Posts Tagged ‘Steelmanville Road : A Bad Ben Prequel’

And so, we’ve come to the end of the line for what I assume to be the first iPhone-shot trilogy in movie history. Goodbye, Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. Goodbye, house on Steelmanville Road. Goodbye, Nigel Bach.

Although probably not for long on that last one : Bach’s clearly caught the filmmaking bug, and given that he got all three of his zero-budgeters onto Amazon Prime’s streaming service, there’s literally no reason for him not to keep on keeping on. What he’ll do next is anyone’s guess, but I feel safe in making at least one educated guess — it won’t have much (if any) budget.

Which is no bad thing, mind you, as long as the end result is worth watching. The original Bad Ben certainly was. Steelmanville Road : A Bad Ben Prequel just as certainly wasn’t. And Badder Ben : The Final Chapter ends things on a pretty high note and is well worth your time once again. Two out of three? That’s not bad for a trio of homemade flicks cranked out in a space of under two years. So that’s the short version. You want more? Okay, we’ll keep going —

Badder Ben : The Final Chapter, which literally just came out, succeeds where the second installment failed by injecting a significant amount of humor into the proceedings, a move that is probably well overdue, and the results, while not exactly astounding or anything, are nevertheless positive — a film of this nature and with this few resources at its disposal probably has no business taking itself too seriously, and while Bach himself clearly has an earnest attitude toward his job as writer/director/producer/star (as evidenced by the bizarrely passive-aggressive comment he left in response to my negative review of Steelmanville Road), here he manages to keep his more sober-minded (not to mention overly-defensive) impulses well in check in service of simply having — and giving audiences — a good time. It proves to be a very smart decision.

We’re back in the present day this time out, as a paranormal investigation team sets up shop in the Steelmanville Road house in order to suss out just what the fuck has been going on there. Problem is, they find more than they were bargaining for when original series protagonist Tom Riley (played by Bach himself) turns out to be very much alive and perhaps on something of a mission himself. But is he on their side, in their way, or a little bit of both?

The cast is the single-greatest positive difference here, with the ghost-hunters themselves coming off best : Jacquie Baker (as Jacquie, go figure) and Matthew Schmid (as Schmiddy) have a fun and engaging “double-act” chemistry going between them, each being something of a counterpoint or “foil” to the other, and David Greenberg’s “third wheel” character not only doesn’t manage to trip his counterparts up, he often accentuates their snappy interaction. Bach, for his part, is obviously enjoying being back in front of his own camera, and it shows — he’s not actively out to “upstage” his more talented performers, but he’s nevertheless happy to get in on the act and relishes his screen time with something approaching understated joy. Everyone, to a person, is fun to watch here.

Scares aren’t terribly plentiful in this film, it has to be said — nor are the few that are on offer terribly effective — but that’s not too terribly upsetting, since in this self-declared “final chapter” they’re more employed as a means to propel the narrative forward rather than uncomfortably forced into a “centerpiece” role. As “sizzle,” then, they work just fine — as “steak,” they’d probably leave you feeling hungry. Bach wisely opts to have his characters be the main course instead. Which, I guess, sounds vaguely cannibalistic, but whatever. It’s late, I’m tired, so I’m going with it.

And you should go with Badder Ben : The Final Chapter. To the extent that this makeshift “franchise” can be said to have “fans,” chances are that the vastly different tone of this concluding segment may not please all of them, but for my part I can’t think of a better way to put the series to bed than by finally allowing it to be what it probably should have been all along.

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.