Monday, August 15, 2016

Review: Consumption

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet

Consumption (aka Live-In Fear)
Written, directed and edited by Brandon Scullion
Iodine Sky Productions / Monsterworks66 /
Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Visual
80 minutes, 2014 / 2016

Give a group of young people a cabin in the woods in the mountains with an evil spirit that has a cult of followers, and you just know fun is going to be abounded. Well, it should be for the audience, anyway. In his first feature directorial, originally released a couple of years ago as Live-In Evil, Brandon Scullion mixes and matches a bunch of genre stereotypes and brings us a story that is meandering and somewhat shallow in plot.

Right from the start, we meet two Californian couples heading up to a cabin in Utah that was once owned by one of their families (in real life, Scullion’s grandmother). In the car ride, we get the “ghost story” background that sets up the premise, and that’s good; get it out of the way to make room for the action to come.

But as happens too often, the two guys come across as douchebags. Seth (David Lautman, with dark circles around his eyes from the first shot) is acting all “leave me alone!” and creepy, and the other, Eric (Chris Dorman) is off the wagon and verbally abusive. This is a common a theme in “couples go to wherever…couples get dead” films. The two women have their own baggage, including a history of cutting, but don’t act like privileged macho morons, but rather like they’ve been sedated. So far, 20 minutes in, the pace of the film is pissing me off.

I’ve often said that if you take enough classic tropes and put them together, you can get an original story. This film abounds with them, and one can almost make it a drinking game finding the connections. Well, the box blurb mentions The Shining and Evil Dead, and that’s somewhat accurate, but each of them is changed a bit around; again, a wise move. For example, the “Cabin in the Woods” is actually a huge complex of townhouse condos linked together, which seem to be mostly deserted (though in great shape, and quite lovely, too, with lots of pine wood). The old weirdo warning them to leave is there, but he’s also the Black caretaker (Miles Cranford, who you may recognize from his many character roles), as at the Overlook Hotel.

We also meet Ma and Pa White (veteran actors Geoffrey Gould and Nancy Wolfe, the latter of whose claim to fame – and rightfully so – is playing Susan Atkins in the 1970’s Helter Skelter). They come across as overly creepy, and seem to be just about the only tenants around, so when a mysterious masked cult is revealed (as seen in the trailer), putting the pieces together on who they are is not difficult.

My biggest problem with the film is that while each of the four main characters interact with each other, they all seem to be in a world of their own, with their own problems, most of which are not addressed, such as why the cutting, or why one took such a drastic action that happened before the film’s start (and has a direct effect on the present). While I came to like the women in the film somewhat, and not so much the men as I mentioned earlier, I never understood the motivations of their actions, or what the attractions between them are/were.

Let me add the following at this point: the cast is strong. Every actor is a gem, from the foremost to the secondary. Especially noteworthy are redheaded Arielle Branchfeld and Sarah Greyson (who has a kind of Selma Blair vibe), though I would add that the two guys perform better than their roles, even given that, most of the time, again, they all seem sedated. I supposed the direction was given that they were in shock, but it’s too broad to be just that.

Also, some the film looks decent. It’s well shot (by Matthew Espenshade, who deserves a nod) and what few gore effects there are look well done (all appliance, not digital), though most are shown after the fact. The color saturation, like the roles, is kind of drab; perhaps this was on purpose to symbolize the lack of clarity of the story, or the monotone of much of the characters?

Other than a heavy reliance on “hollow eyes,” (or raccoon eyes, if you will), the make-up is actually effective. For me, the weakest spot is the writing / storyline. It’s a bit too chaotic and possibly ambitious for its framework and budget, and yet tells so very little of what is occurring, or why. The pace could use a little picking up as well, and please, some more people for whom we can have some emotional attachment. Let me put it this way: Seth’s character is roaming around at night, digging and whatnot in a scene that is supposed to be fraught, and it’s obviously pretty damn cold, and all I could think was, “Where are his gloves?” If something like that is catching my attention during that particular action, then that tells me something.

The extras are an 11-minute passable Making Of featurette that has some good photos but not much context, and a decent solo director’s commentary that I mostly enjoyed, so thanks for that.

After writing the above, I looked at some of the other reviews of this film, and some of them are quite praiseful, while others have lambasted it. For a first feature, yeah, it’s okay, but I also believe it has a way to go to achieve its goal. I’m hoping the experience of making this film, Scullion will keep going and make more, and I’m hoping they will improve more over time. But please, invest in a story editor.

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