Monday, September 10, 2018

Review: The Girl in the Crawlspace

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

The Girl in the Crawlspace
Written and directed by John Oak Dalton
New Dynamic Pictures
76 minutes, 2018

One of my favorite aspects of centralized indie cinema is how a local scene forms and then spirals into growth for everyone, much like a music locale. In the Indiana area where this film takes place, there is a group of filmmakers whose work strongly overlaps. On the director side there is Henrique Couto (who produced this and was Director of Photography) and Dustin Mills (who, as far as I know, has nothing directly to do with this one); as for John Oak Dalton, he’s written a few of the films directed those I’ve just mentioned, and this is his own directorial debut. There is also an acting pool that tends to overlap as well, especially the centerpiece of The Girl in the Crawlspace [TGitC], Erin R. Ryan, whose fan base is growing.

John Hambrick, Erin R. Ryan, Joni Durian
When we approach the story for TGitC, the horrific events of Jill (Ryan) are in the past, and she has escaped from the Crawlspace Killer after 7 years of captivity. Now, to paraphrase the Dusty Springfield song, “She just don’t know what to do with herself” thanks to a heavy and understandable dose of PTSD This is the spine of the story, but actually, Jill isn’t even the central character.

More than a “horror film,” this is an intense, tight psychological drama focusing more on Kristin/Kitty (Joni Durian), a psychologist who had moved from this same small town to Hollywood, and has now come back after inheriting the family home. She has set up a therapy practice based on the families of the serial killer’s victims, who were mostly young boys and Jill.

Kristin has brought along the other main focus of the film, her husband Johnny (John Hambrick, who co-starred in Couto’s 2017 Devil’s Trail) who has quite the history on his own: he’s a semi-successful screenwriter with writer’s block since he’s joined Narcotics Anonymous, and is not exactly what one would call a reliable partner. Okay, he’s a douche nozzle that either can’t or won’t grasp what is socially acceptable living in a small town.

The last major character is the Sheriff, Woody (Tom Cherry, who also was Casting Director). He’s a bit slow and a good-hearted, and actually quite likeable. He’s also the guy who killed the Crawlspace Killer, so Kristin worries about his First Responder PTSD.

This is a sharply written and directed first feature, and it bodes well for possibilities of the shapes of things to come. Dalton plays with the experience for the viewer, keeping the viewer off balance with red herrings and working the psycho-trauma tropes that we fans are so used to, and adding something new all the time. At least four times I thought I figured out the ending, and three times I was wrong, but my errors were also addressed within the storyline. How cool.

There is also a bit of social commentary that doesn’t hit you over the head with self-righteousness, but rather keeps it in the public eye. For example, there is a slight focus on the fragility of Mexican migrant workers and how they can easily be exploited, as they have been; it’s ironic talking about taking kids from families and then the government starts to do it to reinforce the notion.

Working with an experienced filmmaker like Couto also brings out some really nice moments, such as Kristin and Johnny arguing in near yellow silhouette in a living room, in front of lamps and a curtained window as the camera rolls back and forth between them. There are little gem moments like that throughout.

The weak point to me in the film’s story is the fluidity of lack of patient/doctor (psychologist) confidentiality. For example, Kristen is too willing to share her own narrative with her patients, even if she grew up with them in her life; you talk about it in social gatherings, not during paying sessions, which is a serious breach of trust. She also talks way too much to Johnny about Jill, especially considering the couple’s relationship. I work in a not-for-profit, and I would never discuss my clients with anyone other than getting advice from my boss – and that’s without p/d legalities. However, in cinematic poetic license, I understand talking to someone onscreen is the equivalent to telling the audience what a character is thinking.

One of my favorite aspects of this film is that it delves into the Tarantino-esque trivia knowledge of a film fan (not just horror, though there is especially that), with different characters spouting actor’s roles in specific films. Note that if you are not one of these encyclopaedia-level nerds (like me), this aspect is not overwhelming and doesn’t take a single thing away from the story or events, but if you are… well, for me, my find was racing to answer my own list. The moments of RPG (role playing games) is similar in that while it’s somewhat key to the story, it actually does not matter if you’ve ever played one (I have no interest), it’s just a cool shade to the film.

Another commentary I want to discuss is a group rant about Hollywood’s somewhat “sucking at the dry teat” of horror sequels. Yes, that’s a direct quote from the film, and I agree wholeheartedly.

Ryan, photographed by Henrique Couto
The last thing I want to bring up is how much I was impressed by Ryan’s performance. I’ve seen her in a few indies now (and as usual, dressed in red), and I do believe this is one of the more nuanced acting I’ve seen from her, and I want to acknowledge that. Though not the not the main focus of the film, as I said, she’s its shadow, coming in at moments to change the direction of the story.

I love it when a film surprises me in its subtly among the mind games. There is no gore and very little blood, an implied body count, a generally attractive cast, and an ending that is quite satisfying.

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