Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Review: Pretty Fine Things

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

Pretty Fine Things
Written, cinematography, directed and edited by Ryan Scott Weber
Weber Pictures Co. / Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Visual
100 minutes, 2016 / 2017

While sometimes made-up places can have decent names, or even just something like Smallville, but for me, I’m a fan of maps. I especially love when not only are real places used – especially rural ones – but also have great names like Bernardsville, New Jersey. Yep, that’s where this Podunk takes place. It’s only about 45 miles west of Hoboken, somewhere between Routes 78 and 80. I’ve passed the sign for Bernardsville many times on my way to either Pennsylvania or back to Brooklyn, though have never stopped off there. It’s also where this slasher release was shot.

Lynn Lowry
Outside this relatively small burg is where some of the fictional Banner family resides. Papa Banner (Ralph Cobert) is going blind and senile, missing his past-on wife (the always amazing Lynn Lowry, in essentially an extended cameo), who we see in flashbacks and dreams. They have three sons, and right off the bat we already know that the one who lives with dad, Walter (Brooklyn’s own Joe Parascand), is a bit off; I don’t think I’m giving much away as less than five minutes in he’s involved with dispatching Heather (the very cute Krista Robelle) after she has a fight with her boyfriend, Jay (Jesse Stier, whose face hair volume seems to changes from scene to scene).

Joe Parascand
After the prologue, we meet three late-20s-looking college students from Worchester, MA: the blonde virgin Hayden (Emelia Brawn) who gets constantly teased by her friends, Wendy the redhead (Lauren Renahan), and Ashley the Latina brunette (also cute Camila Perez). They rent a house from Walter to have a Halloween party. The many guests – aka, the body count – arrive, as do Walter’s two equally serial killing and mother-obsessed brothers, Thomas (Patrick Devaney) and James (Adam Ginsberg), who are they to create the body count. Their aim is to delete sinners from the world, and have women to “substitute” for mommy dearest to dear old senile and near blind dad.

Added to the mix are two police detectives investigating the recent string of missing women, Jake (director Weber) and his partner/love-interest Jennifer (Kristin Accardi), and their Captain (Christopher J. Murphy), who for some reason looks more Texan than Jerseyite, right down to the Stetson…and yet has a map of Italy on his wall (I’m sure it belongs to whosever space they were using).

Ryan Scott Weber
This is just the basic set up. As you can see, there are a lot of elements going on at the same time in this very ambitious screenplay. The story jumps around each of the three groups – the Banner family, the women/party, and the police – in quick order, circling around until they all collide together. While all of this is going on, we get to know a little back-story, which is welcomed and tends to be missing from most films, so thanks for that!

Being the modern world, most of these kinds of films that involve the slaughter of many (some men, mostly women), you know there has to be a twist, and is partially indicated early on when one of the women comments on the weirdness of Walter, and the response from another is, “We are a little creepy, ourselves.” While this is more than just a subtle reference to a line from The Craft, it is potentially a good thing. But also like contemporary horror cinema, especially indie releases, the action takes quite a while to start. There is some minor bloodletting to whet the appetite, but the real action kicks in after the expository about an hour in, when the Halloween party begins.

Camila Perez
Which brings us to the gore: we don’t see much in the first hour, even with some killings, but when the party starts is when it really kicks off. Michael Anthony Scardillo does a bang-up job with it, nearly all appliance SFX, when we see it. What I mean is that a lot of the violence to bodies is done through clothing, such as stabbings, but every once in a while, we get to see some viscera and bloodletting, and it looks really good. As for nudity? Well, we get to see a lot of cleavage and bras, but no naughty bits, even with a shower scene (still in underwear). Well, the cast is attractive, so I’ll move on after the following comment: there are a lot of tattoos on nearly everybody, including at least one full chest-plate. “Ouchies!”

The weak sides of the film are as follows: there really needs to be some editing done to bring this puppy down to at most 90 minutes. There are definitely superfluous moments that could be done away with without losing any of the story (I’ll get to the actual “Deleted Scenes” extra in a mo). Most of the acting is quite decent, such as by Parascand who steals nearly every scene he is in (his close-mouth smile is just the right level of eerie), and Perez is a close second, though there are some characters that are pretty wooden and only there for the body count (in the party scene, so it’s actually a positive, right?). Lastly, the writing is a bit shaky in sporadic parts, though I will say there is a nice and subtle humor that shows up throughout here and there, especially with the coppers, to balance it all out.

Lauren Renahan and  Emieia Brawn
On the positive, I was mucho grande impressed that there were at least three unexpected twists in the last 20 minutes, which I’m not going to hint at in any way. There is also an interesting use of color tinting throughout, which isn’t as subtle as it could have been, but still works. The camerawork is also quite good, using unusual angles and through objects in a way that doesn’t come across as all artsy, but still stands out.

The extras include a 10:05 blooper reel that was okay, but did not really bring anything major to the cast to indicate friendship or amusement to the viewer (well, this one anyway). The three female leads are friends in real life, but you don’t really get that here. But blooper reels tend to be overrated, in my opinion. Next is a 27:28 “Behind the Scenes” collection that is narrated by Jay Kay, host of “The Horror Happens Radio Show.” Rather than just watching shots being set up (which I find boring), Kay wisely interviews the seven key players, and some of the production crew. It’s a bit long, but most of it is interesting. The cheesy music behind it gets to be a bit much, but I think I’m nit-picking there.

This is followed by a 9:44 “Deleted Scenes” which also includes some extended ones, and an interesting alternative ending. In all, I feel like they made the right choice to put these here, rather than leave them in the film. Still, it was good to see these after watching the film. Of course, being a Wild Eye Releasing – err – release, there are a half-dozen trailers for other indies, mostly with a theme that I won’t say as it sheds a light on a spoiler alert. I really like Wild Eye’s stuff.

The main extra, which comes first but I saved for last (in both review and participating in) is the full-length commentary. Thankfully, it’s only Weber and Parascand so there is hardly any talking over or bravado, just stories about filming, both about the ideas behind it and anecdotes about the shoot, and it’s an easy listen that doesn’t get boring.

This is essentially a story about playing with the perception of who is “good” and who is “bad.” You can tell this is an mico-budgeter, but Weber does a great job in showing what can be done with very little, and make it look big.

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