Tuesday 8 April 2014

The Shower (2013)

Director: Alex Drummond
Stars: Kurt Ela, Rachael Drummond, Rob Norton, Andy Hoff, Alexandra Fatovich, Adam Karell, Stephanie Beran, Tony Rago, Stephanie Tobey, Katerina Mikailenko, Suzanne Sena, Drew Benda, Evan Gamble, Paul Natonek, John Brody, Liz Loza, Ted McKnight, Neil Rodriguez, Meredith Lyerla and Audrey McKenna
This film was an official selection at the 10th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2014. Here's an index to my reviews of 2014 films.
People who hate clowns are going to hate this movie. My niece Harriet, as tough as she really is, would have kittens who have kittens before the opening credits, as we're shown a particularly mild mannered clown with multi-coloured hair, so mild mannered that we can't fail to grok that he's a psychopath. Of course, the blood dripping off his chin makes it a gimme. That's him on the poster up there: see what I mean? I've never had a problem with clowns, but fate threw me a curveball in that I watched this as a screener on the morning before going to my first baby shower. I had no idea, of course. The film isn't titled Baby Shower, just The Shower. I was expecting a cheap Psycho knockoff or a creature feature where a shark bursts through the bathtub but is snagged by the shower curtain and dispatched with the broken rail. But it turns out to be about a baby shower, which flavoured my day perfectly. At least there wasn't a clown at the one I went to! Other than me, of course, and I wasn't drooling blood.

[Update for 20th August, 2016: the movie is now being released as Killer Party, which gets round that shower misconception and sneaks a neat pun into proceedings too. It's now available on VOD and iTunes. Here's its new website.]

The key name here is Alex Drummond, not only because he wrote and directed the movie but because he wrote what he knew. In 2011 he was given a couple of grand to write a screenplay, even winning a contest, but the sponsor went bankrupt and it was never turned into a picture. So Alex Drummond did what any writer worth his salt would do; he wrote another picture about a writer, Nick Drummond, who was given a couple of grand in 2011 to write a screenplay, which was never turned into a picture. This sort of similarity doesn't stop there. To play Mary Drummond, the heavily pregnant wife of this slightly fictional version of himself, he cast his heavily pregnant wife, Rachael Drummond. To play a varied set of friends to attend Mary's baby shower, he cast a varied set of friends. As producer Andy Hoff, one of those friends who plays one of those friends, points out, there's a strong connection between them: a restaurant where they all worked on their respective arrivals in Hollywood.

Beyond being true, this sort of story rings true, backed up by the comments of every local actor I know who got big enough in the small pond of Arizona to hightail it down I-10 to LA and see how they would fare as small fish in the big pond of Hollywood. Reality in Tinseltown is described simply: everybody you meet is in the movie business. They're actors, writers and directors, people who are almost famous but for now have to settle for shining your shoes or cleaning your windscreen outside a 7-Eleven. These folk happened to work in a restaurant, not only the ones who play people who work in restaurants. In a neat touch, Drummond captures this simple reality by introducing each of the ensemble cast of characters played by his ensemble cast of friends with a few little snippets to detail how they tie to the industry, thrown up on the screen neo-grindhouse style so we can't miss them. It works well. We're deluged with characters early on, but we never get lost. That's a major plus point in Drummond's favour.
Nick and Mary Drummond are as happy as Larry waiting for their second child to show up, even though she's a daughter they can't afford. They're obliging, mild mannered and polite, even when threatened, and they're just the sort of couple you'd expect someone to throw a baby shower for. This one is hosted by Joanne, a former child actor who only dates men born after 1980. No, we're never told how old she is but it doesn't take much googling to discover that actress Suzanne Sena was born in 1963, even if she doesn't list it at IMDb. She looks good, though she's notably older than Zach, her personal trainer and boy toy. Joanne is a talent agent, who treats Beth, her PA, like absolute crap. The guests flood in: Sara, who did an episode of CSI, and Pat, who played a cop in a car commercial; Caroline and Edmund, who met in improv but now have real jobs; Viola, who's a doctor, and Dave, who played one on TV; Ryan, a TV star with his own show, and Kim, a hostess, actor and model. Even Mary did national commercials.

All these folk are nice, at least on the outside, but things aren't going to stay polite for long; we grasp that when Tommy shows up and brings tension with him. He's a bartender who played a bartender in a beer commercial but, more importantly, he used to date Kim and dearly wishes he still did. This hint at romance never goes away; this isn't quite a zomromcom, but it has all the elements. These folk half get on and half really don't and we watch the cracks appear in their facades. The guys feel bad about not living their dreams, so hide inside watching golf and drowning their sorrows, while the girls hang round the pregnant chick in the hope that her condition might be contagious. It's only when Viola, Dr Froman, is called into work for an emergency, presumably the one that will soon overwhelm this baby shower, that we start to move forward. If we've been paying careful attention, we'll have seen it already take down a few background characters, but there are many to go. There's an enjoyable apocalypse in store.

For a while it plays it by numbers, with some comedy thrown in for good measure; this is very much a comedy horror film, where the former trumps the latter, but not by too much. The TV signal turns into static, the radio reports riots all over the city and folk who've already left show back up because all the roads are blocked. All the phones die just as Doc Viola rings her husband with news of an outbreak, so communications are clearly being stopped and our shower guests have to go out for background. One neighbour standing oddly in the back yard has a police scanner: he says that the LAPD is on full tactical alert and the national guard is coming in. But then he beats Zach to a pulp and the clown takes a chunk out of Joanne's arm; they throw him out, so he takes down the neighbour and howls at the imaginary moon. The apocalypse clearly wanted an invite to this baby shower and the guests start shrinking to a much more manageable number, reimagining their relationships as they go.
To find out where this goes, you'll need to watch the film, but it's a mixture of the routine tropes and a slightly original take on the end of the world. While zombie movies used to be grounded as horror films, centred around the outbreak or whatever caused their particular paradigm shift, they've been gradually shifting of late to the sci-fi model of post-apocalyptic movies, especially short ones, where nobody has a clue about who, what or where, let alone how or why, because what really matters is how they deal with it. This has that sci-fi grounding, an slightly original one where most but not all of our expectations are pandered to. For instance, characters are turned into zombies through the regular bites of the infected, but they're not the usual mindless shambling braineaters. They retain some semblance of who they are; they may eat people and indulge in violent rampages, but they also talk and reason and carry on a little of their former routine. The clown makes balloon animals all night.

However much it's grounded in sci-fi, The Shower clearly plays out as a horror movie with a strong dose of comedy. Many of the characters were clearly set up to interact in certain ways, so their story arcs are hardly surprising, but they unfold well nonetheless, aided by the fact that these actors know each other and are able to bounce off each other capably. The character interaction also makes some of the more violent scenes expected too, but they also unfold well with a healthy black humour. All this renders The Shower an enjoyable ride, especially in good company, but the lack of many surprises is a flaw which is impossible to overlook. There are other problems too. While the first act sets everything up capably, the second drags a little as the film tries to establish where it wants to go. The ending is a good one, but it arrives a little too emphatically, suggesting that the pacing wasn't quite right. The picture runs short at 78 minutes and there could easily have been another ten before it wrapped up.

If the pacing and lack of surprises are the weaker links, the stronger ones are the comedy and the cast. While the horror violence is sometimes extreme, this never feels disturbing (unless you're one of those people who are freaked out by a combination of clowns and blood) because it's always funny, in a real, or at least a surreal way. The laughs are generally good ones, written well and delivered well by a solid ensemble cast. Kurt Ela is most notable as Nick, not the usual lead but one who transforms from Henry the mild mannered janitor into something far more, even if he would never get his own cartoon series. Suzanne Sena isn't as strong as Joanne, but she has the most overt character and appropriately makes herself very noticed. All these characters are real and recognisable, grounding this low budget success. Producer Hoff, who also plays Tommy, described the making of the film as 'the right blend of arrogance and ignorance' and I hope that blend carries through to their next picture.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hal, Thanks so much for checking out the movie and writing a review! I really appreciate it and I'm so grateful for the help in getting the word out! We had an amazing time at the festival, so many great people and great movies! Can't wait to come back! -- Alex