Posts Tagged ‘Leaving D.C.’

So here’s an interesting one : more or less a one-man production helmed by writer/director/cinematographer/editor/star Josh Criss, 2012’s Leaving D.C. is the working definition of a “bare-bones” production. Lower than low-budget, lower than micro-budget, we’ve straight-up landed in “no-budget” territory here, a truly homemade effort shot on a now-outdated camcorder by a guy with only a rudimentary working knowledge of what he was doing — but bound and determined, for whatever reason, to make himself a movie anyway. And he took it all the way to Amazon Prime. Not bad for what probably was a few days’ work, am I right?

Here’s the most impressive part about the entire enterprise, though : it’s actually pretty good. And not just by “vanity project” standards, but by any standards.

Criss plays Mark Klein, a guy who’s gotten fed up with the big-city rat race in our nation’s capitol (hence the title) and purchased himself a home in rural West Virginia. His friends from his OCD support group (my wife would probably point out at this juncture that I should look into signing up for such a thing myself) are curious, perhaps even concerned, about how he’s settling into life in the sticks, though, and it seems like he might actually miss the old gang himself (they sound like such a fun bunch, after all), and so he sends them regular video updates. Regular video updates that grow progressively disconcerting as the things going bump in the night in and around his “dream house” become more and more bold and aggressive. Could the answer to this mystery lie in the nearby woods? We all know, after all, that West Virginia is haunted as shit from top to bottom and always has been —

I’ll state the obvious here : Criss isn’t any better an actor than you’re probably guessing, but to his credit he has something of a likable “everyman” persona that is easy to relate to and just as easy to spend 77 minutes watching — which is a good thing, because aside from a character named Claire (played by Karin Crighton), who appears for all of about five minutes, he’s literally the only person we see. He’s nowhere near charismatic or engaging enough to carry a bona fide “production” on his own, by any means, but that’s where this flick’s bargain-basement aesthetic works in its favor : ya see, it all feels reasonably authentic, like here’s just some regular dude with a regular life dealing with some highly irregular problems. As a result, you find yourself rooting for Mark/Josh — you want him to successfully navigate his way through these ghostly goings-on and come out the other side with his fragile grip on reality/sanity reasonably intact.

These days, of course — all of five years down the road — odds are that Criss would be shooting this thing on an iPhone (and who knows, maybe he’ll do just that if he ever feels the need to crank out a sequel), but the “instantly-dated” feel of this film adds a layer of charm to it as well when seen in 2017. We’re at the point where nostalgia kicks in pretty quick as technology evolves on a near-daily basis, and while this certainly doesn’t evoke the “retro” sentiments of watching, say, a 1980s SOV movie or anything, it’s “lo-fi” enough by current standards to make you yearn for simpler (relatively speaking, mind you) times. If I’d watched it when it came out, of course, this wouldn’t factor in as either a “plus” or a a”minus” in the film’s favor, but I didn’t, and so there you have it.

Add in some genuinely well-executed tension, a methodically-paced plot that ramps up the “fear factor” both gradually and deliberately, and some surprisingly inventive camcorder work from time to time, and what you have is a very pleasant surprise indeed. I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending Leaving D.C. to just about anybody — those already on the “zero-budget wavelength” are going to be much more forgiving of its flaws, both because we’re used to this sort of thing and, hey, we’ve seen worse, but for those who are wondering what the whole “homemade horror movie thing” is all about, this is as good an introduction to the sub-genre as I can think of. Maybe even good enough to turn some of the curious into converts.