DIRECTED BY: Tim Rutili
FEATURING: Angela Bettis, members of the indie-rock band Califone
PLOT: A fortune teller carries out her psychic reading business in a country house inhabited
by a slew of ghosts. The spirits do not haunt her, but keep her company; they’re one big family. When the ghosts see a mysterious light outside, they feel they are being beckoned and rebel against the fortune teller, thinking she has trapped them against their will.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although it is a bit quirky and takes a unique spin on the age-old haunted house tales, it is simply not that weird. It is an unlikely little gem that unfortunately few will probably see.
COMMENTS: All My Friends Are Funeral Singers (great title, by the way) is the directorial debut by Tim Rutili, the front-man for the underrated indie-rock outfit Califone. Being familiar with the band and a fan of their music, this movie sparked my interest. I was pleasantly surprised to find a good film with an actual story and good acting, not just an extended music video piece displaying the band’s musical talents. Viewers who are unacquainted by the music of Califone should appreciate this film for what it is… a decidedly different independent movie with a supernatural approach. This is certainly not your typical horror film. If anything, it is a hodgepodge of drama, comedy, and a pinch of suspense, all intermingled with the worldly twang of Califone’s score.
The character Zel is nicely played by Angela Bettis, whom some may recognize from another independent horror film: May. Zel lives in an old isolated country house and makes her living providing fortunes and psychic readings. What her customers are unaware of is that she is assisted by the actual spirits that live in the house with her. The ghosts are not frightening or menacing, just regular looking people all wearing pristine white suits or dresses and having normal conversations. They sit around playing Trivial Pursuit, theorize about the connections between the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations, talk about sex, or play music (sometimes too loudly for Zel’s liking). Most fascinating are the snippets of documentary-style interviews with many of the ghosts discussing how they bit the dust. A ghostly bride exclaims “I hung myself with my ‘something blue.'” Another prominent spiritual entity is a young mute girl who wanders around the house looking permanently sad with heavy eyelids. Zel never displays fear around her companions, mainly annoyance that they are always there robbing her of privacy. Only at night, when she goes to bed, does she finds peace. She keeps the ghosts from crossing the threshold of her bedroom by laying a line of salt across the doorway. Apparently, ghosts have an aversion to sodium.
As for Zel’s customers, we meet two that frequent her often. One is a balding fellow with a penchant for gambling. Zel makes the decision to offer up the day’s winning horses at the racetrack (the mute little girl actually writes the horses names on a piece of paper and gives them to Zel). After the man hits it big at the track, he realizes that Zel must be the real deal and wants her as a business partner. He eventually makes a play for her affections by flashing his newly acquired gold-capped teeth and asking her if she would like to “share a bucket of chicken.” Another frequent visitor to the house is an eccentric older lady who uses Zel to channel her deceased husband, Frank. These “channeling” exchanges between the woman and her dead husband are very humorous, as Frank’s gruff New York accent comes out of a lip-synching Zel as he screams to his living wife that she is not raising the kids properly.
The last section of the film focuses on a mysterious light that shines in through the windows at 3:00am each morning. The spirits view this as a beckoning light from beyond, and they become infuriated with Zel for holding them captives in the house. We get a backstory at this point, with some twists and surprises thrown in as well. I won’t give any of the secrets away in hopes that readers will want to discover this movie for themselves. It is one of the better low-budget independent films I’ve seen in many months. Tim Rutili has put together a great directorial effort and his band Califone provide an excellent and eerily effective musical score. The band recently toured in support of the film by playing the score live as the film played out behind them on stage. That would be a very cool experience indeed.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“After watching the film from the comfort of my home — sans live performance by Califone — I’m a little disappointed to find that All My Friends Are Funeral Singers doesn’t quite live up to memories of my initial encounter with the film… [but] I can’t help but remain sure that the film is something worth checking out.”–Robert Saucedo, The Carrying on of a Wayward Son (DVD)