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Ulises [Celluloid 01.27.08] movie review horror

Year: 2008
Release date: TBA
Director: James Tucker
Writer: Joshua Nelson
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Ulises Silva (via VeryTragicalMirth)
Rating: 3 out of 10

You don’t need millions to tell a story. That’s the spirit of independent filmmakers, who work to bring their visions to life without the benefits of a bloated budget and big names. Pink Eye, a new indie horror film from Savage Rose Pictures and Lost Angeles films, is an earnest attempt to tell a story using a miniscule budget, and it certainly has its memorable moments. But a weak storyline, wooden acting, and overabundance of one-dimensional characters hurt its potential.

The story begins at an insane asylum in New York, where there’s something afoot, and it’s not just the male nurses raping their patients. It turns out the doctors are performing some kind of experiment (of the less-than-legal kind) and using some PCP-based drug to make people crazy. How crazy? One woman thinks ants are crawling all over her eyes, so she proceeds to gouge them out. Another is so sick of her physical appearance (because she’s able to pinch 1/16th of an inch of flesh on her otherwise waif-like body), she decides to use broken mirror shards to slice off the offensive fat (a somewhat gory take on anorexia, I suppose). And then, of course, there’s Edgar.

Edgar (named that because he likes to quote Edgar Allan Poe for some reason) is the mastermind kind of lunatic. He’s the guy who bides his time, recites poetry, and calmly assures his captors that he’s not really going to smash their heads to pieces—he’s just thinking it, that’s all. Edgar, with his psychotic rage and high-school-Shakespeare-class recitals, is kind of like a poor man’s Hannibal Lecter—a very, very poor man’s. And when he escapes, he releases his fellow inmates and starts a killing spree. The promos say it’s because he’s out for vengeance…apparently because he was once laughed at at a circus. I guess…that kind of works…kind of. Oh, and he has this thing for a character named Delilah, played by the film’s starlet, Melissa Bacelar. But he thinks she’s Lenore from Poe’s poem, The Raven. Which I guess makes sense…to someone.

Plot-wise, that’s pretty much it. There’s the side-story about Delilah, her boyfriend Brandon, and his two daughters, but we never really learn enough about their history to comprehend or even care about their relationship. About the only thing we know is that Brandon needs money, his oldest daughter is cartoonishly rebellious, and his youngest daughter is very brave. (When she sees Edgar, his rotting face concealed behind a grotesque mask, she does what every little girl her age would do: ask him to be her friend.) And at the end, we’re told that the illegal drug experiments are actually being funded by someone high up on the food chain. For what purpose? I guess we’d have to wait for a sequel for that.

The film has its moments. The opening scene, with its haunting soundtrack and slow-moving camera, has an almost Argento-esque feel to it, and it leads perfectly into the film’s most gruesome and effective sequence: the woman gouging her eyes out. Good horror movies are supposed to make you suffer, and this opening scene will do so thanks to some amazing gore makeup. The soundtrack, in parts, is actually effective and appropriately chilling. And then, of course, there’s the gore. The opening sequence is the only instance of real-time gore (i.e., we see it as it happens), so the film loses some of its power by not showing us, for example, how exactly some of these victims meet their fate. Still, some of the shots are appropriately gruesome and well-done, so gore fans should enjoy them.

Is it enough to make this a good film? Unfortunately, I have to say no. The film is bogged down by some really bad acting, which wouldn’t be a real issue if it didn’t try to bring in so many pointless, indistinguishable characters. Had the film focused only on Edgar, Delilah, Brandon, and a character or two more, they might have pulled this off. But the film brings in so many minor characters for completely inconsequential roles (including two nurses at the asylum who burn up valuable screen time just to tell us what we figured out 20 minutes prior: that there’s something weird going on at the asylum). After about the 124th one-line character butting in for no discernable reason, you want Edgar to start killing them off just to thin their ranks a bit!

The script also seems like it was a few drafts away from being ready; the non-existent sense of timing, the overly convenient plot movement devices, the corny dialogue, and the disjointed sequence of events really convolute and ultimately grind down the story. There’s no real sense of suspense, and no real attempt at explaining any of the film’s numerous curiosities. What’s up with Brandon and his estranged wife? Why does Edgar recite Poe and Nietzsche? Why does Edgar think he’s the nameless narrator of The Raven, and why does he think Delilah is Lenore? What the heck is the drug experiment, and what do its creators hope to accomplish? Okay, seriously, what happened to the horny teenage girl and her video-game-playing twit of a boyfriend? See what I mean? The film raises more questions than it answers, which is why I think the script could have used another rewrite or two to unlock its potential and the promise of its opening scene.

I don’t want to bash the film too much because, like I said, this is a micro-budget film, and my first instinct is to grade it on a curve. After all, indie films scrape by with a mere fraction of the resources that even the lowest-budgeted Hollywood flicks enjoy. And so, you have to forgive the bad acting and the no-frills production values and that same stock footage of the full moon being played over and over again despite the passage of several days. But I also believe that the fairest way of critiquing an indie film is by asking yourself this: is it a good, well-written story whose only real fault is the lack of a budget and actors? In the case of Pink Eye, if you added the budget and the actors in, would it be a good movie then? I don’t think it would be.

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