Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Ray’

Right off the bat, let me just make clear that writer/director Daniel Ray’s 2014 ultra-low-budget “mockumentary”-style indie horror Heidi isn’t about a little pig-tailed girl living in the Swiss Alps. As a matter of fact, it was filmed (in 2014, although it’s only somewhat recently been added to Amazon Prime’s streaming queue — it’s also apparently available on DVD) in Las Vegas (well away from The Strip or Fremont Street, mind you), and our titular Heidi is a creepy fucking doll.

Hell, I’d even go so far as to say she’s damn creepy, and while Annabelle, Chucky, and others hit the scene years — even decades — before Heidi did, she can proudly take her place in the “haunted doll” pantheon right beside them. In other words, dear reader, this flick is actually surprisingly good.

Here’s the rundown : semi-annoying high school kids Ryan (played by Samuel Brian) and Jack (Joey Bell) are would-be filmmakers who run a typically asinine YouTube prank show called “Booya,” which seems to revolve around catching Ryan’s older sister, Rachel (Eva Falana) unawares with various harmless-but-grating Punk’d-esque set-ups, but when being aspiring Alan Funts doesn’t prove to be too terribly lucrative an enterprise, Ryan takes a gig helping out an elderly neighbor by feeding her pet bird and cleaning up around the house. Teenagers being teenagers and all that, he and Jack take to rummaging around the place when its geriatric owner is away, and it’s in the attic where they first encounter the real star of the show. Jack’s the one who decides to get a scare out of his compatriot by kicking Heidi (“her” name is attached to her via a hand-written note), and it’s at this point that, wouldn’t ya know it, all their troubles begin —

Story-wise, Ray does a lot of things right here : he provides a solid reason for these kids to have cameras of all types everywhere (seriously, these guys make use of standard hand-held “shaky cams,” iPhones, webcams, head-mounted “GoPro” cams — even a teddy bear “nanny cam”), he establishes broad-stroke but effective backstories for everybody, and he writes engaging and realistic dialogue. It’s on the purely technical side of things, though, that Heidi manages to stand head and shoulders above its numerous counterparts in the “homemade horror” game.

The million-and-one different cameras employed allow Ray to keep his film visually interesting, and he’s obviously had plenty of practice using all of them given that he finds ways to compose effective and arresting shots with each. He’s got a really solid handle on lighting for a first-time director, gets admirably competent , at the least, performances out of his entire principle cast (as well as some of the bit players — special “props” go to Joei Fulco, who plays Ryan’s friend/semi-sweetheart Amanda), and has clearly watched enough horror movies to know what sort of scares he can get away with given the money he’s got on hand and finds ways to to execute what by all rights should be pretty typical “gotcha!” tropes in unique, unexpected, and highly interesting ways. In short, this movie both looks and plays out far better than we probably have any right to expect it to considering its numerous — though amazingly well-hidden — limitations.

My one small gripe is that Ray, for reasons I can’t really explain, sets much of his purportedly “found” footage against a standard — and not terribly good — musical score, which seems a curious choice to say the least, but you know what? After awhile you notice it less and less as both the film’s technical acumen and uncharacteristically rich and , dare I say it, “deep” story reel you in with a kind of quietly inexorable force. Sure, the ground that Heidi treads by means of plastic feet is fairly well-worn, but this is a borderline-ridiculously impressive effort for an amateur production, and if, like me, you’re the kind of person who gets shit from your friends for still holding out hope for micro-budget horror, and “found footage” micro-budget horror in particular, this is the kind of flick you can show those squares to shut them up.