The Big Bad (2011) – By Cary Conley

As a reviewer, one gets used to seeing marketing quotes that trumpet a film as the "next great thing" in a particular genre. One also tends to ignore these quotes, especially when they attempt to draw parallels between the screener sitting on the kitchen table and one or two film classics. So I have to admit that I rolled my eyes and cracked a bit of a crooked smile when I read the blurb for The Big Bad: "…blends the bizarre mystery of David Lynch and creeping horror of John Carpenter with the vengeance of KILL BILL and madness of THE EVIL DEAD!" Those are pretty high standards right there….

The Big Bad follows a young lady by the name of Frankie Ducane who is on a mission to track down the elusive and mysterious Fenton Bailey. The film begins with Frankie alone in a car and talking to herself. Rapid-fire editing and shaky camera angles tell the audience that this is a woman on edge, someone who is desperate. Frankie enters a shady bar where she meets an even shadier young woman called Molly who is coked up and full of alcohol. But Frankie soon learns that this drug-crazed girl may be her best shot at tracking down Fenton Bailey. This turns out to be all too true as Frankie finds herself tied up and in the trunk of a car headed towards a meeting with the very people she’s been looking for. Little did she know they have been looking for her as well. Frankie knows their secret, and some people will do anything to ensure their secret is safe.

The Big Bad is a fantastic blend of several genres, including supernatural horror and revenge, with a little bit of the detective genre thrown in for good measure. It also represents some truly high-quality independent filmmaking. Folks, these filmmakers know what they are doing, and that should come as no surprise as the vast majority of them have cut their teeth over the years on the New York stage and independent filmmaking scene. While this may be writer Jessi Gotta’s and director Bryan Enk’s first feature film, both have had long careers in the business and were savvy enough to surround themselves by other professionals with longstanding careers as well. For example, the editing is primarily made of quick cuts and is quite edgy, which suits the film perfectly. Editor Aaron Baker does an excellent job of communicating the desperation of the characters through his editing techniques. He also shows us just enough violence for the film to be gory without exposing the low-budget limitation of the effects. The effects themselves are also excellent, and SFX artist Jane Rose creates some unique and bloody effects on a very limited budget. I especially enjoyed the full-body melt of one supernatural creature, made better by Baker’s cuts between the effect and Frankie’s reaction. There was a great deal of creativity in designing this scene.

Another true high point of the film is the cinematography and lighting design, which complement each other perfectly. Director of photography Dominick Sivilli does a splendid job of mixing shaky, handheld footage with wonderfully fluid tracking shots. Unlike the spate of sometimes headache-inducing "found footage" and "live action" films that sometimes over-utilize shaky cameras, here the technique is used to impart fear and anger, as in one scene where Frankie must kill a creature that has attacked her. She first reacts in fear, but as a lifetime of dark emotions wash over her, she continues to stab the corpse over and over as her anger mounts, the camera moving up and down, following her powerful thrusts of the blade downward into the body and back over her head. It’s shaky, but it also has a purpose. It portrays the catharsis that Frankie goes through with her first kill. It also puts the viewer directly into the alley with the action, making the viewer a true voyeur as well as an indirect accomplice to the violence. This is quite a powerful scene, made even more uncomfortable by the raw emotion and violence on the screen. Powerful stuff. The lighting is also an important component of the remarkable cinematography. Many scenes are filmed using very bright backlighting, for instance sunlight streaming through a bank of windows. This tends to create some overexposure of the film and creates an eerie, otherworldly atmosphere throughout the entire movie. The viewer can’t quite catch every pixel of detail and many times the background is washed out so the viewer never quite knows what may be coming from this obscured background. Likewise, the lighting really creates a spooky atmosphere in the forest scenes. Genuine tension and fear is created as Frankie runs through the forest, knowing that she is being tracked. Another superbly scary sequence is one where Frankie’s abductor has allowed her to use the bathroom in the forest. He ties a rope around her waist, but it isn’t long before he realizes something is amiss. As he pulls and tugs on the rope, then follows it deeper into the woods, the viewer doesn’t know exactly what to expect. Is Frankie planning an attack or has she escaped? The lighting throughout these sequences is highly effective and very artsy.

The character of Frankie is played by Jessi Gotta, who also wrote the script and co-produced the film with director Bryan Enk. She is a tour de force of energy and raw emotion as she plays Frankie as a woman on the brink of madness, but one who is also out for revenge and will stop at nothing to exact that revenge. Gotta is sassy and sexy and uses these characteristics to portray her vulnerability, but I wouldn’t want to cross her, as she feels like she has nothing to lose. Similar to Ash in the Evil Dead series, she takes a pounding from the supernatural–in one case losing an eye–but just patches herself up and keeps on coming at her enemies. I’m not sure how Gotta was able to keep up the level of emotional energy and physical action over the length of the shoot, but suffice to say that every ounce of her considerable talent is left on the screen. While the acting is quite strong across the board, Gotta is clearly the star of the film. Director Bryan Enk has done an incredible job of pulling all of these elements together–cinematography, effects, story, acting–into a high-quality low-budget feature.

There is also a nice dash of (mostly) subtle humor thrown in to boot as well as a few nods and winks to several classic horror films. Gotta’s reaction to getting covered in slime when one creature literally has a meltdown is classic, as is her reaction to waking up with one eye having been removed (best line in the movie: "Give me back my eye!"). And there are plenty of homages astute horror fans will enjoy catching, including plenty of similarities to the original Evil Dead film as well as a classic scene from Jaws. Another strength of the story is the development of some new mythology for these creatures. Frankie’s solution to protecting herself is unique, and frankly brilliant.

If there is any complaint with the film, it may be that some viewers might find it a bit confusing. In an era where every Hollywood director feels the need to explain every single motivation in a movie and tie it all up with a nice big bow, Gotta’s script is intentionally vague and does not pander to the audience. The net effect is that it leaves the viewer off-kilter for most of the film. I, for one, think it’s refreshing for a screenwriter to allow the viewer to make the connections. It shows maturity on the part of the writer and confidence on the part of the director. Rest assured, the writing is quite strong, and while there may not be a big bow on the package at the end, all the loose strands are tied up nicely. I enjoy films like this, but viewers who aren’t used to anything but the latest Hollywood blockbuster may find that the film tests their patience.

So while crossing David Lynch, John Carpenter, and Quentin Tarantino with a liberal helping of The Evil Dead may seem like a big order to fill, Gotta and Enk have done an admirable job and have created a smart, funny, violent, and highly enjoyable supernatural horror/revenge flick. The Big Bad is currently on the festival circuit where it has won awards too numerous to list here, but if you would like more information about the film, as well as to stay abreast of any bookings in your area, go to www.thebigbadmovie.com.