The Photon Effect (2011) – By Duane L. Martin

Derek Powers (Dan Poole) and his cousin Jay (Derek Minter) work for a company that erects various types of antennae. They’ve been contracted by a company that’s working on a DARPA funded project to erect various experimental microwave antennae that operate in the terrahertz range at different locations. No one knows what the antennae are supposed to do or what they’re for, but they do know one thing. The representative of the company they have to deal with, Randall Communications Incorporated, is a total douche.

After stopping by Randall one night, Derek’s curiosity gets the better of him, and while his cousin is going to the bathroom and then talking to a girl that works there that he used to be madly in love with, Derek slips into the back to get a closer look at just what it is they’re working on. Naturally, he’s quickly discovered and they’re both ejected from the premises. Jay however, is unable to forget seeing his old love again, and later returns drunkenly to Randall to see her, only to be forcibly removed by a team of super powered soldiers who trash his car and make it very clear that he’s not welcome there.

Jay’s persistence leads him to go to the company the next day to apologize for his behavior, and while there, he gets sucked in as the latest test subject in the program that his old flame Tina is heading up. Quickly, he shows himself to be the most powerful and capable of the new super soldiers, as he steals and consumes more of the liquid catalyst than anyone ever had before, and allows himself to be charged by their machines to levels way beyond anything they had ever seen. Unfortunately, two things came of his being there. First, it became clear that Tina only cared about the project, and when it came to Jay, he would always take a back seat to her own ambitions, and second, he would go through periods where he would act erratically and black out, not remembering what he had done. It was during his first experience with this side effect that he showed up to work where his cousin was erecting one of the new antennae. Unable to even harness himself properly, Derek tells him to just stay on the ground and hold the safety rope. Unfortunately, since Jay was out of control and acting almost drunk at that particular moment, he started shaking the rope around, causing the antenna to turn toward Derek, and then a charge of power shot up the rope and through the antenna, flooding Derek’s body with the power and changing him forever. Now Derek has super powers of his own, including lightning fast speed, enhanced strength, and the ability to heal incredibly fast. Unfortunately, his metabolism has also greatly increased, so he has to constantly eat or drink protein and energy drinks to keep himself going, or he’ll run down and possibly starve to death. Once the truth of what’s happening to his cousin come to light however, Derek takes it upon himself to try to save Jay from the clutches of his evil ex and the Randall Corporation, and in the process, discovers what it’s like to be a true hero.

The number of superhero movies made by independent film makers seems to be rather limited, and for good reason. Many don’t have the CGI and visual effect capabilities to pull it off and make it look good with limited budgets. This is the same reason why we don’t see all that many sci-fi, and VERY few fantasy films coming out of the independent film community. Those who accept the challenge of making one of these types of films, is really taking on a heavy burden. The story is the easy part. It’s selling the story to the viewers in a visual way that’s the challenge. Writer, director and star Dan Poole has taken on that challenge with this film. So how did he do? Well…

I’ll just start off by saying that I liked this film. I’m starting off saying that because I’m going to be talking about a few of the problems the film had, and I don’t want to give the wrong impression. This is a well made and entertaining film. So that said, I’m going to start off with the problems, so I can close the review on a positive note.

This film really only had two larger problems and one smaller one. First, the dialog. It didn’t sound natural at all. It sounded memorized and recited, which took away the naturalness and believability of it. It also sounded like the characters were delivering written dialog. When you’re writing a story, the dialog you use for the written word is different in feel than the way real people talk to one another. As a writer, the trick is to translate written dialog that’s meant to be absorbed by a reader, to a more natural feeling dialog that’s meant to be absorbed by a viewer, and to get your cast to deliver it in a natural way. The translation from page to screen in this film wasn’t horrible when compared to some of the films I’ve reviewed over the years, but it didn’t have the naturalness of interaction I would have loved to have seen between the characters. Also, there was one scene where Derek spent a lot of screen time and dialogue just to, in a very convoluted and roundabout way, call the guy from the Randall Corporation an ass hole. While this may have worked to a point written on a page in a script, done on the screen it just became tedious and unnatural to sit through, with very little payoff at the end.

The second problem with the film has to do with one of the visual effects. There are scenes where Derek is running super fast down the road trying to stop a motorcycle riding criminal who’s been terrorizing the city. There are several scenes involving him running after this guy, and the visual effects on it just don’t work at all, nor are they up to the level of the rest of the visual effects in the film.

Lastly, the small problem. Even though the characters Jay and Derek seemed to be as close as brothers, and even in the heat of everything watched out for and protected each other, there was this other side of Jay that kept coming out that was jealous and harbored hostile resentment of his cousin. I can see where a bit of this would come from in the character, but it kept popping up at random times and made Jay’s character feel more unbalanced than it should have in my opinion. If there were more consistency in this aspect of his character, I think it could have been better explored and used as a dramatic tool between the two, which Jay would either ultimately overcome, or that would ultimately come between them.

Now, with all that said, let’s talk about what worked in this film.

The visuals, aside from the running scenes I mentioned above, were all really quite impressive and well done, really bringing the story to life and making it not only more fun, to watch, but more visually impactful, so you could really feel what was going on with the characters. The visual effects, combined with the sound effects that went along with them, worked together brilliantly to draw the viewer into the action and make it believable, which also makes the story far more entertaining.

Something else I really liked were the scenes where the guys were up on the antenna towers working. They were authentic, and that’s something I wouldn’t have expected to see. The people who work on those towers have a very dangerous job, as does anyone who works in high places and has to rely on their harnesses and other safety equipment to keep them alive. It was all very well represented in this film and made that aspect of the story credible, whereas if these parts of the film hadn’t have been done well, it would have really lost something. You wouldn’t have felt the tension these guys must feel working at those heights, and that was part of what made these scenes enjoyable.

The set and costume design were another two aspects of this film that were really well done. The locations were believable, and the outfits and equipment in particular on the super soldiers were really quite cool looking and made them feel as dangerous as they were supposed to feel. I don’t know what the budget for this film was, but knowing how some things work behind the scenes, I can always tell when a film maker has the ability to make the most out of the resources he has, and I was really impressed with the great job that Dan Poole and his crew did in bringing this film to life.

This film is a good example of what the independent film makers out there can do with a little imagination and talent. While it isn’t perfect, it is an impressive display of what can be accomplished in genres like this, and I hope it will serve as an inspiration to other independent film makers out there to bring more films like this to fruition. The horror genre has dominated independent film for long enough in my opinion, and while it will always have its place, we need more films like this one to give us a much needed change and to keep things fresh rather than just pumping out horror after horror.

If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out the film’s website here, and if you’d like to pick up a copy for yourself, you can order through the website, or you can get it from here.