Tartarus (2005) – By Duane L. Martin

I’ve known Dave Wascavage for about a year now. Not only is he a super nice guy, but he has a natural filmmaking aptitude that you don’t see in too awful many people. I’ve been fortunate enough to watch his filmmaking ability progress and grow throughout the course of his first four films, and he just keeps getting better and better. Now most people make a natural slow progression in talent and ability, but apparently that wasn’t good enough for Dave. Not satisfied with taking baby steps from film to film, Dave’s filmmaking ability took about ten evolutionary steps forward when compared to his previous film, Suburban Sasquatch. That’s not to say his previous film was bad, because it wasn’t at all. I have in fact enjoyed all of Dave’s films immensely. It’s just that on nearly every level, this one was huge step forward for him, and he has a lot to be proud of.

Tartarus is the story of a guy named John (Juan Fernandez) who’s trapped in a nightmare. Over the course of the film, we discover that he’s dead, and being held in Tartarus where he’s forced to relive the evil deeds of his life over and over again in an effort to bring him redemption before the final decision is made on whether he goes to heaven or hell. At least I think that’s what the deal was. It was little confusing since the keeper of Tartarus was dessed up in an alien costume and John kept getting abducted up into a spaceship. John was kept on a funky table and tortured and probed incessantly when he wasn’t drifting in and out of flashbacks to the evil deeds of his like. I mean…man, I’m not even going to attempt to explain all this stuff. You just have to watch it. It’s a really bizarre movie, and it’s one you’re going to have to see to understand. I can’t really explain it and do it any justice.

Tartarus features Dave’s signature CGI work, that while cheesy, adds immensely to the entertainment value of the film. I’ve watched Dave’s CGI abilities go from triangle explosions in his first film, to animated mushrooms in his second film, to bigfoot lifting up a car and animated arrows in his third film, to alien spaceships and all manner of bizarreness in this film. Dave up to this point has used CGI relatively sparingly, but in this film he’s got it all over the place, and the evolution of his cgi work jumped forward almost as much as the evolution of his general filmmaking ability. While none of the CGI looks realistic in the least, it does add a lot to the film, and makes you feel like you’re in some bizarro nightmare world that you can’t get out of.

Juan Fernandez did an amazingly great job in his role as the tortured John. He showed a wide emotional range and handled every situation where he had to interact with CGI like a pro. Dave Wascavage himself played the role of the keeper of Tartarus, as well as taking on a few other smaller side roles. We also get to see such Wascavage regulars as his wife Mary, his mother Loretta, and Dave Weldon, who’s most notable role in a Wascavage production was probably his protrayal of the insane scientist in Fungicide. That’s one of the things I really like about Dave’s movies. These dame faces keep showing up, and he still manages to integrate new faces in with the old in a perfect blend of freshness and familiarity.

Now as much as I enjoyed this film, I would be remiss if I didn’t cover the good as well as the bad. So what was the bad? Well, there were only a couple of things really. The first thing was the music. Some of it was done quite well, but at certain points there would be just a single synth note held for just long enough to become a bit grating. It’s just a personal opinion on my part, but I would have used different instrument sounds and done the music somewhat differently. The other thing I wanted to mention is that while much of the sound in this film was just fine, there were several places, usually when Dave was talking, that were just too quiet. I found it difficult to pick out the dialogue in these spots, especially if there was music playing at the same time. Generally though, the voices were well captured, and it wasn’t much of a problem. Dave just needs to learn to project a bit more when he speaks. Either that or kick them mic levels up.

If you’ve never experienced a Dave Wascavage film, I’m a little torn as to whether or not this would be the one to start with. I think if you start with his earlier films you’ll be able to more appreciate what a leap forward this one was, and yet this particular film is more representitive of his current abilities as a filmmaker. Honestly you should see all of them simply because they’re all a lot of fun, but which one you see first is a matter of personal choice. Either way, his films should be seen and enjoyed by anyone who’s a fan of independent cinema.

If you want to find out the latest news about what’s going on with Dave’s films or to pick yourself up a copy, you should head on over to the Troubled Moon Films website at http://www.troubledmoonfilms.com.