William Brand Rackley, Kevin Costello, Cole Selix
Mark Potts, Cole Selix, Kevin Costello
In Hollywood, the early months of the year are widely viewed as a cinematic wasteland. We critics absolutely HATE this time of year, because it's filled with films that never should have received a green light.
In the world of independent cinema, however, there is no such "off season." While holiday seemingly brings their celluloid mistakes to the forefront of your multiplex this time of year, independent filmmakers around the world continue to toil away hoping for that one break that could get their film seen by a wider audience.
Having already viewed enough crap to fill a Razzie ballot this year, it's with a certain glee that I find myself reviewing low-budget indies with such heart, style and creativity that, on what is often less than 1% of the budget of a wide-release film, these films far surpass most Hollywood releases this time of year.
"The Stanton Family Grave Robbery" is such a film.
Directed by Mark Potts, "The Stanton Family Grave Robbery" is the story of three young men who take matters into their own hands when their self-serving, step-mother from hell (Lisa Selix) decides to bury their father in Texas against what they know to be his wishes.
The three brothers are a rather motley crew who seem to be living out the genetic code of underachieving in life, love and everything in between.
There's Charles (William Brand Rackley), the youngest brother who'd still been stuck at home with the not so attentive parents and whose singular focus of academia leaves him clueless to real life and the all important art of female seduction.
Brian (Kevin Costello), on the other hand, is the oldest brother and has been in and out of jail for nonviolent offenses and has added up to, well, pretty much nothing.
The middle brother, Mark (Cole Selix), is an obvious alcoholic and underachiever who manages to somehow dwell in the midst of his older brother's shadow.
You've undoubtedly seen this type of "journey" film before. It will come as no surprise to you that one brother, Charles, will initially resist the journey and that the three brothers will have conflicts both funny and dramatic along the way. There will be humorous scenarios, awkward moments, flirtatious girls, personal revelations and, of course, family bonding.
On a stunningly modest production budget of $5,000, Potts and his four person production crew have fashioned a film that consistently transcends its formula and budgetary limitations thanks largely to a solidly written script, from Potts, Costello and Selix, and a cast whose chemistry allows for an abundance of rich and heartfelt laughter.
The joy of a $5,000 film is that its success rests almost solely in the hands of its dedicated cast and crew. When there's only $5,000 in the picture, there's literally no chance that special effects, editing or technology will create enough of a distraction to seduce the moviegoer.
"The Stanton Family Grave Robbery" works because the cast sells it, the script elicits consistent laughter and warm fuzzies, and Potts avoids trying to do too much with too little.
Rackley does nicely as the younger brother, a young man who seems to be the most promising of the three yet who has so completely absorbed himself in academia that he's devoid of anything resembling a social skill.
Costello gives "The Stanton Family Grave Robbery" much of its humor, delivered in a way that is often more dryly observant than outrageously funny. Often borne out of situations that many of us find ourselves in at stodgy family gatherings, Costello's dialogue is often funny because it feels so familiar.
Selix, on the other hand, gives the film its emotional center as a young man who seemingly drowns himself in alcohol to mask his feelings, his insecurities and, perhaps, because of the social bravado it gives him. Selix wisely plays Mark with a high degree of dignity, avoiding the potential pitfall of allowing the audience to laugh AT him rather than WITH him.
There's no denying that one can tell that "The Stanton Family Grave Robbery" is a low-budget film, issues ranging from continuity and production decisions mandated by the financial limitations.
I'm always hesitant to bring this issue up, but I can't tell you the number of times I've received an e-mail from someone saying "Hey, you recommended this film and, man, it had lighting issues or sound issues or whatever. You suck."
Folks, get over it.
"The Stanton Family Grave Robbery" is an entertaining, intelligent and funny indie flick that should, if you're really paying attention, show you just how good a film can be on an incredibly modest budget. This film should make you demand more from your multiplexes, because you're watching multi-million dollar films that have been edited, re-edited, digitalized, altered and otherwise completely changed from what was originally filmed.
You would be amazed at how many multi-million dollar films don't look this good before they are edited.
This is filmmaking.
If this is an example of what Mark Potts and his cast and crew can do on a mere $5,000, then I can't wait to see what the future holds for them as they hone their craft and grow as writers, filmmakers, actors and crew.
Currently on the festival circuit, you can find out more about "The Stanton Family Grave Robbery" at The Stanton Family Grave Robbery.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic