Monday 30 September 2013

Midnight Daisy (2013)

Director: Asa Shumskas-Tait
Stars: Najarra Townsend, Raymond Stefanelli, Daniel Roberts, Mark Cirillo, Henry Le Blanc and Claire Scott
This film was an official selection at the 9th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
The winner of the Best Horror Short at this year's International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival was Killer Kart, a ridiculous homage to ridiculous eighties slashers that was played delightfully straight. It was a great film, but had the judges looked past the laughter, this would surely have been the film chosen. It plays perfectly as a short film, only fifteen minutes in duration, but it has enough substance to easily be expanded to feature length, as indeed the folk at the awesomely named Psychic Bunny production company plan to do. It's a lot of different types of movie all wrapped up into one neat package: it isn't the torture porn that the opening scene might suggest, but it is a supernatural movie, an urban legend movie and a ghost hunter movie, with hints at a conspiracy theory movie to boot. What makes it so impressive is that all of this plays out precisely as it should, without ever feeling like the filmmakers had to shoehorn material in to achieve what they wanted.

It starts as it means to go on with a great camera movement. Initially we watch the Revd Billy Mason preach, but then the camera pulls out to show that he's on TV, then back in an elliptical curve until we see that it's leaned up against a pillar in a underground garage and being watched by a young lady on the floor. Her hands are bound with duct tape but she isn't gagged, because her captors want her able to talk. They're initially what you might expect (one threatens her with a knife and another waggles his tongue provocatively in her face) but she isn't. She may have been in the wrong part of town but she's not entirely unarmed. She knows how to summon the help of Midnight Daisy, a 'vengeful spirit' in local urban legend who supposedly comes to the aid of women in distress, women just like her. It just takes a particular symbol drawn in blood and a particular chant, all within the right circumstances. And if this all seems a little deliberate, we soon find out why: Dom and his men are ghost bounty hunters.

I like the concepts in play here. Director Asa Shumskas-Tait aimed at 'a new campfire story', a sort of local ghost myth that's most commonly explained around campfires in horror movies, but he wanted it to have more substance than the usual take where nobody believes the story but the spirit shows up anyway and slaughters everyone. Adding the ghost hunter idea was a good one, a way to tie the new paranormal investigator trend to the tried and tested old urban legends. Dom, the lead bounty hunter, is a fascinating character, with enticing subdermal implants that would stand out all the more if seen in the stereoscopic 3D in which this was filmed. Of course, he plans so well that we know his target is going to shake things up and so she does. This short film is certainly enough to whet our appetite but it'll take the full feature to really define this urban legend, as well as to explore who Dom is and what drives him. I've seen features with less substance than this short; it ought to expand superbly.

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