Archive for June 3, 2017

To the extent that any “micro-budget” production that is destined to be seen by only a few thousand people (if that) can be said to have generated something of a “buzz” around it, writer/director Christina Raia’s 2015 debut feature Summit seems to have done precisely that.

Fair enough, it’s not a flick you’re going to be hearing about everywhere or anything — but everywhere this sort of thing is discussed? Sure, there’s been some largely positive chatter there, and so when I noticed that it was available for streaming while browsing the horror selections on Amazon Prime the other night, I was sufficiently intrigued enough to give it a go. Funded via a (successful) Kickstarter campaign at the tail end of 2012, the set-up for this one sounds like fairly standard-issue stuff — five friends headed to a ski lodge for a weekend of partying find themselves royally fucked by their GPS and end up at an abandoned cabin the likes of which only folks in a horror movie are stupid enough to decide to stay at. They don’t have nearly enough food or water to keep everyone’s mouths and bellies full for long, their cell phone coverage — shock! — sucks, and the longer they’re cooped up together, the more internal tensions within the group threaten to boil over. Eventually they do, of course, and one of the unhappy non-campers turns up dead, which cues plenty of finger-pointing and worse in the film’s late-breaking third act.

Obviously there’s no reinvention of the wheel happening here, but Raia proves herself to be a quick — hell, an immediate — study when it comes to the little things that make a big difference : the various explorations of the cabin that our erstwhile “heroes” undertake are uniformly well-shot and reasonably fraught with tension (even if there’s no real payoff to be had from any of them), the “driving-around-lost” scenes are very nicely-executed indeed, and small, seemingly throwaway plot points are revisited later with near-devastating effect. All in all this is smart stuff that rewards viewers who pay careful attention to even the most minor goings-on, but — and it’s a big but — events progress at such a slow pace that by the time we do finally get the dead body that most viewers were probably expecting at any given moment for any given number of moments,  you could easily be forgiven for already having checked out.

Seasoned aficionados of DIY cinema are used to so-called “slow burns,” of course, and at least this one offers some very good performances to maintain a person’s interest — I was particularly fond (if that’s the word) of Rob Ceriello as the hair-trigger-tempered Sean, but Ricardo Manigat deserves a mention as “party-dude-with-a-pragmatic-streak” James, Lauren A. Kennedy makes more than the most of what by all rights should be a pretty goddamn rough slog of a role as Jesse, and Emma Barrett elevates her character of Sarah, who’s probably the most poorly-written of the bunch, to another, higher level by dint of her strong acting alone. The only player who comes up a bit short is Ryan Kramer as Will, but given that he’s doing double-duty as the film’s producer, my best guess is that a nominally “starring” turn was part of the package that came with him helping to hustle up funds, co-ordinate locations, etc. Props should also be extended to cinematographer John L. Murphy, who delivers one moody, atmospheric, and professional-looking shot after another despite having nothing but the most basic digital equipment at his disposal. So, yeah, whether we’re talking in front of the camera or behind it, the folks working on this one mostly all brought their “A” game.

Unfortunately, just when it looks like everyone’s patience — and, again, staying with this one requires a fair amount of that — is going to be rewarded, Raia trips over her own ending, serving up a less-than-satisfying reveal of who the murder is, a less-than-plausible explanation as to why he (whoops, minor spoiler there!) did it, and a less-than-rational series of 180-degree turns from otherwise-level-headed (at least by fright flick standards) characters. It’s very nearly a deal-breaker, I won’t kid you — but the preceding hour and fifteen minutes (or thereabouts) are so nicely-done, even at their slowest, that an admittedly forced and uninspired conclusion isn’t enough to tap out the reservoir of good will that the first-time director, her fine cast, and her flat-out terrific cinematographer have earned.

So, yeah, at the end of the day, maybe Summit doesn’t reach anything of the sort, but it looks like a lot more than the reported $20,000 production that it was, it showcases a lot of fine up-and-coming talent, and it suggests very strongly that they’re probably going to be capable of better as their various careers progress. I wish it would have delivered on all of its promise, absolutely, but the fact that it was even able to convince me, for most of its run-time, that it might do exactly that is a fairly solid achievement in and of itself.