Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Chasing Darkness – review

Director: Jason Hull

Release date: 2007

Contains spoilers

It is always a challenge with micro-budget films to see through the layers that accumulate due to that very lack of budget. This is made worse when the film happens to be ambitious. Sometimes there are no redeeming features, with others there certainly are.

Before I look at Chasing Darkness in depth I will state in advance that there are problems with the film. Much of these are born out of budget constraints and some, I’d say, came from inexperience. However there are also some very redeeming features in the film that, if nothing else, suggest we look out for Jason Hull in the future.

Vinnie's dream
The film starts in black and white and we see two men enter a room. The primary man is Vinnie Carpone (Todd Humes). We see movement behind them, people on their hands and knees a moment that adds a surrealistic tint to the scene. Suddenly they are surrounded by vampires. Vinnie awakens. It is 2 o’clock and his girlfriend, Cierra (Katie Russell), quizzes him on the time he got home – he was working late. Cierra isn’t happy with the answer (she possibly should have been less happy with the fact that the first thing Vinnie did when he got up was pour himself shots). He himself should have been worried about the moment of weird mist that crossed his mirror when he got himself washed up.

Vinnie is a mob hit-man and the boss (Larry Liggett) calls him in, when the boss calls you come a-running. Sort of, he is an hour late and the boss is less than impressed that his last hit fouled up. When he asks what happened, Vinnie can’t remember – the entire hit is blurred in his memory. He has to go back – the next night – and he has to take backup (and a watchman, as it were) in the form of Johnny (Dennis Carver) – only trouble is, Vinnie works alone.

Renne Porada as Faith
Vinnie is antagonising one of the door guards, Dimitri (Joe Powell), and he takes a paper from the other (whose brother was involved in the incident that led to Vinnie working alone, the film puts loads of background in but this nugget could have been expanded) and notices the headline about a female martial artist winning an award. He goes to a bar and said martial artist and former girlfriend, Faith (Renee Porada), is in there. There are also a couple of good old boys looking to get a beer carry out. This is the best time to talk about acting.

The performances in this are a mixed bag. The primaries all do rather well, indeed Humes and Porada managed to give Vinnie and Faith a palpable chemistry that worked really well (bar a diversionary kissing moment during a fight that was just kind of misplaced scene wise – but that is far from this point). The minor actors were not so good. The good old boys just didn’t work for me (especially as their only reason for being was to become vampire fodder), the mobsters – especially the boss – didn’t feel so real, but the small town, rural setting didn’t help that. Whilst I am on the mobsters, I'd have liked to have known what the vampires had been doing to attract a mob hit.

gut eating
Another problem rears its head during the killing of the good old boys (and in some of the interior shots). It is clear that this was shot during the day – sunlight through windows in the bar is a give away. Worse were the outside scenes that were blue treated but you could still see sunlight pooling. I understand that being able to do a decent night shoot with a minimal budget is rather difficult but… It becomes apparent that the vampires are not affected by sunlight so more daytime sequences would have made this less of an issue. I will say that I actually rather like the blue effect, but the obvious sunlight did outweigh the positive strangeness the effect lent the film.

Anyway, Cierra happens to be stalking in the bar when Vinnie (innocently at this point) meets Faith. So it is that she decides to follow him the next night – on his job. The job is far out in the countryside (and seems to centre around a shed) and it messes up again as bullets are generally useless against the undead. However a vampire bites Cierra and this becomes a mixed part of the film with some of the highs and lows attached.

dream vampire
First a low – the first Vinnie hears about his live in girlfriend being dead is on the radio (no cops have come to tell him) and the radio says she died of a rare blood disorder, not seen in the area for years hence a swift burial. Without talking to her significant other, come on – Vinnie gets to the graveside post funeral. This was story shortcutting that didn’t work, perhaps it might have worked had the film later elaborated on a conspiracy (it hints but doesn’t elaborate). Vinnie, whose dreams are telling him a story, it seems, vows revenge (and also tries to leave the mafia Family).

Cierra in her coffin
Then the high. Cierra wakes in her coffin and this scene was… well can I just say wow. It was a powerful, disturbing take on being buried alive. Kudos to the photography, the direction and the acting in this scene – seriously one of the best of such scenes I have seen. The first hint of the conspiracy comes in here (being generous) given how shallow the coffin is buried – the gravedigger (Brad Weaver) can hear her screams (but seems unmoved).

stealing a ring
Then a low again. Her hand comes out of the ground and the gravedigger steals a ring. He is not phased by the hands emergence at all – if there was a reason for this it wasn’t explained well enough. Cierra gets out of the ground and he states she looks pretty (or such like) – these seems odd given she looks like hell. She attacks…

Cierra's makeup worked
Okay time we got to the vampires’ look. They are rotten looking perma-fanged freaks. The look is makeup heavy, rather unreal but, you know what, I rather liked it and thought it worked particularly well when it came to Cierra. As things roll on we discover that they can make someone see them as though they were mortal – Cierra later seduces a mobster before slitting his throat and we see the scene split between how she looks and what he sees. If I had to criticise, perhaps we should have seen that with the gravedigger (unless the thought was that he was a necrophilliac). The downside to the makeup was it did seem to rub off during fight scenes – onto the human adversary.

Later a convenient priest (Shannon Solo) tells Vinnie that everything in the movies, lore wise, is true – well except sunlight, obviously. He also gives Vinnie holy water to soak his bullets in (that felt like a stretch, but I’ll live with it). With his holy water soaked bullets Vinnie now has the option of shooting them or staking them through the heart, breaking the neck seems to work also. The vampires themselves are animalistic flesh eaters as well as blood drinkers – I liked that. Turning wise, a minion vampire turns someone immediately, but the bite needs to be in the carotid artery. A master vamp only turns men – an in built male-centric aspect – thus feeds on women. When he bites a man it takes a week for the victim to turn, but he can bite anywhere and turn the person, creating another master. Master vampires can phase away in a puff of smoke.

The film has a twist you can see coming and then a further twist that you don’t.

the big bad
So a mixed bag, a lot of story building (more than you would expect) and some worthwhile characterisations. Issues with daylight shoots and supporting actors, as well as some plot shortcuts unworthy of the complex plot. The fight scenes worked remarkably well in the main. Occasionally they felt a little too exhibition and one punch (on the vampire Cierra) stood out because it was obviously a stage punch, but in the main they felt real enough and the camera, whilst shaking a little, was quite reserved compared to many a-film out there. Then there were little glowing gems of genius that really make this worth seeking out – indeed, though short, the waking buried scene is worth the entry fee.

chewing gristle
4 out of 10, in this case, represents a film worth catching so long as you realise it is a micro-budget production. A film that has flaws, but more, the score also recognises that this is a building block and Jason Hull can use it to move forward as a filmmaker and take those things that worked well with him.

The imdb page is here.

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