Saturday, February 22, 2014

Nevermore Film Festival Recap (Day One)

 Today was, by necessity, a light day for the Cap'n to experience Nevermore (that whole "working" thing can be a drag when you'd rather watch horror movies, but what can you do?), but I did manage to sneak through rush hour traffic and make it to The Carolina Theater in time for two movies. It turned out to be quite the clash of styles, of approaches, and ultimately, of tastes for me: I really, enthusiastically enjoyed one of them and couldn't wait for the other one to be over with. Fortunately, we get to start with the good one, which is already in the running for "favorite discovery of Nevermore," and we're only on day one!

 Other than the listing on the festival's website, I knew nothing about The Shower. I knew it involved a baby shower and some sort of outbreak, and a clown. Things always end well when there are clowns, as you may be aware. Call me crazy, but I like to start off a festival with a horror comedy, when possible - it tends to bring the right energy to what is a fun, but admittedly butt-numbing experience over the course of a weekend. It was a blind call, but I chose wisely - The Shower delivers.

 After a brief intro from writer / director Alex Drummond and two cast members / producers (apologies if I get this wrong but I'm pretty sure it was Stephanie Tobey and Andy Hoff), the film began, and off the bat it strikes the right tone between horror and comedy. I'm normally not a huge fan of the "freeze title cards" (at least, not since the first Feast), but in a film set in Los Angeles about struggling actors and writers, the dichotomy between what they wanted to do and what they were doing was a nice way to introduce the main cast quickly while we're settling in. It's much appreciated, because Drummond gives you just enough time to meet Nick (Kurt Ela) and Mary (Rachael Drummond)'s friends before things get violent.

 Nick is a struggling screenwriter and Mary is and actress on downtime before she gives birth to her second child, and they're headed to a baby shower at the home of her agent Joanne (Suzanne Sena) when... strange things begin to happen. For no apparent reason, people are turning violent (possibly slightly cannibalistic) and attacking each other, without any clear pattern as to when or why it happens. Trapped in a house with their friends, children, Joanne's assistant Beth (Tovey), and a party Clown with a taste for flesh and blood (Tony Rago), the expectant couple has to figure out a way to stay alive when supplies and trust are in short order.

 I don't want to say too much more about how The Shower unfolds, because much of the fun of watching the film is not knowing where the story is headed next. By not explaining what the outbreak is, or how it spreads, Drummond keeps the audience uncertain of who is and isn't infected and generates a lot of comedy out of the reactions to the curious behavior when someone does turn. Rather than simply going mindless, the infected remain mostly themselves, but with a sadistic indifference towards their "friends." It's a nice twist on what could have been any other contagion / zombie movie.

 There are a lot of horror comedies out there, and a lot of low budget ones that, frankly, aren't very good. Trust me, I've seen my fair share, so when there's a good one, let alone one as good as The Shower is, I'm going to make a point to mention it. For a movie that's only 78 minutes long, The Shower packs a lot in at a brisk pace, and finds time for character moments with the dozen or so cast members. It came as a genuine surprise how much Drummond and crew were able to do with as low of a budget (and only one camera), so kudos for a job well done. I hope the film gets picked up for distribution so that more of you can see The Shower (on this off chance you're reading this during the weekend of Nevermore, go see the movie on Sunday, but if not I suggest checking the official site to see when and where you can see it). Normally I try not to be too pushy about movies, but The Shower is an independent production and they made the time to bring it across the country so we could see it, so I'll evangelize a little bit. I think most Blogorium readers will really dig The Shower, so it's worth getting the word out in any little way I can.


 After a Q&A for The Shower, it made sense to stick around for another movie, and since we didn't really know anything about Proxy, it seemed like another worthwhile unknown to pursue. I know that if you don't have anything nice to say, you probably should just not say anything, so I'll try to keep this short, because Proxy didn't do it for me. I feel kind of bad about it, because at first I was on board with Zack Parker and Kevin Donner's story and Parker's direction, but about halfway through the film, Proxy lost me and I never got back on board.

 The premise was interesting enough: Esther Woodhouse (Alexia Rasmussen) is nine months pregnant and having a final ultrasound, and as she's leaving someone knocks her out, severely injures her stomach, and leaves her in an alleyway. Esther loses the baby and is urged to go to group counseling, where she meets Melanie Michaels (Alexa Havins), who lost her husband Patrick (Joe Swanberg) and son Peyton (Xavier Parker) to a drunk driver. They bond over shared experiences and Melanie seems to be helping to coax Esther out of her withdrawn state, but it turns out neither woman is quite what she claims to be.

 For a while, the mystery of Proxy sustains interest, and there is an admittedly interesting thematic exploration of the cycle of revenge and its futility (as well as recurring water motifs and some degree of "baptism by blood" you could also read into) but the film takes a hard left turn about a third of the way in that lost me completely. From that point forward, the pacing seemed less deliberate and more like filler, something to pad out the run time until two character arcs met in an inevitable collision course. Unfortunately it takes far too long to get there and the end result is less than satisfying. There's an awkward introduction of "is this all in their head" that doesn't really work the way I think it was supposed to, and some of the contrivances that bring characters together was too much to swallow.

 Other than the pacing, everybody else I saw Proxy with seemed to enjoy it more than I did, but with each successive scene introducing a new character that added nothing to the story, I must admit that my patience wore thin. At two hours, Proxy is far too long, but my initial interest dwindled after it was clear what direction the story was headed. Maybe it was the character of Esther or the physical resemblance of Rasmussen to Angela Bettis, but it seemed in the early goings that Proxy might be a character study like May. This is not the case - it heads in quite a different direction - and without spoiling too much, the ending reminded me of the master plan in Scream 4, which is not a comparison I'd really like to make.

 There are some intriguing elements to Proxy : Parker definitely goes a few places I wouldn't have thought he would - and I think it's well made (if bloated), but I'm afraid that it just didn't work for the Cap'n. But these things happen, and I don't regret taking a shot on watching it. I wish I had nicer things to say, but the best thing to do is just move on and look forward to tomorrow. While I can't recommend Proxy, I wholeheartedly recommend The Shower, so if you get the chance to see it, do so.

It's time for sleep, but I'll be back tomorrow with more Nevermore recap-ery, including The Tingler!

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