Some fears are impossible to let go ..."
Written by Edward Appleby and directed by Kyle Beaty, Speeches is one of the more visually impressive of the short films included with The Collective, Vol. 6. Weaving into the fabric of its story the universal theme of guilt, Speeches begins our journey into The Collective, Vol. 6 's journey into the more interpersonal side of the horror outside and the horror within us. What could have easily been nothing more than cliche'd tripe is so much more thanks to Appleby's intelligent yet disturbing script and Beaty's ability to find the twists and turns within the characters to make this all feel so damn unsettling. In the short span of ten minutes, Speeches gives us characters we can dive into and characters that we wouldn't mind spending more time with by film's end. Josh Neff and Beaty do a terrific job with the film's lensing, while Neff and John George contribute the film's special effects that are far more effective than you'd expect from a low-budget indie.
One of two films in The Collective, Vol. 6 that I considered to be flawed yet fascinating and remarkably effective, writer/director Jarrett Furst's Edible Love may very well have the pleasure of being this particular collection's most disturbing short - and in this collection that's saying quite a bit. Without spending a lot of unnecessary time with plot exposition, Edible Love is so incredibly vivid that it becomes clear we're spending time with a woman who seems to be caught up in a rather demented post-traumatic expression of psychotherapy with the emphasis on the psycho. Is she struggling to be loved? Is she struggling to survive? Is she downward spiraling into an irrevocable sea of psychosexual self-sabotage?
Yes. Yes. Yes.
While Edible Love has a few distracting issues with its sound mix, I'm not at all convinced that Furst didn't watch his film at some point and think to himself "Damn. It fits perfectly." It does. It fits perfectly. If Edible Love had been overly polished, it would have been a far less effective piece of filmmaking that left a far weaker impact. There's a depravity here that feels extreme, yet if you've ever found yourself in a post-traumatic world where reality and fantasy are blurred and where even the most inane coping skill feels normal then you may find yourself resonating with this rather disturbing gem. I will toss out a bit of a caution to survivors of sexual violence, however, that Edible Love is so relentlessly devoted to its message that you may find it to be a trigger film.
Hell, I know I did.
Fans of the gorier side of indie horror are likely to consider writer/director Brian Williams's Play Me to be one of their favorites from The Collective, Vol. 6. I've never really fancied myself a fan of the "slow kill" style of filmmaking, but even I'll admit that what Williams does he does well here. That may have as much to do with the rock solid performance of Ellie Church as the victim in question. Church is so horrified here that this is one film you'll be grateful ends in 10 minutes because, quite honestly, it's so relentlessly horrifying. The basic concept is semi-familiar - A woman receives a DVD then finds herself getting attacked. And attacked. And attacked.
Did I mention she gets attacked?
While the concept itself is fairly basic, Williams keeps it lively and interesting and will likely have fans of low-budget horror shouting with gorified glee. Essentially a one-man show for Williams, with the exception of Church's terrific performance, Play Me is nicely lensed and features a memorable original score (also from Williams).
I'll admit that when it comes to my taste in horror, I find myself fascinated by a more old school examination of the ways in which horror manifests within the mind and within the silences. Jerami Cruise's Insomniac is a terrific example of a film that finds its true horror in its intimacy and in the ways that we are woven into the mind and the actions of a lead character who finds herself increasingly acting out on the impulses created by her sleep-deprived mind and body. While most of the films in The Collective, Vol. 6 feel like they started from a place of horror, Insomniac feels like it began with the character and her story and the horror was birthed out of where that story went. The story, co-written by Robert Hensley and Cruise, feels authentic and natural and, as a result, even more disturbing. This latest entry from the folks at Toetag EFX features a solid ensemble cast and creative lensing that evolves as the lead character devolves. Cruise also wisely leaves the film open to interpretation that will have you asking yourself "What is the real fear?" Loss of mind? Loss of body? Loss of control? Loss of filter?
I Am No One
Jason Hoover contributes his own compelling entry to The Collective, Vol. 6 with this film that is rumored to be on its way to becoming a feature-length film. In the film, a filmmaker documents the life of a serial killer and it all becomes increasingly jarring and menacing. In fact, about the only thing that can be considered "weak" about the film is that it does feel too short, a problem that will most assuredly be addressed in its full-length incarnation. What may be most horrifying in I Am No One is the film's sense of normalcy and the observational quality that Hoover takes in shooting the film. It's a risky approach given the film's ten-minute running time, but it's an approach that pays off nicely. Hoover's script is thought provoking and memorable, while the entire film sort of weaves together this documentary vibe with sort of an old school 70's drive-in aura. While I finished watching the film and found myself thinking "Good, not great," I found myself still contemplating the film's lead performance a couple days later while still being able to recite certain unforgettable lines.
In other words, I Am No One is a film that's going to stay with you.
The second of two films in this collection to center around a prolonged death scene, Cameron Scott's Security Violation feels just a tad under-developed with a scene that certainly unfolds with a strong sense of anxiety and fear yet it's a fear that doesn't completely resonate and action that should have a far stronger impact than it actually does. Security Violation has the look and feel of a film that was still wrapping up production when it was due for inclusion in this collection, and while I have no idea whatsoever if that's the case the final result is one of the weaker selections in The Collective, Vol. 6.
Written and directed by Jason Hoover for Spiral Filmworks, Devotion is the second of two films in this collection to be what I'd consider "flawed yet fascinating" films. Easily my favorite of the Vol. 6 entries, Devotion toys jarringly with the idea of religious fervor and the minds that create it. With a performance by Ian Benoit that is hauntingly beautiful, Devotion centers around a preacher who could pass for Kurt Cobain serving up a mind-numbing rendition of Amazing Grace that isn't likely to find its way into the church pews anytime soon. Sara Sorensen is memorable in her own right, but it's Benoit's theological trip and Hoover's still camera that makes this such a mesmerizing piece of drama.
Why do I so badly want to send this to Pat Robertson?
Directed by Brandon Bennett, Trepidation is a decent film that with a few modest tweaks could likely be turned into a film with a much stronger impact. Written by J. Travis Grundon, the film has a really strong story wanting to come out but it simply feels undercooked. The film's lead characters aren't particularly involving, though I couldn't help but feel like I saw where Grundon and Bennett were wanting to go with everything here. Trepidation constantly feels like it's on the edge of a breakthrough, but the breakthrough never really happens and we're left with an ambiguous statement on fear that never really gets the clarity it needs.
The latest entry from the fine folks at Liberty or Death Productions, Mercy may feel a tad familiar for those who regularly find themselves in the theater as similar themes have played out on more than one occasion recently. That said, this entry is a strong one for director James Mannan and writer Jason Hoover. The film centers around a filmmaker who is kidnapped and held underground for ransom, a story that is loosely based upon a real life case. Mannan uses creative and effective camera work here and the film's naturalism is what really makes it rather frightening. With an ensemble cast that includes Mannan, Justin Forbes and Sara Sorensen, Mercy features an obviously low budget yet incredibly effective production design that amps up the anxiety level tremendously, while Justin Forbes is absolutely terrific in a mostly understated way. Mercy is another film that really creeps up on you with its effectiveness as Mannan's images and Hoover's language will linger in your mind long after the closing credits.
We round out Vol. 6 with yet another one of my favorites, though I will confess I tend to be a sucker for well done black-and-white filmmaking. Skeleton is incredibly well done. Graphik 13 has really nailed both story and presentation with this modestly predictable yet creepy and darkly wonderful film involving a magnificently created vengeful skeleton. Written and directed by Eric Schneider, Skeleton blend together the supernatural with the starkly human to create a compelling and, perhaps moreso than the other entries in this collection, remarkably entertaining film. There was a sense that Skeleton could have either gone into much darker territory or, adversely, into a darkly comical arena yet to have made either choice would have likely felt unsatisfying given the film's ten-minute running time. The film Schneider has created works because it takes a a basic concept and brings it to life beautifully and memorably.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic