Archive for October 31, 2017

For the final entry in our look at some of the lesser-seen (and even lesser-budgeted) flicks available for your Halloween viewing pleasure via Amazon Prime’s streaming service, we come to a curious, and often fascinating, little number called The Grinn, which was filmed earlier this year in Pacific Grove, California for (at least as IMDB would have it) the king’s ransom of precisely $300.

And, honestly, in may ways it shows : the sound quality can be uneven, some of the camera angles are a bit suspect, and the script is obviously an amateur effort with some real pacing problems — but here’s the kicker : it’s both inventive and surprising enough that you’ll likely be more than willing to overlook its production and plotting flaws.

And speaking of  the plot, here’s a brief, reasonably-“spoiler”-free rundown : A guy named Vance (played by John Carroll) wakes up with no memory of where he is, why he’s there, or even who he is beyond knowing his own name. Fortunately, he has a “guide” of sorts : one who first communicates with him only by means of his cell phone, but then later “takes charge” personally — but by then, larger questions have arisen. Is all this taking place only in Vance’s mind? And if so, is he even still alive? And what’s with the weird, scurrying figure in the mask?

Disjointed flashbacks of questionable veracity fill in a lot of the blanks (or do they?), and give supporting players such as Sarah Leight and Michka Hawkins a chance to relieve Carroll of shouldering the entire load as far as the acting in concerned, but it’s not until the film’s (really rather memorable, it must be said) third act that everything comes together in a way that can truly be said to “make sense.” If this all sounds a bit Memento-ish, you’re not too far off the mark, but this is no simple amnesia tale told in reverse in that Vance’s own sanity, as well as the reliability of his memories, is constantly in question. The first 2/3 of the film are a bit of a slog at times (I warned you about the pacing here), but stick with it and I think you’ll find the investment of your time and attention during even the slowest sequences really pays off by the time all is said and done.

As mentioned a moment ago, Carroll doesn’t have to carry the weight of the entire production on his back, but as I think should be obvious by now, he’s required to carry most of it —and for an amateur actor, he’s more than up to the task. His confusion, fear, and frustration are palpable, and the film’s sparse and enclosed setting is probably his best “co-star” in that regard : there’s no sure footing to be had, either mentally or physically, in The Grimm, and the quality of the acting and the (mostly-) singular location both reinforces this feeling and, on a purely practical level, helps alleviate the necessarily-dodgy nature of some of the movie’s production values. No flick made for $300 is ever going to be close to perfect, but this one at least does a whole lot more than just give it “the old college try.”

About the nearest thing to an unforgivable sin to be found here is the fact that, as things turn out, our titular “Grinn” (the figure in the mask) turns out to be completely superfluous to requirements, but if that’s my one major gripe,  then hey — you’d have to say that Kalamane, his sparse cast, and even more sparse crew have done one heck of a job here, and that by saving this one to the end of our Amazon Prime Halloween overview, we’re closing on a very high note indeed. I guess there’s nothing more to do here, then, but for me to recommend in the strongest possible terms that you give The Grimm a shot at your earliest convenience — and to wish you a safe and happy Halloween, of course!

 

 

 

Hey, it wouldn’t be a Halloween on Amazon Prime without a new film from our guy Ryan Callaway to check out, would it?

Of course not, and just the other day his latest popped up on there — Messenger Of Wrath, which “wrapped” production just a few short weeks ago and marks something of a departure in the veteran micro-budget auteur‘s output in that it’s the first time, at least to my knowledge, that he’s delved into the burgeoning “home invasion” sub-genre, but fear not : as with all things Callaway (or maybe that should be Callaways, given that his wife, Amy, produces all these flicks — this being no exception), there’s a twist here to set it apart from its competitors/contemporaries. But it’s not one that I’m going to give away in case you decide to watch this movie, so rest easy on that score — we’re keeping things (relatively) “spoiler-free” for purposes of this review.

Genre branch-out aside, however, this is still, in many ways, a “typical” Callaway film in that it was produced on a shoestring budget, filmed in New Jersey, has a lengthy (some would argue padded) runtime, is populated by a cast of regulars (specifically Madeline Lupi, Melissa Malone, Hiram Ortiz, Brittini Schreiber, Hayley Wayne, and Isabella Mays — to name only those I recognized off the top of my head), and features strong and independent women or girls in most of the lead roles. It’s also essentially bereft of gore, nudity, and even (for the most part) cursing, so it’s not one you’re probably gonna want to watch over a few beers with your friends.

If you’re still willing to give it a whirl even bearing in mind all those caveats, however, what you’ll find is a relatively tense and well-executed psychological thriller with reasonably compelling characterization, smart (if plentiful) dialogue — and, in this case, some pretty good acting, as well. Surely we can forgive its lack of entrails and viscera, then, can’t we?

The set-up here is deceptively simple : precocious 12-year-old girl Three Ballentine (played by Lupi, who really shines in this featured turn) is left home alone one evening when her usually-quiet exurban residence is set upon by a gang of masked intruders.  Her internal “survival mode” switch kicks in pretty quickly and she proves to be rather ingenious at evading and/or thwarting her would-be kidnappers/assailants, but here’s where the twist comes in, and it’s one that dovetails with prior Callaway efforts, so I’ll keep things suitably oblique : when the chase moves outdoors, both Three and her pursuers discover that they have a much bigger problem to worry about, and it’s one that potentially threatens all of them and doesn’t really discriminate between “good guys”and “bad” —

My one semi-major gripe here is that this film probably would have benefited from having 20-30 minutes excised from it, which would have resulted in a more brisk and terse affair fraught with a bit more tension, but Callaway has always been one to give his stories (and his characters) plenty of “breathing room,” and I don’t foresee that changing anytime in the near future. Aside from that, though, problems are really quite few and far between, and Messenger Of Wrath may indeed be the most well-executed example of the whole “Callaway Ethos” to date. A very well-done flick from one of the micro-budget scene’s most prolific — and interesting — filmmakers.