Before I get into the review I feel I should give a little bit of a preface. I am a lifelong wrestling fan. What does this have to do with a low-budget horror film? Well, I have always tried to maintain an online presence in the wrestling community, and a few years back this led me to a column on the sports humor blog With Leather. The column itself was The Best & Worst of RAW written by Brandon Stroud. Unlike most wrestling columns on the internet, Brandon’s column wasn’t afraid to mince words and form a strong and coherent opinion on the world of pro graps. I became a big fan of the site and his work and continually read his columns over the years. A while back he announced that he had written a horror movie and that they had secured the services of Dustin ‘Goldust’ Runnels in a crucial role. As a fan of his work and obviously a horror fan, my interest was piqued. On the recent WrestleMania weekend in New Orleans a World Premiere of the film was held, and the response was very favorable, making me want to see the film even more. Luckily for me and for The Deadhouse I was given the opportunity to get my hands on the first Festival cut of the film from the makers of the film themselves.
The film begins with an incredibly eerie opening scene that sets the stage for the rest of the film. At first glance it doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the film but of course this is simply part of the emotional rollercoaster the film is about to take us on.
The main plot of the film revolves around Ada (Lisa Friedrich) and her troubled relationship with her boyfriend Calvin (Michael Foulk). After seeing a counsellor it is decided that they should head back to Ada’s hometown in Oklahoma to try and piece together fragments from her childhood and how they are affecting her now. Nothing seems to go right for them along the way, including stopping at a local store where Calvin gets a gun pulled on him for wearing a Cleveland hat (which is clearly a reference to Mr. Stroud who lived in Cleveland and has a love of the Indians). They end up spending a night at Ada’s aunt’s house. Her Aunt Lindsay is played perfectly creepy by Jill Thompson and as soon as she comes on screen you get a sense of discomfort, which is only meant as a compliment.
Soon after we get our first taste of Preacher Woodward and his daughter Marlow (Megan Simon). In an absolutely stunning turn the Preacher is played by Dustin Runnels. I have always been a fan of Runnels and his work in the sports entertainment world, but I had no idea how wonderful an actor he truly is. Right from his first appearance on screen you immediately get the vibe that there is more than meets the eye with him, and he runs with it full steam ahead. I know that this is an indie film but I truly hope that people see this film.
If only WWE would take the time to promote films that their talent star in that are actually good instead of The Marine 83 with El Torito.
Once we’ve had our first meeting with the Woodwards, things pick up and the weirdness doesn’t slow down at all. I don’t want to give too much away, but every time you think you finally figure out the film takes it in another direction. This is definitely one of those films where you can’t really miss anything, something else that seems like a lost art in the world of horror films today.
From the very beginning of the film you know you are watching a small film that didn’t have a lot of budget, but director Lex Lybrand and his crew use this to their advantage making the film much more intimate. This only helps the eeriness of the film and helps the viewer’s attachment to both Ada and Calvin and their troubles. The dream sequences while done in the standard black-and-white, are also done rather well. I have noticed in the past that most films will try and interject these dream scenes, but with this film they don’t interrupt the flow of the film and actually help things move forward while taking place in the past.
The films music is also helpful in their building of the atmosphere. In certain scenes there are also hymns played that don’t help you feel comfortable at all. I honestly cannot think of a film I’ve watched in recent memory that gave me this horrible sense of foreboding throughout the entire film. There are films that have certain scenes that can get to you, but a whole film that keeps that sense throughout its running time is a rare and phenomenal beast.
I should comment on the acting of both Friedrich and Foulk. When the film first began I wasn’t entirely sold on them, and even cracked a joke that Foulk seemed like the poor man’s AJ Bowen who I am a huge fan of. But by the time things go crazy it is quite clear they have made the roles their own, and are completely and utterly convincing in how they react to things, as strange as they may be. Outside of Ada and Calvin the only characters we spend any reasonable amount of time with are Preacher Woodward, who I have already stated is played incredibly by Dustin Runnels in a role that should easily result in him getting many more acting jobs, and Aunt Lindsay once again played creepily perfect by Jill Thompson.
I strongly urge any fan of horror or even psychological thrillers to get your hands on this film when you can. As of right now the film is doing the festival circuit but if you follow Brandon Stroud or Lex Lybrand on Twitter you can keep up with the developments. I should note that the version of the film I am reviewing is the original festival cut and there are still some changes to be made but if I could give any advice to the filmmakers it would be not to mess with what works.
If you want to (and I strongly recommend you do) you can follow Lex Lybrand on his Twitter account here as well as Brandon Stroud here. And of course keep an eye on the film’s Official Site for further updates.