When it comes to writing about indie films, one of the great joys I’ve discovered is stumbling upon a genuinely talented filmmaker whose work transcends the limits of its budget to rival the very best Hollywood has to offer in terms of great storytelling, powerhouse performances and slick and polished cinematography. Over the past couple of months, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of watching one such filmmaker’s work – Matt Porter of "More Perfect Union" and "Gunderson’s" fame. This month, I can officially add Kent Lamm to the list.
Lamm is the 20-year wunderkind filmmaker behind "Bad is Bad" one of the top 10 films of 2011 I’ve seen thus far. Shot on the Canon 7D over a period of 18.5 days on a budget of $6,000, Lamm has crafted one of the finest and most compelling home invasion genre films I’ve ever seen. While this may come off as pure hyperbole on the part of a fellow indie filmmaker helping his moviemaking kin, believe me when I say that watching "Bad is Bad" was an experience not unlike "Last House on the Left" by Wes Craven or more recently "The Strangers" by Bryan Bertino. In other words, it was discovering the work of a filmmaker who will most definitely go on to bigger and better things and become an artist who will truly transform the genre in which he works in.
It’s difficult to discuss the plot of "Bad is Bad" without going into spoiler territory and I certainly wouldn’t want to do that as the script (co-written by Lamm and Chris Fornataro) takes so many twists and turns that to reveal anything would be a crime so unbelievably despicable. Basically, the plot concerns a couple of hired goons, Jesse and Ray (played by Chris Fornataro and Kevin Gottschalk respectively) who drive into town to collect an unpaid debt from a local who’s hiding from their boss. The thugs collect the debt, though not without accidentally killing the man and having to play Hardy Boys to discover the hidden loot as he was offed before he had a chance to reveal where he’d hidden the dough and celebrate by grabbing some eats at a local diner owned and operated by George (Bill Brock). While placing their order, Jesse locks eyes with George and in an instant realizes that the two have a past in which a truly horrific event took place. Jesse and Ray haul ass and leave the restaurant and follow George back to his place where they break in, hold the man hostage and play a deadly cat-and-mouse game in which the past comes back to haunt George in a way he’ll never forget.
"Bad is Bad" is compelling from the opening frame. Lamm plays with the viewer giving you the impression that the story is going to be about a group of friends who are heading to a beach-house for a party only for them to encounter the film’s real protagonists at a gas station where things get ugly. The performances from all the leads are top notch, particularly Fornataro’s turn as Jesse whose concentration is downright hypnotic. The story gradually unfolds at a pace that is perfect for the genre. I particularly appreciated the fact that the action sequences in the film were shot in a very ’80s style, which is to say with wide and medium shots in which we can actually see what is happening, unlike the epileptic shaky cam/extreme close-up style that plagues genre films nowadays.
Now, as much as I loved the film and recommend it more than anything else this year, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out some of the film’s glaring flaws. The dynamic between Jesse and Ray felt extremely derivative of the one between Seth and Richard Gecko in "From Dusk Till Dawn." From the way these characters interacted with each other to the way Ray would often read something into nothing (another character’s intention to commit violence against him, a female character’s sexual attraction to him, etc.) to the way Ray’s POV shots were filmed whenever he’d look at a woman, I almost thought I was watching a really low-budget version of the first half of "From Dusk Till Dawn." There’s a fine line between homage and outright stealing and I couldn’t help but feel that "Bad is Bad" leaned towards the latter in this regard. Then there’s also the issue of the ending. There’s a sequence in the film that would’ve served as a perfect ending as it was filled with poetic justice and would’ve been a great final punch to end on. Unfortunately, the film continues afterwards and veers so far into cliche that by the time it ends, you can’t help but feel a little disappointed that the journey you took with these characters wasn’t as fulfilling as the film promised it would be at the beginning. There is a twist after the "poetic justice would-be ending" that could’ve also worked as a fine ending in of itself, but that moment is eclipsed by a scenario we’ve seen all too often in these kinds of films.
These critiques aside, "Bad is Bad" is really something and I can’t recommend this film enough. You can watch the entire feature online at: http://vimeo.com/27377057 and when you’re done, check out their website at: OhGoodProductions.com