Lately, I've done more reviews than other things dealing with indie film, such as how to's and challenging the Hollywood system driven marketplace. These reviews are to give credit to the extraordinary efforts of feature filmmakers and even of some short films that they have done. While I won't review every short film out of Cleveland, as the demand would surpass the supply of reviewing, features are a different breed and show real power/ potential of the filmmakers that have the guts to do them without proper budgets or marketing behind them.
Today, I have the honor of reviewing William M. Johns, a filmmaker that was on the scene way before I ever got involved. He has a list of short films and other credits to his name, each different. His efforts, despite constant odds, have inspired me as I ventured through the muck involved with anything filmmaking. He's like a Timex, for those that get that. He comes from film background into digital age and this is his own first feature film entitled, "Madness". This movie isn't what you think it is, and actually has an unfortunate sad side to it, although you wouldn't know it at first.
On the cover, you think it's about a young guy who goes nuts and slaughters everyone, just like most slasher or murder mysteries. Well, you might get lucky with that, but this is a story where this young man finally gets bold and it gets him into trouble...a whole lot of it, and he ain't goin' down alone! Michael Rose plays him, by the name of Alex, and Jami Ross plays Megan, his sort of ex-girlfriend who is hanging with his step sister and her friends. Michelene Pancoe plays the step sister, Shelly Marks plays the step mom, and Alex's dad is played by a favorite of mine, Rick Montgomery Jr.
Basically, after a very young Alex endures his mother dying, his dad unjustly blames him and re-marries, giving him an evil stepmom who is mentally abusive, yet so very seductively hot! Let's just say that as a teenager, the folks might have wondered why the family album is in the bathroom. That was wrong, but the connection is implied in the movie. There's tension there, between the two! She pushes and pushes and teases! It's like waving a milkbone infront of a dog, while calling him a dirty little beast! It's fun and games till....
The story starts with Alex finishing up rigging the family house for major disaster after being kicked out, while the folks are on their vacation. As mentioned earlier, there's more to this that gets sad, but you'll have to wait. As his step sister and her friends stop by to get ready for their own trip, a snow storm hits, putting everything into motion and keeping him and the girls stuck in the house. Once one of the girls finds out his plan, it becomes a killing fest! One by one, like any good slasher, chicks seem to die! The best part is that there are fun excuses for their deaths and not too much reason to question them, until it's practically too late. The last one left is Megan, whom Alex didn't want involved in any of this, but must take care of...and not in the happily ever kind of way.
One of the best scenes for acting is honestly when Alex and Megan are discussing how she's to be executed, by gun or by knife....which she has the pick of! They discuss God and the morals of the story, and that is good fuel for any actor/ actress. Michael Rose is a cross between Sean William Scott and Ryan Phillipe, which is a cool mix. I was sad to see the dad's role too shortlived as you'll understand from the movie, and the step sister's death was a pretty cool surprise and well played out as her eyes stopped moving. Megan's strong and smart girl attitude was very well done, although unlikely in such a terrible night of death and despair. Most girls and guys would panic and do the opposite, but this is a movie and we grew up on Sigourney Weaver type headstrong chicks. Jami Ross proves she can hold her own, which I believe would be best set against a movie monster, even moreso than a confused young man caught between a rock and a hard place.
There's a flashback scene to where the stepmom is packing for the vacation and she does one final push and tease before Alex is out of the house for good. She taunts him to "grow a pair" and he does, by taking and full on seducing her. Her deceitful cover, on top of previous lies, ends up causing the snap that starts the whole movie in motion, when the dad busts in on them getting all raw. I won't give it away, but this scene is worth the DVD, itself. She could have added nudity, without male complaints, but it's not needed...as this scene is just plain hot! They call it a "sexual situation" on the DVD cover, but it's totally better than a situation, especially for indie film!
Before I get to the few things that were questionable, I must point out a lot of positives. The model home they shot in was beautiful. The use of a Hummer was nice, too! These were good ways to up production value to the best possible, short of building sets. All the kill scenes, practically done by Tom Luhtala, were fun and believable. The music by Arya Kumar is always above parr for independent film. I have never had anything negative to say about his skills as a composer. I also liked the end credits song a lot. I love that every good knife in the kitchen woodblock gets used! When the smallest ones are finally pulled out, it reminds me of drawing straws! Watch and get the gag! The audio and ADR is good, although obvious. The lighting and diffusion effect was very good in this movie, perhaps too good, even though there could have been more shadow play. The use of flashbacks and timing was excellently executed. A lot of indie films have trouble with this, but not here! The cast looked good, all the way around. The CG FX, between William M. Johns and James M. Curtis were close to transparent, if you weren't to seek them out. Did you know that some of the snow flakes falling were digital? You do now! The fire scene is cool and improved from the premiered version, and I've seen both.
Okay, the only miffs I can say are that until you get to the very end and realize what's truly happening....you tend to think that Alex's mental pressures don't warrant his actions. There's a reason for everything, but the movie does such a good job of hiding it, so you question the motives all that time before the reveal. See...there is such thing as too good a job! When the end scene has it's climax, the slow motion effect is quite well played, but could be cut down a bit and still be very effective. That's nitpicking, but hey! One last miff is that they didn't have a comedic character, strictly for the role of balancing levity versus violence. Instead, that was achieved by the lines for the whole cast. While still effective, it is a gamble for most indie flicks.
So, in conclusion, the cinematography was good, story good, overall acting was solid enough for genre believability, and I'd have to say this movie is a solid title! Exec produced by Richard P. Muny, produced by William M. Johns and Andrew Schofield, and written/direced/edited by William M. Johns, I give this a smile for smooth fun and many movie gags of different types. This is a multi-themed slasher flick! Isn't that better than slasher for slasher sake? I think so, and opens this up to a broader audience, as well.