Sunday, December 28, 2014

Mostly Dead – review

Director: Hernan Caraballo

Release date: 2014

Contains spoilers

Whilst many of the vampire movies featured on TMtV are bought, sometimes I'm contacted by production companies and asked if I would like to review their film and at other times I actually contact the production company to see if a screener is available for review. In the case of Mostly Dead it was the latter.

CGI vampire death
It is always tough, in either of those scenarios, when the film proves to be not one of the best. Clearly the filmmakers are proud of their effort, but my first loyalty is to the reader of this blog. Mostly Dead has genuine problems, many of which I suspect are born of a combination of the issues of budget filmmaking combined with a genuinely (overly) ambitious vision. I will cover these issues within the review, and it will of course affect the final score. However, there are some really good ideas in Mostly Dead as well and I also hope to persuade you that the final film is actually worth your time viewing.

a vampire attack
We are in the town of Fairlawn and things are distinctly odd. The cars stopped running, no trains or buses arrive in the town and no planes fly overhead. Somehow the electricity and water are still available but no communications can escape the town. They assume that similar phenomena has impacted the rest of the world. Oh yeah... they also have vampires. As the film starts we see a girl walking down the street with baby, more importantly we hear a song being sung. Unaccompanied vocal, this original track for the film is truly excellent and works towards building an atmosphere.

like an undead Fagin
As she walks the sky darkens. We see in an alley a vampire feed on a Goth. She passes a vampire, Vasili (Christopher Brechtel), dressed in Victorian garments with a group of children vampires all dressed in fancy dress capes. She runs and they chase. She reaches the doors of a church and has time to bang on the door, multiple times, for entrance. It takes a while but the door is opened, and she gets inside before the out of breath vampire reaches her. And here we can start seeing the problems. I'll get to the changing weather/days in a second but it was difficult to understand why 1) Vasili couldn't catch a girl holding a baby, and 2) why a vampire seemed out of breath? (After all, later in the film a vampire says that they do not get tired.)

in the snow
So, a good number of the town residents are hiding out in the church, under the care of Father Giovanni (Ryan Trost). These residents emerge during daylight hours scavenging for food. I said I'd mention the weather, it flips between summer and winter. When preparing for a review I make notes on the film I'm watching, and made a note of the extreme changing weather – snow in one scene, summer in the next. Suddenly this was answered in the dialogue when one woman asks whether it is the vampires causing such drastic day by day changes. Kudos to the filmmakers for tackling this, though I suspect the ever changing climate may have had more to do with an extended filming window. I would, however, tend to avoid filtered day for night shots – they can jar generally, especially when internal shots appear duller than faux-night shots, and they weren't used consistently.

Lynn Lowry as The Lady
When the town residents find a vampire, they dispatch it. The vampires explode in a fireball, the CGI for this (and for a house explosion the residents set off) jarred as well and I would have been tempted to avoid using such effects. The main story was the thing that kept me hooked into the film. This was, of course, the question of what exactly was happening? We get additional mysteries that feed into this, such as why it appears that certain vampires can go out in daylight, why the man with learning difficulties, Michael (Dean Puleo), seems to be able to sense vampires, and why one of the vampire leaders, The Lady (Lynn Lowry, My Stepbrother Is a Vampire!?!), can sense something amiss in the church.

under-explored as a character
Unfortunately they did throw a lot more story at the viewer and some of this was too much, and never got fully explored. Vasili feeds on children, walking with a gang of vampire kids like a toothsome Fagin, but we never see deeply into his character. That was a mistake. 30 years before he preyed on a young girl; as he fed on her the cross she wore, beneath her nightdress, seemed to burn into her chest. In the present day with faced with a cross the one in her chest glows. She hasn’t stayed with him, despite his perchance for gangs of vampire kids, we don’t know why. She appears to actually be growing, something a vampire shouldn't do, and this is put down to the cross. It’s a great kernel of an idea but is frustratingly not explored.

Flunky and The Lady
Similarly, early on we see a young woman contemplate suicide and later in the film it appears that Vasili is invading her dreams to push her towards such an act. But that is all we get, much more might have been done with it but the incidental nature of the scenes make it extraneous. I mentioned The Lady, she has a lackey (Michael O'Hear, Red Scream Nosferatu) but precious little is done with these characters. A young man who turns with his leg severed was perhaps a story too many and could have been left out. Frustratingly there is a character called Maria (Tara Rae Hark) who was concentrated on a little, but cutting away some of the extraneous storylines could have seen this important character concentrated on even more.

spotted - a daywalker
So that was some of the problem with too much story but in some respects I did feel that the actual piecing together of the main narrative could have been smoother as well. None of this, however, is able to take away from the fact that the core story kept me intrigued. I admit that I did guess exactly what the vampires sensed as being off in the church, but not straight away. Let’s be honest, a town taken by vampires was always going to be an ambitious project but concentrating on the core mystery would have made it a little more manageable.

vampire dog
So we come to the score, and is not an easy thing. I was entertained, and there were some great ideas (and a vampire dog). However the cinematic narrative was somewhat clumsy, the CGI obtrusive and there was a feeling that the filmmakers had bitten off more than they could chew. I also understand that they were working with a budget and a cast who were mostly in their first film. I don't want to give the film too low a score, which in itself would be unfair. Because I was taken with the film I'm going to give this 4 out of 10. The score reflects the issues but also the fact that I did actually sit and enjoy the central mystery within the film. Hernan Caraballo should take heart as there is much to build on.

The imdb page is here.

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