million dollar Hollywood productions that still look like crap. You either get the zombie animals in this one or you don't, and given the films resources, I credit Smith for including them.
Billy Zane and Gabrielle Stone are standouts amongst the cast. Zane is perfect at pulling of the cocky/charming leader of the Zombie Killers and Stone comes off as very genuine as the love interest of the films unlikely hero played by Michael Keane. Stone also has fantastic facial expressions later on during the movies climax.
What didn't work for me was the casting of Michael Keane in the main role. I felt as though he was miscast. His character has a dying mother (the fantastic Dee Wallace) and questions a lot of what is going on in Elwood and his inner struggle didn't seem to come through in any way other than his dialogue. He also can't quite overcome his distractingly boyish looks when assuming the position of leader of the group. His looks aren't his fault and I'm sure they'll work well in other roles, but here in Zombie Killers they seem first and foremost before ability.
Overall I had a great time watching Zombie Killers and would say if your looking for a fun zombie movie that throws some different ideas into the very crowded genre then definitely give it a watch.