Archive for October 13, 2017

Due to recent tragic — and still-unfolding — events in Puerto Rico, exacerbated to no end by our shithead of a president’s racism and unconcern, I have to admit that I was rooting for Dominium, a “found footage” indie horror filmed on the island in 2013 for the princely sum of $30,000 that’s now available for streaming on Amazon Prime. DIY flicks hold a special place in my heart even under normal circumstances, obviously, but I went into this one hoping to find a real “hidden gem” that I could enthusiastically recommend to all of you, my dear readers. PR could use some good publicity these days, I think we’d all agree, even from a low-rent movie blog like this one, but — and you knew that “but” was coming — I still gotta call ’em like I see ’em —

And the most I can say for Dominium, it pains me to report, is that I wish I hadn’t seen it.

Purportedly “based on true events,” this flick follows a film crew of five (Emanuel Freire as Enrique, Yomar Davila as Alexis, Nicole Ramos as Michelle, Lycan Maldoando, who pulls “double duty” with a second role later in the film, as Renato, and Juan Boria as Arturo) as they follow up on various urban and rural legends peppered about the island for their supposedly “ambitious” documentary project, only to discover a number of potential links between them (some rather oblique, others decidedly less so) that eventually lead them smack-dab into the middle of a dark occult ritual that they may not make it out of alive.

Yes, you’ve heard this all before — but also yes, if executed well, I for one am still more than willing to allow myself to be entertained by a film of this nature. I stubbornly refuse to believe that the “mockumentary” is completely played-out, but geez — if you’re gonna make one, you’d better have your shit together. It would be unfair, bordering on insane, for anyone to expect something “new” from this sub-genre, sure, but anyone who’s watched a few (and most of us have probably seen more than a few) knows what it takes to make one of these flicks work, and co-directors/screenwriters  Ricardo Cayuela and Eladio Feliciano-Matos don’t really seem to have absorbed any lessons as “found footage” viewers before they jumped in and decided  to make one of their own.

All of which is really too bad, because there are some genuinely well-composed shots on offer here — but the acting is so poor, the story so contrived, the dialogue so unrealistic, and the gaps in logic so wide and glaring that the production simply can’t be saved. The whole “found footage” game all boils down to execution at this point, I think it’s safe to say, and apart from some moody and borderline-artistic images, Dominium simply doesn’t get the job done on that score.

Still, in its (admittedly small) favor, there’s just enough on offer here, I suppose, to make you think “aw, man, what could’a been, ya know?” — and that alone puts it at least  a notch or two above many of its contemporaries/competitors, but it’s nowhere near enough to make this flick worth your time. I take no pleasure in pissing all over the efforts of any amateur filmmakers who are basically doing what they do simply for the love of doing it, but Dominium is rote, formulaic, and desperately unimaginative. I hope everyone involved in its production is safe and sound in the wake of Hurricane Maria, absolutely, but damn — I also hope they’ve all found something else to do with their lives other than make movies.

Okay, let’s state right off the bat that another “found footage” alien abduction film is probably the last thing the world needs — but that’s hardly the fault of filmmakers Sean Bardin (co-director/screenwriter) and Robert Cooley (co-director), not least because their entry in this crowded field, Unaware, was lensed “way back” in 2010,  well before these things became ubiquitous. Admittedly, though, it sat around gathering dust until flicks of this nature were everywhere (2013, to be specific, when it was released on DVD), and like a lot of you, I’m sure, I gave it a pass at that point. Still, now that’s available for streaming on Amazon Prime, I figured, what the hell? It surely can’t be worse than The Phoenix Tapes ’97, can it?

As it turns out, though, it’s not only better than bottom-barrel dwellers than that, it can hold its own with Alien ValleyAlien Abduction, and any of the better residents of this heavily-populated cinematic suburb. In fact, it might even be the best of the bunch — that I’ve seen, at any rate.

Here’s the interesting wrinkle, though : it probably shouldn’t be. I mean, this flick looks really bad, even by “shaky-cam” standards. And the two lead (hell, for the most part only) actors can be a real chore to watch at times — in fact, I can sorta see why they chose to forego being credited and why you can’t even find any info about them anywhere on the internet. But you know what? If you’re gonna go for a “homemade” vibe, this is probably the way to do it, because the end result of all this intentional (to the point of sometimes feeling forced) amateurism is a film that really does come across as an assemblage of camcorder footage shot by “real” people. In short, it truly doesn’t get much more authentic than this.

Here, then, is the run-down : young(-ish) lovers Joe and Lisa decide to pay an impromptu (and unannounced) visit to the rural Texas home of Joe’s grandfather, and as it turns out they’re going to have some big news to announce because Joe pops the question — and Lisa accepts — on the way. But when they arrive, it seems that grandpa Roy and his wife, Betty, are gone for the weekend. Guess that’ll teach ’em to call ahead, right?

Well — maybe not, because they’re probably not going to live long enough to change their ways. First they hear weird noises coming from ol’ pappy’s work shed. Then they find some weird evidence out there that suggests that he was “on-site” at the infamous Roswell, New Mexico UFO crash in 1947. Then they find an even weirder crate. And then the shit hits the fan.

The alien starts out as a pretty creepy figure, I must admit, and when it’s suitably obscured, it gets the job done. When it’s revealed more fully, though, this film’s ultra-low budget immediately goes from being its greatest asset to a being a hell of a hindrance — but apart from that and some seriously dodgy acting (as in, reading straight from a cue-card) from a purported (and similarly uncredited) FBI agent who makes a brief appearance, I really can’t find a whole heck of a lot to complain about here. This film is tense, atmospheric, and smartly-constructed. Events occur in a natural and logical progression, lousy camera angles and characters falling out of frame at key points add to the sense of “reality,” dialogue and characterization both strike me as reasonable approximations of how actual people talk and act (Joe in particular is more than a bit of an asshole, but he’s the kind of asshole you meet a dozen times a day), and much of the lighting and sound design, especially, is surprisingly effective (and may even hint that Bardin and Cooley had a little bit more money to play with than the folks behind these sorts of productions usually do). It’s far from perfect, sure, but apart from those aforementioned gripes, its imperfections are all feathers in its cap. Bardin and Cooley get it more or less exactly right here, and if there are better examples of the “found footage” alien abduction sub-genre to be found, I must confess that I’m Unaware of them.