Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Night Crawlers – review

Director: Benjamin Wilbanks

Release date: 2009

Contains spoilers

Sometimes I sit and ponder exactly how I am going to review a film. Some films just blow you away and others, quite frankly, stink. However there are films that you watch and think it was a good film, but…

This is one such film. It is a good film in that it is perfectly watchable, it has some good fx and a good lead duo but, at its heart, there were aspects that didn’t quite gel for me partly plot and partly tonal.

The film starts with a voice-over from Malachi (Mathew Greer) as we see cops outside a house. A body on the floor and a ‘Vote Coop for mayor’ sign. The cops pick up a scroll and we see it has arcane writings on it, though they are befuddled by it. It is taken off to evidence storage. The voice over tells us all about strange things happening, out of sight, and the universe changing and taking shape in an uninteresting small town.

Mathew Greer as Malachi
As the credits roll (and we see the blind Malachi walking down a night-time road) the twange of a country guitar sounds and I appreciated the soundtrack that added a nice layer of American Gothic to the film mixed with a cheeky comedic refrain. Eventually Malachi reaches a bench in town and sits. We notice he carries a dragon headed cane and he seems to hear something way across town.

Amanda Harris as Macy
In a diner the waitress Macy (Amanda Harris) takes a slice of cake with a candle over to Rob (Lee Trull). At first he seems unaware that it is his birthday and then Macy suggests they need to talk. She asks him about getting a job but the only thing he can come up with is that Coop (Gabriel Horn) has asked him to distribute material for his mayoral campaign. Macy clearly dislikes Coop (and wears a badge for his opponent). At about that time a man, Delacroix (Joel S Greco), comes in looking out of place with his sharp suit.

Tina meets her end
Macy goes to serve him and Coop comes in. He is a young man with, we hear later, a criminal past, he is also Rob’s best friend. Coop dislikes Macy and when Rob mentions Coop's squeeze, Tina (Eryn Brook, SideFX), we cut to seeing her leading a man (unseen) into a bedroom. They vanish off scene and then she falls back and is eventually crawling towards camera, bleeding from the neck, until she is draged back and the door shuts. It cuts back to Coop and Rob, with Coop (almost prophetically but ultimately inaccurately) suggesting he won’t be seeing her anymore.

Rob and Delacroix
Coop gives Rob a lighter for his birthday present but Rob does not smoke. Easily solved, thinks Coop, he can start but Macy rips a cigarette out of Coop’s mouth and starts in on Rob about smoking. Whilst Coop slopes off to buy more cigarettes, Macy drops the bombshell that she is pregnant. They end up in the alley discussing the future. After she returns to the diner, Delacroix approaches Rob – and offers him a job. All he has to do is meet him in an abandoned barn later. Rob arranges to go with Coop and, as he wanders home and passes Malachi, the blind man suggests he ‘not do it’ – run away from his problems, that is.

Joel Ferrell as Neiman
They meet Delacroix, who wants them to pick up the deeds from an abandoned house. The house has been in his family for generations but he needs the deed to prove it. It is in a safe (for which he has the combination) and, as payment, they may keep the tens of thousands of dollars that are also in the safe. Now, this sounds fishy to the most casual observer but Rob and Coop clearly aren’t too bright and agree. The ‘deeds’ however are an esoteric scroll (as seen at the head of the film) and a vampire, Neiman (Joel Ferrell), is resident in the house. Worse still, once they make it out they’ll have forgotten the scroll…

Tina returns
Why the scroll? Well it and Macy (who is a chosen bloodline) are central to Delacroix’s plans but it is only at the end of the film that we find out why and it didn’t seem overly thought through in a plot sense. However we can go with the chosen one and a magic scroll as general genre tropes. The film would have been strengthened by a stronger underpinning story – or more explanatory narrative during the film. I for one wondered why Delacroix would have the combination for Neiman's safe. The biggest problem, however, was the direction the film wanted to go in.

a whole lot of vampires
Horror comedy is not easy but Benjamin Wilbanks’ seemed to find his way with the mixture of American Gothic and the black humour displayed between Rob and Coop. They are not the brightest pair and they are morally dubious but the actors work well together and the dark humour in their banter worked. However other moments of comedy only served to  distract. We had the plain weird – in the form of a deputy and, for instance, him making the sound of his siren with a loudhailer as his siren was broken or using his sleeve as a radio. We also get a scene where half the town have been turned and chase Macy and Rob – it is straight physical comedy lifted from Benny Hill. To me those moments worked less well (though I liked Rob’s last stand).

Delacroix vamps out
The relationship between various vampires (or vampire factions?) wasn’t too clear. We do discover that they fear the cross (including a tattoo cross), a stake through the heart kills, one bite turns, they can leap far/fly and sunlight kills. In an interesting moment the sun simply kills – rather than produces a fiery death; good for budget but also refreshingly understated. The vampire effects were, in the main, rather good for what I assume was a low budget and the blood had a nice visceral quality missing in many a flick. I wasn't too sure about Neiman's look, it was unclear why he should look so decayed when Delacroix wasn't and perhaps the makeup for this wasn't quite as strong.

Gabriel Horn as Coop
If I sound too critical it is because the film frustrated me as I feel that, had it been tightened up, it might have been a cracking movie. As it is the film is worth watching – primarily for Rob and Coop – floats above average but could have been much more. 5.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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