Friday, July 22, 2011

Paranoia (Mitchelle 2011)

(NOTE - As a general rule, I don't watch the special features on a DVD prior to a review, and in the interest of producing a review in a timely fashion, I decided to stick to that rule here.)

I have to be honest: when I first saw the trailer for Ryan Mitchelle and Brad Jones’ 2011 DTV film Paranoia, I was a little concerned. From a technical standpoint, the film appeared to be rather impressive for a no-budget, shot on video production, and it appeared to hold the promise of an atmosphere reminiscent of a 1980s indie thriller. However, what little of the narrative was shown in the trailer seemed rather familiar. More importantly, from what was shown, it seemed to indicated the film may have a twist ending. Given this, plotting would be crucial for such an ending to work, and while Jones is a talented screenwriter with a gift for dialogue and character, the plotting of his films has occasionally gotten the best of him.

Thankfully, most of that worrying was for not, as Paranoia is a solid film which promises even greater things from the pairing of Mitchelle and Jones. While not perfect, nor quite the existential thriller that Mitchelle or Jones likely intended, Paranoia is a strong effort that manages to make the most of its limited resources, capturing the mood and of a seemingly unending bad night and the feeling of isolation that comes with it, even if the narrative does not entirely come together as it could have.
As Paranoia begins, Mark Bishop (Jones) is in the midst of coping with a divorce when an intruder enters his home. The encounter between the two ends with the intruder’s death. Unable to contact the police, feeling more than a little paranoid about how the event could be interpreted, and believing that the intruder may be the serial killer that has been attacking local residents, Bishop decides to dispose of the body himself, beginning a night of hell that will include multiple deaths and strange events Bishop cannot explain. Is he merely suffering from paranoia, or is there something else going on?

As I noted, Paranoia is not quite a thriller, and is better described as a horrific character study that flirts with black comedy from time to time. Anchored by yet another fine performance from Jones, the film is at its strongest during the second act, as Bishop travels about town as he attempts to get a grip on his situation. Episodic in nature, these sections of the film allow Jones to flex his acting chops as Bishop gradually falls apart given his insane situation, giving the film a flavour of Martin Scorsese’s 1985 dark comedy After Hours (though the films are entirely different in terms of tone and the levels of madness their respective protagonists must deal with). A particular highlight from this section of the film is a stop over at a restaurant where Bishop has an encounter with a waitress played by Jillian Zurawski. The scene ranges from dramatic to horrific to comic, and gives Zurawski a chance to show how far she has come as an actress from her early performances in Jones prior films and videos.

The film is less successful though when it attempts to address the questions of Bishop’s mental state and the reality of his situation. As expected, the answers to these questions come in the form of a twist, and I admit that I did not guess what the twist is. However, without getting into spoilers, the reason I did not guess the ending of the film is because it really is not possible to do so with the information provided prior to the big reveal. The ending does makes sense, and I understand what Jones and Mitchelle were attempting thematically, but within the context of the overall film, the answers are too literal, and the lack of set up early in the film allows the reveal scene to fall into the trap of being exposition heavy. It doesn’t negate the joys of the film, but the revelation is not the punch in the gut one would hope for.

As an overall production, Mitchelle fully delivers in his duties as director, cinematographer, and editor. While still hampered by a non-existent budget and working with some non-professional actors, he keeps the film focused, effectively developing the tone of the film and ensuring the performances from the less experienced cast are consistent. While still clearly shot on digital video, Mitchelle does manage to achieve a number of shots that have a film like feel, and his editing is solid, though he does tend to use the fade to black option a few too many times.

The hero of the film though is Michael “Skitch” Schiciano, whose musical score captures the feeling of a low key 1980s thriller without sounding like an imitation. Appropriately minimalist and meditative, the score manages to support the film throughout and never feels out of place when used. With any luck, Schiciano will return to participate in future endeavours from Mitchelle and Jones.
For fans of Jones and crew, Paranoia is a must see, one of the stronger shot on video efforts out in the market, and with any luck the film will not be their only effort in the DTV market. The film can be purchased directly from the filmmakers as a region free DVD, though the disc is in the NTSC format, so those using PAL should take note.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Return of the Evil Dead?

So, it seems we are getting another Evil Dead film, roughly twenty years after Bruce Campbell as Ash last battled the deadites. So its time to pull out the boomsticks, gas up the chainsaws, and start to celebrate, right?

Well, I wouldn’t be so fast, because from has been said, we are not getting a fourth entry in the Evil Dead series, but a full on remake, to be independently produced by Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and Bruce Campbell. The film is to be directed by Fede Alvarez, and will be, in Campbell’s words, “[s]cary as hell.” The production will apparently based in Michigan, and will begin soon.

Now, allow me to be clear: I wish Fede Alvarez all the luck in the world. If Raimi, Tapert and Campbell believe in this man, I see no reason at this time not too trust them. But I honestly feel like I need to ask this question:

Does anybody honestly want this film?

When I ask that question, I don’t mean “does anyone want Evil Dead 4?” There are plenty of people who want to see that film, enough people that Raimi, Campbell and Tarpert are pestered with questions about it every time they are interviewed. But when that question is asked, I think it is more than fair to say that the person asking the question wants to know if-and-when Raimi is going to direct another entry in the series that stars Bruce Campbell as Ash Williams, the bumbling idiot for a hero whose ongoing torture at the hands of the deadites has resulted in terror and laughter for over three films, several videogames, and numerous comics. I doubt that when the question has been asked of them, the interviewer has wanted to know if a remake was in the works that did not feature Campbell or Raimi in the key creative roles they have filled in the prior films.

The importance of the Raimi/Campbell partnership cannot be over estimated here, because when looking at the original Evil Dead, one thing that is clear is that the narrative of the film is not particularly compelling. The story, in which a group of college kids go out into the woods, inadvertently release demonic forces that proceed to possess and/or kill them one by one is a riff on the Night of the Living Dead, a film that has been drawn from time and again. More importantly, The Evil Dead is not a particularly well written riff either, with many paper thin characters delivering some questionable dialogue. This latter point is not helped by the questionable acting skills on the part of some cast members.

Yet the film works, and is a classic of the genre. Its success is primarily the result of the energetic direction of Raimi, who brings a sense of style and dread to the situation that a lesser director would never have captured, and from presence of star Campbell as Ash. While his performance is somewhat rough, Campbell manages to perfectly capture in the film just how much of an average guy Ash is, and more importantly, how much of a hero the character is not. While hardly the blowhard jackass of the films that would follow, Ash in the original film survives not because he is a hero, or smarter than any of the other characters, but through sheer dumb luck of being the most fun character to screw around with. It is Raimi's increasingly Loony Toons approach to torturing this character time and again that engaged audiences over three films, as he places Ash into increasingly horrific siutations, while at the same time encouraging audiences to feel less and less sympathy for the character.

So, without those two key elements, then what will make this impending Evil Dead remake a film of interest? There is no question that as a remake, it will have audiences curious to see it, but it is an audience whose reasons stem from their history with the prior films, who will come in with high expectations. Meeting those expectations will be uphill battle given the absence of the two people who made The Evil Dead, well, The Evil Dead. For some, this will be the breaking point for their acceptance of the film, regardless of whether or not the film turns out to be any good.

What makes the choice of the remake all the more baffling is that the people pushing this remake through are the very people behind the original film. This is not a remake we blame a greedy studio for, as the project appears to be the result of the cumulative efforts of Raimi, Campbell and Tapert This begs a simple question: just what does the trio hope to accomplish with this film? When George A. Romero wrote and produced a remake of The Night of the Living Dead in 1990, the reason was simple, if a little crass: to make back the money lost over the years due the copyright misunderstanding that put the original film in the public domain upon its original release. Raimi, Tapert and Campbell all appear to have maintained control over the rights to the series, though that does not rule out the financial motive altogether. Still, were that the case, selling off the rights to the studios who have been more than happy to remake everything under the sun would likely have been an easier way to make a buck rather than going the independent road.

Another hypothetical reason for the remake could be that with the trio being busy with other projects over the past decade, and/or they have all decided to move past Ash and the deadites, with hopes of ending the endless questions over further adventures of Ash through remaking the original film. Were this to be the case, it is a strategy that has ample amount of room to backfire, and worse, potentially tarnish the legacy of the original trilogy in the process. Again, a much simpler option would be to flat out tell fans that there will never be another Evil Dead film, because if the trio are tired of being asked about the series now, it will be nothing compared to wrathful complaints should the remake be rejected and hated.

As it stands, the remake seems to becoming regardless of whether or not anyone wants it. I hope for their own sakes, Raimi, Tapert and Campbell know what they are doing. More importantly, I hope Fede Alvarez knows what he is getting himself into. While Raimi and company might tarnish their past successes, a film that is anything less than great could kill Alvarez’s career before it even gets a chance to get going. Because if the film were to disappoint, even just slightly, he will likely be stuck with the unofficial title of being that guy who ruined the Evil Dead films, whether it is fair or not.

So good luck to the filmmakers of The New Evil Dead. You will need it.