Posts Tagged ‘Bad Ben’

Well, that didn’t take long : mere months after the release of the most “solo” film effort you’re ever gonna see in your life, Bad Ben —in which no-budget auteur Nigel Bach served as screenwriter, director, producer, cinematographer, and the flick’s only actor (hell, he even filmed it in his own home!) — we’re back in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, to learn about the unlucky people who owned Bach’s spread before he did. I hope I’m not “spoiling” anything when I reveal that their attempted home-making experience was not a pleasant one.

But what about your viewing experience? Well, Steelmanville Road : A Bad Ben Prequel suffers from the same inherent weakness that all “stories before the stories” do, namely that you you’re already pretty well clued in as to how things are gonna end, but I could probably live with that if it were the only thing wrong with the proceedings here — unfortunately it’s just the tip of the home-made iceberg. Bach may not have upgraded his filming equipment between late 2016 and early 2017, but he has considerably broadened the scope of his ambitions, going from a cast of one to a cast of six (if I remember correctly) and toying around to figure out a few more filtering effects with his trusty iPhone to give things a bit more “found footage” faux-authenticity. This production may even have had an actual — albeit obviously miniscule — budget, since I don’t think these “actors” worked for free, but damn, Nigel, I’m sorry to report that was money very poorly spent.

Our admittedly threadbare plot here revolves around young-ish couple Matt and Rachael Harris (played by Christopher and Jessica Partridge, respectively, who I sincerely hope are a married couple themselves rather than brother and sister, because that would be just plain creepy), who have just “lucked” into a hefty, unexpected windfall : Rachael’s biological mother — who she never met given that she was given up for adoption at birth — has recently died and left the couple her home on, obviously, Steelmanville Road. The pair couldn’t be more enthusiastic about this out-of-the-blue break since it’s a bigger, fancier place than they ever could have hoped to afford themselves, but things go pretty far south pretty quickly when — yawn! — things start going bump in the night more or less the minute they move in and only get worse the longer they refuse to do the smart thing, namely get the hell out and never look back.

Matt explores the “practical explanation” route first, as you’d no doubt expect (which is a pretty fair summation of the entire movie, come to think of it), but when none of that pans out Rachael manages to prevail upon him the need to look into spiritual and/or paranormal avenues, and that starts the ball of dark family secrets rolling, which ultimately leads to — shit, I guess I won’t give it all away, but whatever you’re guessing? It’s probably right.

Both lead actors struggle to varying degrees when it comes to “inhabiting” their roles (Jessica mildly, Christopher mightily), and with a flick this “character-centric” that’s tantamount to digging a hole that’s way too deep to climb out of. Bach has been doing his homework when it comes to producing a more technically proficient product — which, sadly, negates some of the incompetent charm that made its way in front of the camera (sorry, phone) in Bad Ben — but eliciting decent performances from his “stars” is still an aspect of the director’s portfolio that eludes him, even if there’s quite likely only so much you can do with “talent” on hire from local small-town community theater and the like. In other words, it’s not just the Partridges who can’t hack it here — every single one of the supporting players, to a person, is clearly in over their heads, and when you don’t have anything to distract from this by way of cool effects, professional production values, interesting sets, and the like, well, shit — your “horseshit cast” flaw becomes a fatal one indeed.

Anyway, if you absolutely must, Steelmanville Road : A Bad Ben Prequel (“A” prequel? Will there be more, then?) is now available for streaming on Amazon Prime, but this is essentially just a more bloated and unsatisfying re-working of its more amateurish, sure, but no doubt more effective predecessor. I’ve been racking my brain trying to come up with some reason — hell, any reason — for you to invest just over an hour and a half of your life in this hackneyed little ghost-story-via-cell phone, but I’m coming up empty. As did Bach with his ill-advised, boring quickie.

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Who knows? Maybe one day in the future, when aspiring directors are shooting medium- and even big-budget productions on these things, we’ll look back at 2016 as being a watershed year in the history of iPhone filmmaking. And if that turns out to be the case, then it’s safe to assume that one Nigel Bach, of Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, will be considered a trailblazer. A pioneer. Perhaps even a prophet. But for now, in all honesty, he looks like a guy with way too much free time on his hands.

It’s not that his recently-completed effort, Bad Ben, is necessarily a bad film, per se —  please don’t think that’s the case by any stretch — it’s just that, after having seen it, I can’t possibly fathom what possessed him to even make it in the first place, beyond the most obvious explanation : simply because he could.

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And, ya know, thinking about it, maybe that’s the most noble reason one can have for making a movie. It’s certainly the most honest. And given that he made this flick for a reported $300, Bach simply can’t afford bullshit — nor can he afford to hire a screenwriter, an editor, a sound technician, or even any other actors. This is strictly a solo operation. So props to him for not only doing all this sans assistance, but also for managing to get it up on Amazon, where you can either rent it for two bucks or catch it for free if you have a Prime membership. Shoot, even if Bach doesn’t accomplish anything else with his life, that’s a fairly impressive little feat (sorry, Lowell George) right there.

So, anyway, here’s the deal : Bach’s character, one Tom Riley, buys a home at a sheriff’s sale after its previous owners are reported missing and never come back. His plan is to sell off whatever shit is still in the house, do some quick repairs if necessary, and “flip” the thing for a nice little profit. Welcome to bottom-feeding capitalism, folks. The problem is that objects he’s sorting through and cataloging with an eye toward hawking  have a habit of turning up in places other than where he’s sure he just left them. There are strange sounds coming from rooms when he’s not in them. And some of the crap the family that used to live there left behind is a little bit — disturbing. Crucifixes, scary children’s drawings, Satanic altars, all that sort of thing.

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Eventually all the low-grade weirdness going on convinces Tom to activate the house’s dormant video security system, and this provides something of a welcome break from the full-time phone-filming, while still keeping all the proceedings firmly within the “found footage” sub-genre. It also means that Bad Ben is more or less pre-determined to find itself compared to Parnormal Activity, but I don’t think any number of phone calls or emails or facebook “likes” are going to get this flick shown at your local theater. Just a hunch.

I’ll tell you what, though — if it ever did, by some miracle, make it to the big screen (or even the small one given that IMDB has inexplicably listed this as a made-for-TV movie), I might be persuaded to actually check it out again. The “pull-quote” that Bach has selected for his website to pimp this flick is one of those “so bad it’s good — an instant cult classic!” things, but while I’m not nearly prepared to heap that sort of praise upon it, there is an irreverent sense of humor clearly on display throughout here, and our guy Nigel, despite clearly being an amateur with zero by way of formal training, is eminently watchable and naturally comedic in a completely blase and deadpan manner. I have no idea how hard he’s really trying here, but the near-genius of what he’s doing lies in the fact that it really doesn’t matter whether he is or not because it’s not like it would make a whole shit-ton of difference either way. If he’s well and truly putting his heart and soul into everything he’s doing and this is the best he’s capable of, then hey, good on him — and if he’s just going through the paces and having us all on, then again, hey, good on him. We’re never gonna know either way, of course, and you could make an argument for either point of view — if it really matters to you. Which it both shouldn’t and, trust me, won’t.

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To be sure, Bad Ben‘s singular location and even more singular cast give the film an insular feeling, and if either works your nerves you’re in for a tough slog. It’s definitely nothing like a “movie for everyone.” But it’s considerably more interesting and entertaining than it probably has any right to be and, in a quietly weird way that has to be considered more a result of accident than design, uses its admittedly tremendous limitations to its advantage by getting you to consistently underestimate it at every turn. That’s not a bad hustle, really, when you think about it — as long as you don’t think about it too much, which is pretty good advice across the board with this one, since it’s not like we’re talking about some deep and multi-faceted work here.

What it is, though, is work well worth checking out. There’s only so much you can realistically expect from something like Bad Ben, of course — it is what it is and it couldn’t pretend to be anything else if it wanted to. But the damn thing is, odds are you won’t even want it to strive for “something more.” It’s not like Bach shows some innate ability to go beyond one-man-show iPhone movies. But he might just be the best one-man-show iPhone movie-maker on the planet — even if that’s largely because he’s also the only one. For now, at any rate.