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Entries in Deprivation [2012] (1)

Sunday
Apr082012

Deprivation (2012)

Another Day, Another $1,000

When I interviewed Cory Udler last year, he said that all of his movies would benefit from another day of shooting and another thousand dollars in the budget. He resurrected this idea a couple weeks ago while co-hosting Fearcast Network's "Smut Elves" podcast, in reference to Nathaniel Scott Davis' new short film, Deprivation. Davis was discussing the perils of sound editing (specifically, the way that on-location wind can completely mess with a scene's integrity) and Udler agreed that a key part of the devil's bargain when shooting independently is not having the resources of mega-wealthy studios at one's disposal.

I understand how important time and money are to filmmaking. I also believe that when a creator releases a movie, they are telling the audience that it is ready to be critiqued--without the benefit of commentary or warning labels describing the challenges that kept Scene X from being well-lit or Scene Y from being completely audible. Unlike illustrators, who often sell sketchbooks along with finished prints, filmmakers rarely apply "Work in Progress" labels to their wares. If they did, reviews for indie movies would likely be much more forgiving--and far less frequent: who wants to talk about a rough draft when the real deal is, ostensibly, just around the corner?

The long and short of it is, if you aren't ready for people to point out the obvious flaws in your low-budget production, don't make it available to the public until the Money and Time Fairy leaves something under your pillow.*

Having said all that, I'm happy to report that Davis' nervousness is (mostly) unfounded. Despite some minor nuisances, Deprivation is disturbing and effective, and kept my blood up from frame one to the final fade-out--not always for the right reasons, but I certainly wasn't bored.

The story is mostly implied, and centers on Morgan (Jeremy Sellers), whom we meet sitting at the grave site of his wife/girlfriend and their child. Resting on the headstone is a hand-written note from Angela (Katie Rusco), who, in the opening scene, could be heard screaming in the next room as Morgan put an axe into her best friend's chest. There's a beautiful disconnect here, as the grinning killer is almost unrecognizable as the mournful dad we see in flashback. Deprivation takes place over the few days it takes from one man to become the other.

In some ways, the film feels like a highlight reel of a longer piece. We know that Angela is somehow responsible for killing Morgan's loved ones, but the "how" and "why" is unclear. Perhaps this is an artsy move on the part of the writer/director, but in cases like this, leaving key information up to the audience is a big mistake (Was it a hit and run? If so, did Angela go to court or prison? Did she walk? Does Morgan blame her for reasons beyond hyper-romanticized notions of Love and Loss that have inspired rain-forests' worth of bad high school poetry?).

Fortunately, Davis has plenty of other arrows in his quiver to distract us from the lack of a motivational through-line. Sellers is sufficiently disturbing and realistic as a small-town nobody who might cling to metal and horror movies as comfort in the face of tragedy. And Rusco imbues Angela with a dour-faced, bump-on-a-log personality that suggests remorse, secrecy, or both. The real star here, though, is Winnie Faye, as Julie, Angela's BFF and Morgan's victim from the opening scene. She's an obnoxiously bubbly innocent who has no clue about what's going on until it's much too late. Her self-involvement is grating (particularly in her big scene, where she takes a thousand years to tell a cute joke), but that's the whole point: had she cared about anyone but her vapid self, maybe she could have reached out to her troubled friend.

Still, I was kind of bummed to see her go.

Also of note is the film's score, which sounds like a modern tribute to John Carpenter's Halloween. The music amplifies the drama and dread in these sad characters' lives, and my only complaint is that I wish there'd been a tad more variation. Composing themes isn't a walk in the park, I know, so Davis likely wanted to get as much mileage out of what he had to work with. But what began as interesting became slightly repetitive--and ended up being interesting again.

Also be on the look-out (listen-out?) for the parking lot scene. It's no wonder Davis complained about the wind on location as being an audio nightmare. Of greater interest, though, is the fact that Morgan's super-human hearing is never brought up as an issue: while heading to his car from a grocery run, he hears Angela and Julie talking as they enter the store. He somehow manages to hear their entire conversation from across a windy parking lot.

Part of that assessment is snark, but it brings to mind the element in greatest need of fine-tuning. Deprivation waffles between first-person and omniscient points of view. Early on, we hear Morgan narrating his own dark thoughts; later, we see the girls chatting in a diner, with Morgan nowhere in sight. There's also the matter of Angela waking up in her bed from a nightmare. This lack of a clear narrative perspective distracts a bit from some of the deeper points Davis wants to make. But there's nothing so egregious that couldn't be fixed with a well-placed cut-away or two, and the excising of a superfluous scene.

I'm glad to have seen Deprivation, and am keen to see what Davis and his talented crew come up with next. Signs point to a promising future in the slasher biz, as they even devised a movie-within-a-movie that also creeped me out. Whatever the next step, I hope it involves stepping out of this bizarre, reality-as-horror-entertainment realm. Because as happy as I was to see these guys play with story expectations and cool camera angles (one in particular made me jump back in my seat), the presentation made me feel plain icky--as if I were watching the dry-run for a snuff film.

If that was the goal, then hats off to the Deprivation gang. I get the feeling Davis made exactly the kind of movie he would pay money to see, which is cause for both celebration and, possibly, an intervention. I'd definitely watch a movie about that--barring sound issues, of course.

Note: For a limited time, you can see Deprivation for free by sending a Vimeo password request to Deprivation@Fearcast.net. For more information on the movie, check out the film's Facebook page.

*For the record, this personal rule applies to mega-budget movies, too: I hated The Tree of Life for similar reasons.