Indie filmmaker Jason Hoover and JABB Pictures are on their fourth volume of “the Collective.” Each volume contains ten 10 minute short films, each created by a different team. This anthology deals with the themes of emotion. (Volume three, a collection of shorts directed by women, revolved around the theme “Ten Minutes To Live”; Volume Two was themed around a box, and Volume One explored “the Meat Eater.”)
If Indiana has a reputation at all in the independent film scene, it is for its endless crop of ultra low-grade horror corn. Being an Indiana-based project, The Collective, predictably, caters to that independent horror scene, which limits it. That aside, the selection of films, although naturally uneven, is steadily improving. The first volume was, for the most part, a weak start. Volume Two was a slight improvement, but the ongoing series started picking up steam with volumes Three and Four. At at least there are no zombies this time out (the genre’s tell-tale sign of creative bankruptcy).
Volume Four features two films with exceptional acting, one of which is refreshingly surprising. Kitsie Duncan was the star of the 2010 indie feature Lethal Obsession where essentially, she played the walking, talking doll that we have seen a thousand times in unimaginative films. I do not know if Duncan has taken acting lessons, privately studied better examples of film acting, or has simply become more introspective, but her performance in Bryan Wolford’s “Myctophobia” is a vast improvement over her previous work. Duncan plays Kelly, a woman who has an almost crippling FEAR of the dark. This has made her sensitive to how her handicap may affect her marriage and suburban life. In the space of a few, brief moments, Duncan impressively balances expressed aspirations, self-doubt, fear of marital and societal expectations, and fragility. Unfortunately, her accomplished acting has a mundane script to overcome. The beginning promise, with Kelly conveying her crippling phobia to a psychologist (Steve Christopher), soon flounders. We immediately see it coming because we have seen Michael Caine in De Palma’s Dressed To Kill (1980), along with countless other films. Soon, Duncan’s Kelly is yet another victim being pursued. One somewhat endearing oddity is Wolford’s decision to use the assigned emotion in a positive light, although the effects conveying Kelly’s fear are kitschy. The camera work and lighting compliments Duncan’s earthy, mature performance. In the opening and closing segments, hiding within the skin of her coat, Duncan sheds all plasticity to reveal an awkwardly vulnerable, real person .This makes her far more interesting and memorable. However, it is genre expectations which ultimately collapse the creative promise here. By catering to tiresome horror formulas, “Myctophobia” lets down the actress who alone saves it. One can only hope Duncan will continue to evolve in her craft and find vehicles worthy of her promising dramatic depth.
David Ross’ “Flash of Wire” explores the emotion of SCHADENFREUDE (pleasure in the suffering of others). Filmed largely in Greece, it is beautifully shot in black and white and evokes a Tarkovskian milieu. In this short, we find another patient, Ted (Tom Sparx) in the hands of another malevolent doctor, Dr. Thenatopolis (Dennis Forkel). Although both actors are very good here, and interact well, it is Forkel who walks away with the film. His portrayal is so slimy that one feels compelled to shower off the residue. And it is not that Ross’ film is overtly grotesque. The discomfort comes from Forkel’s acting, which easily could have been a caricature. Instead, Forkle’s twitchy performance is as a sliver of a wire, imprinting itself upon you. He acts with his eyes, his gliding hands, and his creepily condescending voice. This is classic character acting. Fortunately, unlike Duncan, Forkel’s stand-out performance is contained in a worthwhile film. Where Wolford was hindered by the genre, Ross rises to the challenge by playing with the rules like taffy. His film is a dreamed, science-fiction styled inversion of the Greek characters Theseus, Ariadne, Thanatos and Dionysus. This is Ross’ second film, his first being “Fertility 2.0″ from the second Collective volume. And like that earlier Ross entry, Flash of Wire penetrates. The combination of Ross and Forkel is a rich discovery.
Because one filmmaker bowed out, Jason Hoover would up directing two films for Volume 4. Oddly, he makes one the weakest films of the lot, and one of the strongest. While his “Frankie” clearly succeeds in its effort to be disturbing, it is merely redundant torture horror. The emotion of this short is GRIEF. “Frankie” is a well-photographed, almost non-narrative revenge yarn with a husband (Justin Forbes) and wife (Justine Dalcantone) being tormented and beaten for ten minutes by two men (Jason Hoover and Mitchell Thomas). The reason for the abduction and torture is revenge against the husband, and the assigned emotion will, indeed, come to light. The four actors are certainly convincing in their respective roles, but for all this visceral emoting, “Frankie” feels pointless and one never connects with the principals.
This makes Hoover’s “101 Taylor Street” all the more surprising. This mockumentary was filmed without actors, without real locations, without a budget and at the last minute. Normally, that would be a recipe for disaster; however, here it clearly forced Hoover to rise to the challenge and make this film, about DENIAL, completely reliant on creative internal resources. So much the better. Dennis Lamka’s pitch-perfect narration draws the viewer in as he tells the urban myth of a murderess on “101 Taylor Street.” It is totally captivating in its compactness and so, the less said, the better.
Those who are convinced of that old saying “sex is like pizza. Even when it’s bad, it’s good” have yet to see “Epidemic”. This is the story of man, bad pizza, and misplaced TRUST (assigned emotion flash card here). Written and directed by Dustin Mills, “Epidemic” stars Brandon Salkil as our hero who eats from the wrong box, which contains A VIRUS. But, help is on the way, or so say the local authorities. Unfortunately, the white-suited government guys are a tad slow and, in the meantime, poor Brandon is literally falling apart. We have seen it before (too many times) so we know the finale, which makes it feel imitative, albeit with cheesy, gruesome effects. But, it’s saving grace lies in the tongue firmly-in-cheek approach.
James Mannan covers familiar territory (for him) in the emotion of LUST and the theme of ghost hunting. Since I made an excruciatingly minuscule contribution to “Death Do Us Part,” I will not extensively “review” it per say, but I will objectively say that Phillip Henry Christopher supplies an aesthetically rich score, complimented by the lush cinematography of Scott Allen and Robbin Panet. Jade Coley does good work in the role of a sensual ghost hunter. The film has strong texture and design work, especially in the period setting. It is, surprisingly and commendably, subdued. However, narratively, it is a probably a middle of the road entry here.
Jim Dougherty is another veteran indie filmmaker and he explores the emotion of REGRET in “Contrition.” It is a narrative of Lycanthropia and DNA starring Phyllis Munro. Although, photographed and edited by indie pros, it has a ho-hum plot and a larger cast than most of the entries here, resulting in variable acting.
“Luke 1:17” covers the emotion of HATE. 14-year old (!) filmmaker Dakota Meyer, who has been a staple in the Collective series, does not so much weave an orthodox narrative as he does an in-depth character study of troubled youth (Ben Peck and David Ponton) who are, alternately self-destructive and seeking something. The acting is gritty and urban in this challenging entry and Meyer is an impassioned young filmmaker who shows promise.
Much fun is to be had in what amounts to a twenty minute drive-in grind house double feature about ninja hookers (not really ninjas, but pretty close). The first half, “Happy Hooker, Bang Bang!” comes from David Paul Bonnell. Sara/Envy (Sidney Shripka) is an unemployed bookish girl with a gold-hearted hooker, Kate/Desire (Kristine Renee Farley), for a roommate. Trying to make ends meet, Sara, who has ENVY for her roommate, decides to emulate Kate and take up the oldest profession in the world. This leads to unsavory clients and our dynamic duo teaming up to kick street thug ass. Bonnell has a good feel for the material and his enthusiasm is contagious, especially when playing with cheesy 70′s FX near the end. But, it is the second installment, directed by Jakob “I Never Met A Genre I Didn’t Like” Bilinski, that takes off skidding from the parking lot.
“Bloody Hooker Bang Bang: A Love Story” is a hyper-kinetic valentine to drive-in cinema with Bilinkski’s trademark editing superbly fleshing out the RAGE of mama Cindy Maples. Mama is hell-bent on revenge for the death of her boy, killed by our Hook Squad heroines. Throw in a pimp daddy named Silky (played to the cliched hilt by Kevin Roach) and we easily have the funnest film of the entire volume. Chock-full of in-the-know dialogue, Bilinski ferociously milks the blackened humor and, by the halfway mark, he is well past throwing in the kitchen sink. Bilinksi promises a later director’s cut and I’ll save more for that later, since Bilinski is a director whose films have been covered here at 366 Weird Movies.
More information about The Collective can be found at Jabb Pictures.