Monday 9 December 2013

Break Down (2013)

Director: Robert Garcia
Stars: Madison Ottinger, J P Frydrych, Eric MacDonald and Greg Bronson
This film was a submission to one of the IFP Phoenix film challenges in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 submissions.
Jump Ship Productions were the bright new things of the IFP Phoenix filmmaker challenges in 2012. Not content to merely win awards with their first film, they did so with each of their first three, winning what must have been an unprecedented three of the eight available slots in the finals and nailing the second place of all the year's entries with The Duel. However, now that they're firmly established as the team to watch out for, they've found 2013 a little tougher; Mr Wallace the Great is their weakest short thus far and Break Down feels consistently empty. Perhaps I'm a little more jaded than most when it comes to the horror genre because I see so many horror movies: by choice, through submissions for review or as festival screeners. Many of them are far worse than this, but many are far better too. This one does everything by the numbers, from the overly generic title all the way to the end credits. The only thing that's new is the fact that J P Frydrych doesn't play the main character for a change, just the support.

I should be fair and point out that Break Down does do everything by the numbers rather well. The new Jump Ship stories may be wanting but the Jump Ship production values continue to rise. This opens well with a strong sense of framing and it continues to look good until the very last shot; the worst technical element here is at least capable and I'd be hard pressed to think what it might be. The score won a fair award for Nile Popchock, the lighting and sound are good enough to not be noticeable, the effects are a step up again from previous Jump Ship films, the locations are well chosen and the actors are solid, with the ever reliable Greg Bronson's beard joining the cast to boot. The judges awarded Break Down more prizes at the Mystery Box challenge than any other film and I'd be very surprised if that sort of success rate doesn't continue on in future challenge events. Such consistent competence generally means one of two things; either Jump Ship will continue to rack up awards or they'll all move to LA.

And this all means that it's a little frustrating to see such talent turn out something as routine as this. In many ways, it's a sister piece to The Face of Innocence, in that it feels like an entire feature film distilled down to its essence for five minutes of action, like a trailer that's told in order and without the inevitable voiceover from some guy with a suitably deep and resonant voice. Three young folk are on their way to Las Vegas but, after experiencing sudden car trouble, end up somewhere else; locked in the back room at Wade's place. That Wade is played by Greg Bronson, as natural for backwoods horror movies as he is for western undertakers and homeless guys, is surely no surprise. As befits an imaginary feature shrunk to fit a competition short, he gets far too little to do and that goes for everyone else too, especially with a couple of horror subgenres fighting it out for the screen time. Madison Ottinger does scream capably, at least. I'm still waiting for the killer Jump Ship short, but I'm hoping I don't have long to wait now.

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