Posts Tagged ‘Brittini Schreiber’

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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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.