So here’s one from the Hulu horror queue that’s so fucking obscure no one’s even bothered to review it for IMDB yet — 2015 no-budget (as in $9,000, Canadian) indie production All Hallows Eve : October 30th, a strictly fly-by-the-seat-of-its-pants venture from the mind of writer/producer/director/star Ryan Byrne filmed in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, in probably just a handful of days and starring a cast of locals, most of whom are quite likely friends of the filmmaker himself. Sounds like the kind of thing I’m more or less genetically pre-determined to love, right?
And, ya know, truth be told this homemade number — also released (to the extent that it can be said to have been “released” at all) under the inverted title of October 30th : All Hallows Eve — has quite a bit going for it, mostly in terms of sheer heart and determination, but it also falls prey to quite a few pitfalls that, in its defense, probably can’t be avoided due to its lack of time, money, and various other resources. And while it’s probably unfair to label it a “student production” — especially since I have no clue whether or not Byrne actually is, or was, a film student — there is a definite sense here of everyone involved giving things, as the saying goes, “the old college try.” And frequently coming up short. But I’m not gonna hold that against them — too much.
Here’s our set-up : on October 30th, 1988, in the stereotypically-named hamlet of Pearl Lake, a madman terrorized and purportedly (or at least possibly — it’ll make more sense if and when you actually watch the movie) killed his entire family. Exactly 20 years later, people begin disappearing, one by one, from the same area. Flash-forward to the present day, and aspiring filmmaker Ethan Pearl (Byrne) and his brother, Jacob (played by Dylan Cook) have assembled a motley cast and crew and are venturing out to Pearl Lake to film a — get this — low-budget horror flick extrapolated from the infamous events that continue to plague the area. So, yeah, “metafiction” is the order of the day here, unbeknownst to nominal “stars” Jade (Ariella Arbus), Heather (Marie-Josee Dionne), Eva (Emily Jean), Milton (Steven Skeggs), etc. Truth be told, the cast of characters is probably a bit too large here — and the film itself too long at 105 minutes — but I guess Byrne was bound and determined to stretch his nine thousand bucks as far as it would go, and then some. Can’t really fault the guy for that.
Ethan and Jade become the primary focus of the goings-on in relatively short order, though, when they find themselves separated from the others after the group is set upon by a maniac (who may or may not be the original nutcase from way back in ’88) and everyone goes into “scramble for survival” mode. But it doesn’t take Jade long to figure out that Ethan is no ordinary filmmaker, and this is no ordinary production, as successive “weird” incidents, and a smattering of clues (some painfully obvious, others less so) reveal that our two would-be horror auteur brothers have a much deeper connection to Pearl Lake’s sordid history than they were willing to initially let on —
Okay, sure, this is far from revolutionary stuff, but it certainly is ambitious for a production of this size, scope, and budget — perhaps even a bit too ambitious, given that Byrne seems to have his interests and attention split in multiple directions and no one to rein in his indulgences. He gets what I would assume to be the best performances possible from his amateur cast, some of whom are clearly better suited to this whole “acting thing” than others, and has a decent enough handle on basic horror atmospherics, but you definitely have to go into this flick willing to accept its numerous highly-visible foibles as being part and parcel of a “labor of love”-type enterprise. If you can take it for what it is, you’ll probably walk away from the proceedings reasonably — though not exactly overly — impressed. If not, well, the whole thing thing come across as little more than a pointless vanity project, and you’d probably be better off watching something else.
For my part, I was somewhat split between the two possible viewpoints. I found All Hallows Eve : October 30th to possess a reasonable amount of the requisite charm that draws me to these sorts of productions in the first place, but sorely lacking anything to really set it apart from other films of its ilk. It wasn’t a waste of time, by any means, but when I learned that Byrne and company got together to do it all again this year with a sequel called The Secret Of Sarah : October 30th I didn’t exactly feel compelled to hunt it down, and I honestly had to wonder who, apart from the principals involved, thought that a follow-up even sounded like a good idea. “What the hell, let’s make a movie!” is a noble enough impulse in my view, but when nobody sees the movie you’ve made I do have to scratch my head a bit when you turn around a handful of months later and say “what the hell, let’s make another one!” Still, if it turns up on Hulu a year from now and I’m bored one night, who knows? I’d probably give it a go.