There are many different levels of independent film making, and when you take of the task of reviewing these types of films, one of the first things you have to understand is that a film must be reviewed on the level in which it was created. Some films are slick and polished, almost looking like Hollywood productions, while others are shot with a cheap camera in someone’s back yard. Each level of film making can have its own merits and problems and shouldn’t be judged against any other level than the one in which it was created.
The Grand Horror falls into a definitive level of film making that I’ve seen several times. Its more amateurish in its creation and lacks the polish and professional look of the more stylized and professional independent films. It does however fall in line with many other films that are similar in their style of production, and as such will be judged and reviewed on that level.
This film starts off with people being chased by zombies. Four of these people make their way to an empty movie theater where they take refuge from the zombie invasion. The zombies don’t seem to want anything to do with the place, but it’s not until later that we find out why. The rest of the film involves these four people plus two others that made their way inside trying to survive the horrors they find within the theater that are far greater than anything they would have faced on the outside.
Now, generally I’d say this film was a good effort for what it is. There are however a laundry list of problems with it that really detracted from what it could have been.
The biggest problem I had with this film is the acting. There was only one girl in this movie who had any real acting ability. I don’t remember her name, but she was the one downstairs with the stupid guy with the machete. Anyway, as for the rest of the cast, if you took all of their acting ability and put it in a jar, it would create a vaccuum. Only one member of the cast, the one I mentioned already, actually acted like they were in a bad situation. The rest of them didn’t act freaked out or scared or anything. In fact, they generally acted like they were just out for the evening and hanging out in the lobby of a theater talking about some horror movie they’d just seen. There was no terror or shock or anything. In fact, a few of them kept smiling a little here and there. You can’t build up an aire of tension and horror if your actors don’t act like they’re terrified of what’s going on around them. In fact, the acting was so bad and the characters were so annoying that I found myself really wanting to see everyone die by the end of the movie. Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed.
The deal with the horrors inside the theater is basically this. The former owner went nuts and killed everyone in there that was working for him and chopped their bodies up. Their spirits came back and took revenge on him, and now they’re doing the same to anyone they catch in there…at least, anyone they catch in there this particular night. Not sure how that relates to the zombies outside, but whatever.
Anyway, every time someone meets up with one of the spirits in the theater, there’s suddenly plastic sheeting laid out everywhere. It’s never explained why the plastic goes along with the ghostly encounters, but I have a pretty good idea why. The theater people probably told them they could shoot in there after hours as long as they didn’t mess anything up. So basically, they laid down all the plastic sheeting so they wouldn’t get the fake blood all over everything and leave a bunch of stains. I don’t know that for a fact, but it’s probably a pretty good guess.
Another problem with this film is that it’s way too talky and drawn out. This film was actually edited from over 100 minutes down to 86. Honestly, this film could have been cut down to about 60 minutes easily and been a more tightly edited and concise story. There were a lot of scenes that went on needlessly long that really added nothing to the film. Those scenes could have been shortened or cut out completely. I commend the director for cutting the film down, but I think cutting out some more would really tighten things up considerably.
Sound was another issue. I don’t think I’d be wrong in saying that the sound was recorded with the camera mic. This is not unexpected for films on this level, and in fact most first time filmmakers do this. The problem with doing this is that it doesn’t pick up the voices all that well and it creates situations where you can’t hear the dialogue. It’s ok to do this in early films when you’re still learning, but eventually you have to move on to external mics and audio recording equipment if you want quality sound.
Now, I know it sounds like I hated this film, and while it’s true I wasn’t crazy about it, I do want to commend director Mat Kister for what he accomplished.
This film was made for around $300 over the course of something like five weekends with a completely amateur crew and group of actors who’ve never made a feature film before. Just the fact that they got it made was impressive enough, and despite my criticisms, Mat managed to pull together a pretty decent little film for a first time filmmaker. For someone with no experience at all, he actually did a really good job. He does have a lot to learn, but if he sticks with it, I’m sure he’ll only get better and better. The best piece of advice I could give him for his next film would be to really focus on the acting. Get your actors to really feel the situation and their character’s personalities and work with them to bring out the appropriate performances. Good performances can go a long way to either masking or making up for any other shortcomings a film may have.
So stick with it Mat. You got a good start with this film, and I’m sure you’ll only get better and better as time goes on. For a first time effort, you did a lot better than most people would have.