Posts Tagged ‘Georgette Vaillancourt’

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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It’s always a little bit tricky doing an advance review of a film that hasn’t been released yet — yeah, okay, this isn’t my first time doing it, but it’s been awhile — but when a quick Google search lets you know that your appraisal will be the first posted anywhere? Then you’re playing with fire, at least to a certain extent. I mean, a lot’s going to hinge on what you have to say — hell, in a very real sense, the success or failure of the flick in question rests at least partially on your shoulders.

You’ve got some real freedom, though, too — no one can say other opinions influenced yours, no one can accuse you of being part of an “echo chamber,” no one can point out similarities between what you’ve written and what someone else has. Not that anyone’s ever said that about my stuff, mind you —

Okay, that’s a bit more preamble than you normally might be expecting, granted, but I think a certain amount of context here is important because now’s when we get into the “full disclosure” part of the proceedings : old friend of this site, New Jersey micro-budget maestro Ryan Callaway, reached out to me looking for a review for his latest, Let’s Not Meet, sent me a (somewhat unfinished, but pretty close) “screener,” and asked if I could have it ready in advance of its Amazon Prime VOD “street date” of September 30th (well, its free “street date” — I believe it’s available on Amazon for purchase already, it’s out on DVD, and it screened in some East Coast theaters back on August 31st). I told him sure, but not simply because I think Callaway’s a cool guy — more because he’s a fair one. I haven’t been entirely kind to some of his earlier productions, but it’s not like I told him to give up on the whole “movie thing” and see if his local Wal-Mart is hiring. I’ve pointed out what he’s done well, what he’s done less than well, where I think his lack of resources hindered him, and where the “low-fi” aesthetic he’s necessarily forced to adhere to has actually been beneficial. He’s been magnanimous about accepting every piece of constructive criticism, and (if I may be so bold) it even appears that he’s even taken some of my suggestions to heart, all of which is to say —

Let’s Not Meet is probably his best film to date. It’s not perfect — circumstances almost flat-out dictate that it can’t be — but it’s pretty damn good, it’s well worth your time, and now comes the part where I tell you why —

As is the case with most of Callaway’s Shady Dawn Productions features (this time Callaway is in his usual role of writer/director, while his producers are wife Amy and Sabine Davids), this one has a sprawling, ensemble cast, but the focus starts out tight and moves outward from there  : pizza delivery woman Aya Becker (played with considerable aplomb by Breanna Engle) is making her final stop of the night when she wises up to the fact that whoever owns the house she’s just entered (don’t worry, there’s a note by the doorbell, no “B and E” going on here) is attempting to lure her into some sort of trap. She’s nothing if not resourceful and quick on her feet, though, so making her escape isn’t too big a problem — but once she skedaddles, that’s when the real intrigue begins, as she encounters a group of campers who are in the midst of a terrifying and rather mysterious ordeal of their own. How are these events connected? Who, exactly, is everyone fleeing from? How are they going to make it out alive? And what’s all this got to do with a dead Satanic cult leader? As this is, again, an advance review (okay, of sorts), I’m going to studiously avoid anything that even steps the tiniest of toes into “spoiler” territory, but that doesn’t prevent me from opining in a general sense, does it? Not in the least —

As I said, the cast eventually expands out to more traditional “Callaway size,” but his actors are generally all bringing their “A” game for this one, whether we’re talking about Shady Dawn veterans like Hiram Ortiz, Ken Llamas, Tiffany Browne-Ortiz, and Carmine Giordano, or first-timers such as Georgette Vaillancourt, Kate Kenney, Millie Ortiz, or the aforementioned Engle. Not everyone is a professional, that much is obvious, but everybody punches above their weight class, and certainly no one comes off as “cardboard,” much less cringe-worthy. Those of us who know the micro-budget world pretty well know just how rare that is — especially when there are this many performers on hand.

If you believe as I do that representation matters, especially in the formerly all-white world of genre cinema, Callaway is a welcome breath of fresh air in that he always puts together diverse ensembles of actors, and women are usally the primary movers-and-shakers in his scripts, all of which is true here, but he’s thankfully toned down his author’s urge to give them all hyper-detailed backstories and instead puts just enough “meat” on their narrative “bones” to make their motivations seem sincere and their actions “in character.” He goes a bit overboard here and there on the extended dialogue scenes, and as a result the film is a little bit longer than it needs to be, but it’s not padded out by 30 or 40 wholly unnecessary minutes, as some of his past productions have been. In other words — he’s learning what works and what doesn’t as he goes along, and his increasing confidence as a filmmaker is showing in other ways, as well, with more strong shot compositions, better timing of key story “beats,” etc.

Best of all, though, this flick is just plain fun. It’s reasonably suspenseful, sure, but it doesn’t take itself too terribly seriously all the time, it doesn’t push against the boundaries of its limitations, and it never tries to pretend it’s something other, or greater, than it is. All of which is to say, Callaway and his cohorts clearly set out to make a solidly-executed little tongue-in-cheek horror/ thriller amalgamation here  — and that’s exactly what Let’s Not Meet is.