There's not much more embarrassing than working your way through the backlog of DVDs and Blu-rays that have built up on your desk only to discover a small stack of long ignored, sadly forgotten DVD submissions from indie filmmakers.
Trust me, it happens. I try to avoid it, but once you become known for reviewing indie films there's no denying that you get absolutely slammed with submissions and the demand can be merciless.
Serena & The Ratts is one of those films that somehow slipped through the cracks, a film that arrived at a particularly busy time and somehow never rose to the surface of my DVD pile.
So, several months after the film's DVD release by indie distributor Indican Pictures, I found myself sitting down to watch the film and to read through the packaging served up by the ambitious writer/director/cinematographer and editor for the film, first-time feature director Kevin James Barry.
It's rare to find truly quality promotional material for indie films. Heck, I find it almost miraculous when filmmakers simply follow the published guidelines. It's downright exciting when a film shows up with actual promotional materials including photos, credits, descriptive materials and more. While I might've recommended a copy editor being added to the team, it was still a remarkably impressive effort and helped to sell the film.
Of course, all of this is irrelevant if the film itself doesn't work.
Fortunately, Serena & The Ratts lives up to all of Barry's efforts and it makes me even sadder that I dropped the ball in terms of my own ability to help make the public more aware of the film.
Influenced by femme fatales from Luc Besson and reminiscent of David Lynch's interpretive films, Kevin James Barry's self-described "arthouse meets action" film does, as it says it's going to do, expose the gritty consequences of life's choices while challenging audiences to decide what's real, what's a dream, what's a life never life and, I might add, what's truly worth saving.
To pull all of this off, Barry has assembled quite the cast and crew including up-and-comer Evalena Marie as Serena, a young girl trained for hire who teams up with an underground renegade group when she is contracted to stop a hired gun from assassinating a high profile target. Marie, whom you might recognize from her appearances in Scorsese's Shutter Island or the Bruce Willis film Surrogates, is perfectly cast as the conflicted femme fatale, a young woman trying to figure out who she can trust in a world where trust can be a deadly thing. She needs to give the film its spark and she's definitely up to the challenge.
Serena and the Ratts picked up the prize for Best Action Feature at the Bare Bones International Film Festival in 2012 and spent quite a while on the indie fest circuit before being released on DVD in late 2014. The film's DVD includes a wealth of extras including a filmmaker's commentary, the "Among Them" trailer, a behind-the-scenes gallery, a featurette, an outtakes reel, and a chase scene video storyboard.
In addition to Marie's centering performance, Serena & The Ratts benefits from Barry's own creative and inspired lensing joined by that of David Kruta, stellar customing by Maya Luz, musical support by the likes of Lenny Lashley, Joey Briggs, Sean Hathaway and others, and a top notch ensemble cast that includes the likes of Jonathan Thomson and Dave Neal.
There are times in Serena & The Ratts when the film's modest budget is evident, a fact that shouldn't be particularly surprising and surely isn't particularly distracting. There are also a few moments where I found myself wishing that Barry had tightened the editing just a tad more and paid just a little bit more attention to detail (including the promotional materials that served up several typos - it's a shame to spend all that money on color flyers/info only to have it sabotaged by distracting typos/errors).
Minor quibbles aside, Serena & The Ratts is a solid debut from Kevin James Barry and his cast and crew all of whom should be finding their way into Hollywood based upon their work here. With intelligence and intrigue, Barry has crafted a memorable and original film that stays with you long after you've stopped watching it.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic