Tuesday, August 16, 2011

2-fer-1: 'The Crawlspace' and 'The Red Cell'

Up today, are reviews of two horror films from the very talented Chris Schwartz. Unfortunately, he seems to have stopped making movies after finishing these two efforts.

The Crawlspace (2006)
Starring: Chris Schwartz, Jason Hastings, and Julian Peck
Director: Chris Schwartz
Steve's Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Mike (Schwartz) wakes up in a filthy, cramped space. A phone rings, he answers... and he discovers that he's been kidnapped and imprisoned by a psycho (who calls himself "The Director") intent on playing mind- and torture-games with him.

"The Crawlspace" is a surprisingly effective low-budget (well, probably no-budget) entry into the mysteriously popular "torture" horror subgenre that's emerged in recent years. Think "Blair Witch Project" meets "Saw", and I believe you'll have a sense of the general look and feel of this picture.

Chris Schwartz, who, according to the credits, did everything on this film but grind and install the lenses on the cameras, not only manages to convey the claustrophobic environment of the film's setting, but he gives a performance that's amazingly good, given what is typically found in small-budget indie pictures. Further, Schwartz seems to be a filmmaker who understands how to work within the limits of his means. The film he's set up here is almost perfect for a film shot on a partial shoestring budget, and Schwartz concentrates his resources and efforts on creeping the audience out with what he has on hand. Based on this film, I think he could probably do wonders with a four-figure budget, and I hope to find more films by him in the future.

That's not to say this is a perfect movie. Part of the film only works because of Stupid Character Syndrome, some of the sound effects needed a little more work, and the film could have used a stronger ending. But, these flaws are far from fatal, and the good outweighs the bad here, making this a picture that's worth seeing.

"The Crawlspace" is another movie that earns a spot on my "Free Advice for Low-Budget Filmmakers" list. If you're dreaming about making a movie with the change you just scooped out of the fountain at the mall, this is an example of how it's done, and it's a movie you have to see.

The Red Cell (2007)
Starring: Donovan Schwartz
Director: Chris Schwartz
Steve's Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Ayden (Donovan Schwartz) wakes up in a shabby basement where the walls are lined with cardboard and the only window has a strong electrical current running through it. He soon discovers that he has been abducted by a gasmask-clad maniac who is committed to curing him of his lethal cancer through a variety of hideous tortures.

"The Red Cell" does what most of the "capture and torture" movies fail to do. It generates genuine mystery and even some confusion (of the good kind, not the kind arising from a poorly executed flick) for the viewer to resolve as they watch. Has Ayden truly been kidnapped by some crazy man who fancies himself in possession of a miracle cure, or are all the horrible things that gasmask-clad figure--who sneaks in and out of a sealed room with ease--something that's simply a product of Ayden's sick body and brain? The film also has a dimension of psychological horror that so far I haven't seen any other of the sub-genre even come close to featuring.

I thought I knew exactly where the film was going, but then Schwartz throws in a twist-ending that made gave me a "Wow!" feeling that someone who watches entirely too many movies (like, oh, me) only rarely has. Schwartz, in one stroke, showed that not only can a talented and creative filmmaker do something VERY worthwhile artistically with the "capture and torture" genre, but he actually managed to make a film that deserves to be considered along side not only the "greats" of this sub-genre, but should be included when considering good horror films in general.

What's even more remarkable, Schwartz made his film on a tiny fraction of what the other wide release examples of the "tortured captive" genre are made on, and probably even less than the majority of the low-budget direct-to-DVD examples of it.

"The Red Cell" is currently seeking distribution, and it's a film that deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible. It's not a perfect film--it's a little too slow at times, driving home Ayden anguish and suffering well past the point where the audience has gotten it and the scene starts getting tedious--but it's one that horror movie fans will appreciate. Particularly those fans who are looking for something a little different.

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