Archive for October 30, 2019

One thing no one can doubt for a minute : Ryan Callaway is a busy guy. Most years see him putting or two or three films, and here in 2019 he’s releasing his hour-long “short,” The Ghost In The Darkness, as well as the full-length effort under review here, One Winter Night, more or less simultaneously. Not even fellow New Jersey microbudgeter Nigel Bach can match that pace, and he doesn’t have anywhere near Callaway’s cast sizes and production complexities, given that he’s essentially cranking out everything from within the confines of his own home, and with himself as his only “star.”

Still, work ethic is one thing, actual ability something else entirely, and just because Callaway can pull off the seemingly impossible on a consistent basis doesn’t mean he always should. I got early access to this flick (which should be available for streaming on Amazon Prime soon enough) from “the other Ryan C.” essentially, I think, because I’ve been more than willing to point out both the strengths and flaws of his prior productions, and in many respects the “plus” and “minus” columns recorded in the ledger for this one are populated by the same check marks — but those checks on the “minus” side are being scratched in with less fervor and gusto on my part as this Shyamalan-without-the-money continues to hone and improve his craft over time.

As proof of this evolution, I offer the fact that, despite this film’s typical-for-Callaway sprawling ensemble of players and lengthy runtime, the basic plot on offer is pretty simple, revolving as it does around an Orthodox Jewish mother named Leah Bloomfield (played by Callaway vet Brittini Schreiber) and her daughters Maya (Breanna Engle) and Esther (Ariella Mossey) coming into conflict with quasi-cabbalistic (at least as far as I understand it) demonic forces that are preying on a somewhat-isolated rural community for reasons that may or may not (hey, that’d be telling) be tied in with their own family history. It’s a compelling central premise, almost elegant in its “bare-bones” basics, and despite incorporating a number of other personages into the proceedings, Callaway never takes his eye off the metaphorical engine that’s propelling this equally-metaphorical bus forward — something that he’s not always been so successful at doing in times past.

Also worthy of note is Callaway’s facility in coaxing pretty decent performances out of his actors. Yeah, there’s still some unevenness to be had here, but he’s worked with most of these folks before (Shreiber, Engle, new-ish regular Genevieve Tarrant, and the ubiquitous Hiram Ortiz) and has a clearly comfortable rapport with them, as well as with newcomer Isabelle Zufferey Boulton, who plays a key supporting character named Naira. What’s worthy of special note, though, is the strong work turned in on this film by a number of youthful performers — most specifically Mossey and Cadence Ellissa — and while getting even reasonably believable work out of kids is pretty tough, in this flick we get it fairly consistently, and I’m of a mind that the director should get at least some of the credit for that.

Still, it’s not all roses and probably never could be — we’re talking about a production of limited means here, after all. There are some curiously-composed shots that seem to be aiming for something artistic but don’t quite hit the mark, some of the most crucial dialogue veers into the overly-expository, and certain sequences of events play out in somewhat disjointed fashion when more smooth transitions from A to B are pretty easily discernible. A lot of this is certainly down to limited resources — “we’ve gotta do this scene in this fashion instead of that for this reason,” etc. — but these kinds of “needs must” scenarios are, in fairness, frequently less discernible in productions financially comparable to this one.

But ya know what? There are any number of filmmakers with more at their disposal than Callaway, but who do far less with what they’ye got. One Winter Night may not be perfect, even by micro-budget standards, but it does mark yet another significant step forward for one of the most interesting and distinctive auteurs in the world of “homemade horror” today.

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This review, and all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Your support there not only keeps things going, it also ensures a steady supply of freely-available content both here and at my fourcolorapocalypse comics blog, so please do yourself — and, hey, me — a favor by checking it out and, should you feel so inclined, subscribing.

Oh, and I suppose a link would come in handy. Here you go : https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

So, this is kind of interesting — New Jersey microbudget auetuer Ryan Callaway used to swear up and down that he’d never touch the “found footage” sub-genre, and yet here we are, in late 2019, and apparently “never say never” is the order of the day because his latest, The Ghost In The Darkness, fits that beleaguered category to the proverbial “T.” So the question we have to ask ourselves, I suppose, is : now that he’s “gone there” — should he have?

You can decide for yourself if you’ve got Amazon Prime, since this has recently been made available for streaming there, but if you want my opinion (which I’ll take as a given seeing as how you’re visiting this site and all), I’d say that based on just over an hour of evidence (which qualifies this as a “short” by Callaway standards),  the necessary restrictions imposed upon a production by established “hand-held horror” tropes not only go some way toward obfuscating the shortcomings inherent in a flick such of this (hey, if approached properly, they always do), they also reign in some of this particular writer/director’s excesses and make for a tighter, more focused — and therefore more effective — effort. Which is maybe just my polite way of saying he should have done something like this a long time ago.

In the spirit of keeping things relatively “spoiler-free,” the general gist here is that a semi-popular YouTube “star” named Morgan (portrayed in reasonably convincing fashion by an actress who bills herself only as Jacq) has come into possession of some footage that purportedly shows a murder in woods. She does the right thing by taking this combustible material to the cops first, but when they don’t step up to the plate in timely fashion she decides to take matters into her own hands — only to find that there is much more going on here than initially expected and, in typical Callaway fashion, that “much more” is of the supernatural variety. Or sure looks like it is, at any rate.

The cast here is less sprawling than we’re used to from our guy Ryan, and every character serves a function reasonably central to advancing the plot, but it’s true that the actors, who are a mix of Callaway ensemble veterans (Georgette Vaillancourt, Hiram Ortiz, Madeline Lupi) and new faces (Kailee McGuire, Marquis Hayes, Genevieve Tarrant, the aforementioned Jacq), offer up performances of wildly varying quality, so be as prepared for that sort of thing as you’re used to seeing in this sort of thing — assuming, of course, that you’re a seasoned viewer of zero-budget horror in the first place. If not, well — you may be in for a trickier time, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find anything of value in this one.

All that being said, of course your mileage is going to vary here depending on how many allowances you’re willing to make for extremely limited resources. “Found footage” is a natural for anyone looking to slip a mask over their film’s lack of effects (practical or CGI), and Callaway has clearly done his homework in that regard, and ditto when it comes to his story pacing, cinematography, and location use. He’s been in this game long enough to know what works and what doesn’t, and going “hand-held” not only allows him to showcase his skills in a new venue, it also makes plain that the lessons he’s learned in more “traditional” film-making put him well ahead of many of his contemporaries toiling away in this always-crowded field. I won’t name any names, but — there are a number of would-be Oren Pelis who would do well to watch this thing, and to take detailed notes while doing so.

So, yeah — we’ve got ourselves more than a little bit of a winner here. As always, Callaway pushes against the limits of how tightly he can crowd up this production, but he does so with full knowledge of precisely how much he should try getting away with, and errs just on the side of caution and practicality. The end result is a film that might dearly like to have a broader, more expansive scope than it does, but plays it smart and sticks with what it has the resources to credibly pull off instead.

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This review, and all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Your support there not only keeps things going, it also ensures a steady supply of freely-available content both here and at my fourcolorapocalypse comics blog, so please do yourself — and, yeah, me — a favor by checking it out and, should you feel so inclined, subscribing.

Oh, and I suppose a link would come in handy. Here you go : https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse