Sunday 24 October 2010

Fallout (2010)

Director: Paul DeNigris
Stars: Anders Striemer, Ted Herbig, Jose Rosete, Angel Ruiz, Kane Black, Cale Epps, Katrina Matusek, Shane Dean and Steve Briscoe
This film was an official selection at the 6th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Tempe in 2010. Here's an index to my reviews of 2010 films.

Perhaps the most fascinating short film at this year's IHSFF from the perspective of a budding filmmaker, only the near catastrophic trials and tribulations of the feature Snuff outdoing it, Fallout is about as true a student film as you can get. Made for class credit at the University of Advancing Technology over the course of most of a year, a total of 31 students and staff were involved under the direction of Paul DeNigris, an experienced filmmaker and professor in the university's Digital Video program. It 'wasn't so much about the outcome as it was about the process,' DiNigris has said and as a learning opportunity, that's understandable. However, the film is also a promotional opportunity, screening at festivals like this one as a demonstration of what UAT can do. What I saw on screen was admirable. What I saw off screen in the enthusiasm of the students in attendance was even more so. At least half the crew were there in person.

'Welcome to Phoenix' says the recognisable sign, but this is a post apocalyptic Phoenix where a group of terrorists have a weapon of mass destruction in a suitcase. In come the boys, the Wild Cards, a counter-terrorist unit with the Department of Homeland Security, to stop them and save the day. This is far from a Rambo type action movie though, even when the battle begins: it's a science fiction story that only centres around the mission, which fails in explosive fashion, even though these guys have some very cool equipment indeed. The larger story is the investigation of what went wrong and why, and rather than have young students attempting to play beyond their years, DeNigris drafts in a who's who of local acting talent, including adjunct professor Steve Briscoe who has served many roles in previous DeNigris films, including Cowboy Dreams and The Falls, and who plays the chief military investigator here.

All the actors have experience but some have more than others, Jose Rosete in particular, who is either in or behind what seems like every Arizona film made nowadays. He had two features, Snuff and Avé Maria, at this year's IHSFF and no less than six at last year's, Blood Moon Rising and five Deadly Event shorts, some of which Angel Ruiz was also involved with. Shane Dean is no stranger to local film either, though he's far less prolific. He could be seen elsewhere in this year's festival in the dollar baby Everything's Eventual. Katrina Matusek had a memorable role in Dean's most notable recent film, Deadfall Trail, as Mother Earth herself. It never hurts to recognise actors in a student short, but it's always surprising, especially when so many of them are recognisable. All are solid but none of them really get an opportunity to shine because they are many and the minutes so few, and the focus is really on the effects rather than the acting.

The scene early in Fallout where we see the boots of the Wild Cards as they leap out of the drop ship onto the blighted soil of Phoenix is notable not because it was greenscreened but because it was the only shot in the entire film that wasn't. Everything else was generated through some sort of effects work, from CGI backgrounds to particle effects and motion tracking, with actors spending as much time on a greenscreen set as their counterparts in Sin City or The Spirit. The actors did their work over an 18 day shoot but the film took three and a half semesters to make it through post production into a finished product, showing just where the bulk of the effort was made. The effects are far superior to that of Lines in the Sand: Ties, not just in visualising a city but in the little details too, many of which involve extrapolation of near future technology and how it will change old school dynamics like espionage and traitorous deception.

Posts on the UAT blog cite TV shows Stargate SG-1, 24 and The Wire as influences, with the big budget sci-fi flick Minority Report as the source inspiration for the gadgetry. There's much more here than influences though, as each of the various students seem to have brought something different to the table. Even the opening credits get a decent set of textures. There was a notable video game take on the weaponry, such as the sniper rifle that identifies the squad members it picks up in its sights or the way the good guys get a green border and the bad guys get red. A good soldier has to trust his equipment but this takes it all a little further. In the end the only flaws visible are tied to the effects being too good. We're so easily distracted by them that it's easy to lose track of the plot. The whole thing plays out like it's condensed and if you blink you miss something important. Solid as a short, it would play even better at greater length.

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