The Direct to Video Connoisseur
I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
A little while back director Jason Horton sent me a screener for his new film Monsters in the Woods, and after I reviewed that, he asked me if I'd take a look at the one he did before it called Trap. I had to get it on Amazon VOD, because, as I found out later from his blog My Life as a Low Budget Moviemaker (link is to his posts on Trap), the distributor he thought he had going in backed out. It's a very interesting backstory, and worth checking out if you get a chance.
Trap is about two men, hired by a mysterious employer to keep an eye on a girl that's been kidnapped and held for ransom. It's an already tense situation that's only made more so by the decision of one them to go on a fast, which is making him very crabby. As days go by, and no ransom money is forthcoming, it's looking increasingly like they may have to off the girl, which is an issue for the other guy, because he's falling in love with her. When she devises a plan to get the money from her dad, it's a last desperate attempt to salvage something from what looks like a lost cause. But, can they trust her?
This one worked better for me than Monsters in the Woods. Though it was running in place for a 20 minute chunk near the middle, an area where things were a little too repetitive, it recovers and hits its stride, finishing really well (I did have a major issue with the end though, and I'll discuss that in the second to last paragraph to avoid spoiling it for anyone). It had a lot of really great elements that you'd want from a suspenseful Noir-ish flick: a great main character, solid and believable plot twists, and a lead female that's equal parts sexy, damsel in distress, and manipulative. This is the kind of film that's easy to overdo, and I've seen enough that make that mistake, so it's refreshing to watch one that doesn't add too much, and still manages to be complicated and nuanced.
I have to thank Jason for having me check this one out, especially since Monsters in the Woods didn't work for me, and he could've easily taken that personally and written me off. Had that happened, I probably wouldn't have seen Trap, which would've been too bad. The one thing I can say about both this and Monsters is that they both feel genuine. These aren't vanity projects, nothing's done haphazardly or seemingly as an afterthought, and that comes through. I've seen so many low budget flicks that are either a film maker just doing it for fun, or a distribution house just pumping out the cheapest, fastest whatever that can turn the biggest profit, and that kind of attitude permeates everything, from the acting to the crew, and effects the overall quality. I like seeing something like this, especially with a small cast and only a few locations, where they may have to make sacrifices due to budgetary constraints, but they make up for them by doing the best job they can, and taking what they do seriously.
In the Monsters review I mentioned Ashton Blanchard as one of the standouts for me, even though she only a had a small part. She had a much bigger part here, and was even better with it. One could make the argument that she spent most of the film bound and gagged, so it's not like she did a lot of acting in those scenes, but I think that meant she had to make that much more out of the scenes where she wasn't, and she did that. Towards the end when she wasn't tied up, she manages to be coquettish and seductive, despite her hair being a mess, and having red marks on her face from the gag that make her look like she had trouble drinking Kool-Aid. Her performance was the lynch pin on which the film was held, and while it was the direction and cinematography that made that work in the early going when we just had shots of her tied up on the bed, later, when she needed to take over, she did it in a way that picked up perfectly from what had been built earlier.
That's not to take away anything from the other performances in the film, because they were solid too. Alan Perada played what was ultimately the main character. What I didn't like about his character was that early on, the story focused more on his partner, and things would've felt more consistent if they'd focused more on him. Once his character transitions near the 45-minute mark, it worked better for me, though he was able to make both ends of his character come off, the mysterious, perhaps sinister silent type, and then the concerned, love-struck, caring criminal. Alonzo F. Jones plays Perada's partner in crime, and while his character is kind of inconsistent too, it makes more sense with who he's supposed to be. And like Perada, he's good at playing both ends of the spectrum, and the transitions are believable. Finally, in the Monsters review I also praised Annemarie Pazmino for her small part as the make-up artist, and while she only has a small part in this too, it was good again. She just has a real natural quality to her acting, that I even noticed in a joke behind the scenes video of Trap that Jason posted on his blog.
Bondage and kidnapping fantasies have been in the news recently, with the story of a Portland, OR couple that were arrested and charged with disturbing the peace after their Valentine's Day role playing crossed paths with some concerned citizens that were afraid the girl, whom they saw bound and gagged and naked in the back seat of the couple's car, might be the victim of a potential serial killer or something. It brings up an intriguing duality in this kind of thing that I think Jason plays with really well in Trap. On the one hand, there is a kinky element, a sexiness to bondage that the film isn't afraid to cultivate; but on the other, there's also a disturbing violence against women aspect that's obviously a part of a scenario like the one in Trap, when things aren't consensual, and the movie never let's us forget that either-- not to mention a statutory rape angle to the sexuality that I found jarring. That's something a movie like this should do, muddy the waters, make us go through a range of emotions and not let us get too comfortable.
Before I get into my issue with the ending, I want to bring up an issue I had with the costumes or outfits, at least for this one scene. We have this woman in a short sun dress and flip-flops, running around with a sawed-off shotgun as if she's done this kind of thing before, even though a woman that's done this kind of thing before would've worn something more appropriate. It looked so out of place, it had the feel of a low budget flick that can't afford a costume designer, and just has people show up in whatever and shoots the scene anyway. In the credits I saw that they did have a costume designer though, a woman named Maxi Priest (not the singer), so who knows. It was one of the few areas where the movie betrayed itself though.
SPOILER ALERT!!! SPOILER ALERT!!!
I wanted to discuss an aspect of the ending, but wanted to make sure that people who wanted to see the film would have sufficient warning to avoid this paragraph so it wouldn't ruin things for them. Consider yourself warned, read on at your own risk. My issue was that Ashton's character is killed by Jones near the end. Part of it felt mean spirited, but mostly it was the fact that we'd spent the whole film watching this girl tied up, gagged, blindfolded, forced to eat bad food, hit by Jones, then finally seducing Perada in an attempt to escape alive. She goes through all of this, and we watch her go through all of this, only to get killed off? It felt like my investment wasn't paid back, if that makes sense. I get the idea of plot twists and trying to surprise the viewer, but like the time the Maine state revenue service sent me an $8000 bill in back taxes for two years I lived in New Hampshire, not all surprises are good ones.
END SPOILER ALERT!!!! END SPOILER ALERT!!!!
This is available on VOD, digital download, and DVD through Amazon. I'm glad I had the chance to watch it, and I think it's worth checking out. If you're into Noir-ish flicks, especially ones made on a smaller scale with fewer characters and fewer sets, driven by the right mix of tension, sexuality, and violence, you'll enjoy it. Thanks again to Jason Horton for sending me the screener to Monsters in the Woods, and having me check this one out too.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1494828/