Monday 21 October 2013

As Night Falls (2010)

Director: Joe Davison
Stars: Deneen Melody, Dwight Cenac, Lily Cardone, Grace Chapman, Joe Davison, Tyler Cross, Jeremy King, André Reissig, Julie Anne, Michael Ellison, Raine Brown and Debbie Rochon

While Breaking Glass Pictures has an annoying habit of sending out crappy screeners, they do tend to release interesting movies. They brought us the excellent Wound and Scalene, for a start, along with other fascinating films as varied as Dead in France, El Monstro del Mar! and The Gruesome Death of Tommy Pistol. So I'm rather confused as to why someone there felt that it would be a bright idea to resurrect As Night Falls, a pretty awful 2010 movie, whose official website has already vanished, for fresh release in 2013. For those still intrigued after reading this review, it'll hit the streets on 12th November, but I wouldn't recommend it, even if the ten minutes of sync issues that plague the early part of the film are restricted to the screener and, as I'd hope, aren't apparent on the actual DVD. Fans of scream queen Debbie Rochon should only pick it up if they're completists; let's face it, however much fun scream queens are to watch, they've all made a string of terrible movies like this one.

Written and directed by Joe Davison, who's made two further features in between completing this one and seeing it released, As Night Falls is one of those horror movies where something unspeakably evil that happened generations earlier decides to manifest itself afresh in the modern day for no apparent reason and continue on as if it had never been stopped to begin with. Unfortunately we get nothing to explain why little Amelia has to run from her parents in the Florida woods of 1933 and merely leap in time many decades to meet the current occupants of their house, the Crofts, an unlikely family. We meet three of them quickly, all apparently siblings, even though the actors were born as far apart as 1975, 1984 and maybe 1990. No wonder their mother, who owns the house, isn't in the film; maybe if she was, another baby might spring out of the aether and make it four, even though her husband's more believable excuse for not showing up for the film is that he's deceased.

The good news is that each of the actors is capable. On the basis of this film alone, Joe Davison is a far better actor than he is a writer or director. He's believable as a decent, mildly inept small town ranger, at least for a while. Deneen Melody is fair as his sister Lizzie, though this was early in her career and she's done better work in better movies since, as I'll be explaining with tomorrow's reviews. Youngest of the trio is Holly, a sassy role for young Lily Cardone, who keeps up with her screen siblings well. She may have been twenty as this was shot, but she looks believably younger. The bad news is that we're given a lot more characters to deal with than just these, and many of those are annoying, to say the least. First and foremost in that company is Otto, apparently Lizzie's boyfriend even though they share precisely no chemistry at all and she seems to be rather embarrassed by him. I honestly wondered if he was originally just a gardener/stalker but got written into a bigger part halfway through.
There's some generic character and story building for a while, though it's rather fragmented and only half attempted. Some of it clearly points to Davison's background in stand up comedy, such as Otto's samurai routine which is as oddly funny as it is utterly irrelevant to this movie. Mostly, we just wait for the inevitable party, because that's where the action is likely to start. It does indeed, but sadly a host of other characters show up for us to be inconsistently introduced to. Steve is the big guy playing Halo with Jen and Erica, who nearly punched out his ex. Dude tries to make out with Olivia by the miniature horses. A drugged out German punk called Pennywise plays table football with himself and can't figure out which accent he prefers. Colin tries to persuade Steph's sister Alyson to go down on him, but she's only fifteen and refuses. The rest play Munchkin and drink, which is fine by me, but they're not too good at the sass talk. We kick their ass here every Tuesday game night.

It's unfortunate that some of these actors are capable because they're not given much of substance to do. It's like Davison asked them to go hog wild with their characters by improvising gimmicks, but they went too far. That he spent a year storyboarding the film suggests that wasn't the case, but it's still a more believable explanation to my mind than that this was carefully scripted. The best work thus far is the most unlikely, that of Grace Chapman, the young girl who plays the ghostly Amelia, who pops up inconsistently in a flurry of blue light to scare the crap out of everyone. She's hindered by make up, special effects and a changed voice, not to mention cheesy dialogue to use to suggest that the Crofts move, but she shines through it all with a memorably freaky performance. Her screen parents, the real evil that's travelled through time, are Debbie Rochon and the 6'4" Michael Ellison, so we're clearly on the side of the overacting cursed Depression era bad guys and not the supposed heroes of the story.

I don't want to rule Joe Davison out yet. I liked him as an actor, for a start, and there are moments in this debacle that suggests that he might have good movies in him. He's certainly getting films made; beyond the two features he's directed since this one, he has a growing string of credits in a whole bunch of categories and they aren't slowing. Surprisingly, I'm less interested in Frost Bite, a zombie movie set in Alaska, and more in a romantic comedy called Mr Engagement for two reasons. One is that Davison's clearly a comedian before he's a filmmaker and he may well do better with a comedy than a schizophrenic horror movie like this that forgets about horror for whole stretches of time to briefly become a comedy instead. The other is that he didn't write it and his script for this film is the root of all that's wrong with it. Maybe he's got better anyway, as most people do, but maybe he can concentrate more on directing if he isn't writing too.
Horror fans may get a kick out of the last half hour of this film because whatever else Davison is, he's clearly a fan of the genre and he crammed a lot in at the end to make people happy. I'm not going to talk up his writing here, because it's sloppy, unfocused and frankly incomprehensible, but he knows what he likes and he clearly likes iconic monsters who would make good action figures, frequent and bloody death scenes and wannabe tough ladies with samurai swords. He even found a great eighties sounding hard rock theme tune to rage over the action, Dirty Black Halo's As Night Falls, which gets a couple of plays during the movie and also accompanies the neat end credits. When Otto pronounces, 'I've seen more action from a two dollar whore,' during a fight scene, he's not talking about this movie. At this point, the film is magnificently alive, even if it's entirely uncoordinated and has no clear idea what it is. It's a Frankenstein's monster of a finale and it would play well at a party in the wee hours.

While it's on fire, it's almost enjoyable sober. Rochon and Ellison are meaningless monsters but they clearly had fun shooting their scenes, wreaking no end of havoc with grunts, moans and pitchforks. Chapman's little ghost girl whispers aren't exactly easy to follow, but it doesn't matter. She looks as freaky as all get out and her presence only adds to the fun. The surviving partygoers flounder about trying to resist and fight back, while they figure out what the heck's going on. They're not helped by the editing and choreography, which are close to inept, but like the film itself, as long as they're able to keep up the momentum, they're watchable. This film is rather like a carousel: it's good, if entirely predictable, fun while it's in motion, but nothing more than a promise whenever it stops. I think that above all the many flaws, that's the biggest one this picture has: it always needs to keep moving and for two thirds of the running time, it just doesn't know how.

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