Friday 28 June 2013

The Muse (2012)

Director: Brian Kiefling
Stars: Christina Campion, Kelly Leeth and Kim Huenecke
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
This film was an official selection at the Jerome Indie Music & Film Festival in Jerome, AZ in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
Here's another film that played two recent Arizona festivals that I've covered. The Muse screened in the Arizona Shorts set at the Phoenix Film Festival and the Holy Moly Horror Shorts selection at Jerome. It's a capable film, but one that clearly grew out of a location and could have done with growing a little more. The location is, admittedly, very cool indeed. The heart of the story is spent inside the basement of the Community Services building at ASU, where the producer and director are both film students. This building used to be a children's hospital and it didn't change much for the film, where it plays an office that used to be a children's hospital. The difference is that, in the story, the very popular, award winning nurse who ruled its roost turned out to have a dark secret. During the excellent opening credits, we follow the newspaper clippings to discover that she was indicted for Munchausen by Proxy, pleaded guilty and committed suicide while on trial.

That's the sort of story that emerges from a location like this, which retains many of its darker fittings, such as its furnace and crematorium. Brian Kiefling, who wrote and directed, gave a tour of the building to some people from a music charity and two of them freaked out. That very night, he wrote the bare bones of the script with 'the hairs on his arm standing up'. Naturally, this solid location for inspiration soon became the location for shooting this short ghost story, which gives a traditional haunting a neat edge and combines it with more modern characters. The premise is a good one and it unfolds in a fair fashion, but it didn't progress far enough from those bare bones to really warrant returning to. It feels a little rushed and could have done with more substance to ground it. We never really find out anything about any of the characters on show, except maybe Margaret Broman, the wicked nurse whose story is outlined in all those clippings.
The film was shot in two days, like many of the IFP films I've been reviewing lately, but it shows. The first scene after the credits has poor sound and isn't promising, but it brightens up when we move out of Katie Johnson's house and follow her to the Muse, where she's interviewing for a job. The interview seems to comprise of showing up, as the first thing her potential future co-workers do is show her the 'haunted house', the morgue of the old children's hospital. Christina Campion does well here as Katie, a lot more believable than the actors supporting her. I particularly liked the little wave she gives as they slide her into a cold chamber, one of those locked drawers they store corpses in. She's just trying to impress them, of course, daring to stay locked inside for five minutes for a bet. The problem is that it soon becomes more because the fire alarm goes off and everyone else leaves. Cue the ghost story part of proceedings, neatly hinted at earlier.

Kiefling isn't your average film student. He's a former cop, who spent fifteen years at ASU in the campus police, but he caught the filmmaking bug when asked to make training videos, promptly enrolling in the university's film school to take it a step further. It certainly wouldn't surprise me to find that the most natural actor in the film, the cop who gets to explain the reason behind the fire alarm to the evacuees, is a real cop. Most of the actors do have capable moments but they often feel like actors otherwise, putting on a show rather than being the characters. The standouts are Campion as Katie, Kim Huenecke as a particularly evil Nurse Broman (though how a nurse who acts like this could get away with years of abuse without raising any suspicion, I have no idea) and Kelly Leeth as a little girl ghost called Celia. We hear her more than we see her but her voice is the haunting bit, however many iconic horror shots Kiefling sets up.

He does that well too, especially as technically dubious scenes like the first one condition us not to expect scenes like the one with the first special effect. It's done admirably, but I firmly believe it carries more of a punch because we totally aren't expecting a well done special effect in a short that starts out with bad sound. Clearly Kiefling has watched a lot of horror movies, because the whole second half is full of the sort of well chosen camera angles, careful composition of frame and solid editing that makes so many horror movie shots iconic, not to mention the freaky score by Andrey Alekseyev. The technique on screen isn't particularly original but it's effective anyway. It all bodes well for what Kiefling might do once he graduates from ASU. A twenty minute version of this would be welcome for a start. Beyond the odd sound issues and some inconsistent acting, it's the length that jumps up and complains. It's a good story but it needs to be given more depth.

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