By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.
“Defarious” (2016), the eleven-minute and sixteen-second debut short film from writer-director Chase Michael Pallante, is gloriously moody. It plays like the collaborative brain child of horror masters Dario Argento, John Carpenter and James Wan. Moreover, the maniacal demon whose name graces the moniker of the tale, in an undeniably deft representation from Jason Torres, is phenomenally honed. Such accrues to the degree that such a body language based exhibition as that which Torres incorporates here instantaneously calls to mind a time-tested giant of the genre. This is Max Schreck’s iconic portrayal of the menacing title vampire in German auteur F.W. Murnau’s silent masterpiece, Nosferatu (1922). Much like Schreck’s character, who is also referred to as “Count Orlock”, Pallante’s villain is a memorably designed vision of terror. Correspondingly, he seems to appear from the shadows as easily as he becomes one. Yet, they are both distinctly their own article. The apprehension Torres’ entity resonates is immediately noteworthy. This is especially evident in the bone-chilling moment when we initially spy him in full. Such transpires at the midway mark. With a sinewy frame and wide, emotionless, grey alien-like eyes, which appear to be glaring from the fiery depths of hell itself, the alignment to Pallante’s antagonist with Murnau’s unholy monster is complete. Best of all, they match one another in their ability to effortlessly unnerve.
Pallante, who also produced, chronicles the young Amy (in a consistently harrowing enactment from Janet Miranda). Plagued by nightmares, and disturbing sights of her deceased mother, the line between reality and the dream world has been blurred. Such is made more so when a terrifying figure breaks into her home. His intentions are clearly conveyed from the onset. He wants to take her life. The creature will stop at nothing to do so. With no one to help her, she must escape the fiendish clutches of the merciless madman who wants her dead. But, to do so, she must face the both the sight and understand the symbolic meaning of her greatest qualms and uncertainties. This she must do by facing them headlong.
It is a plot that would be considered thin and ultimately routine, a general recycling of the events of Shant Hamassian’s intriguingly retro “Night of the Slasher” (2015), in lesser hands. But, with the occasionally Lynchian, imagery-laden manner Pallante utilizes to guide the project, the presentation shatters such fundamental limitations. In turn, Pallante makes of such a rudimentary palette a compulsively fascinating account. It is one which is nonetheless robust, refreshing and endlessly engaging. This is largely because of Pallante’s aforesaid aesthetically driven decisions. Additionally, Pallante keeps the pace confident and enduring throughout the arrangement. Likewise, the intensity, which is deftly mounted and engineered, is ever-culminating. We notice this with a genuinely unnerving, and appropriate, quote from Matthew 10:28. Such is distributed before the yarn even begins to unfold. This nail-biting characteristic elevates to a surely satisfying, if predictable in hindsight, finale. More than anything, this climactic stretch greatly underlines the merciless nature of Pallante’s endeavor. Such creates a masterclass in generating continued suspense. It is one which is augmented as grimly illustrious, macabre and foreboding. This is via Jorge Canaveral and Christian Reyes’ eye-popping and wholly immersive cinematography. Further helping matters is that the arrangement is almost entirely cast in a hazy blue veneer. Such is another bold, ingenious choice. It makes Pallante’s configuration ever more menacing and surreal.
Wisely keeping dialogue, motivations and exposition to a minimum for maximum impact, Pallante, who also wrote the smart and enigmatic screenplay with developer Zay Rodriguez, paints a mercilessly taunt nightmare on celluloid. The result is an unwaveringly bleak and masterful tone piece. It is one that pays homage to 1980’s and 90’s slashers traditions. This it does by staying within the rules, motions and general arc held within the traditions of such a beloved sub-genre. Never once in its runtime does it break out of them. Yet, the project operates just as successfully as a meditation on sleep paralysis. Such is unveiled in a beautifully constructed post-credits sequence. This brief segment slyly stays within the aforesaid murderer-oriented story boundaries. In so doing, it is conveyed from the perspective of our lead. She, we than learn, suffers from such a condition. Relatedly, Pallante’s affair is also brilliant in its quiet critique of the medical world. The result is a truly multi-layered narrative. It is one that mechanizes as well on a surface level as it does on the myriad layers beneath.
Because of these herculean details, Pallante triumphantly delivers a raw, primal, but cerebral, experience in unrelenting fear. Such is vastly punctuated by a purely cinematic use of sound. This arrives courtesy of Fernando Frandy Castillo, Jose Julian Santiago and Pallante. It is one of the best issuances of its type I have encountered in such a venture. The atmosphere laced score from Jonathan Martinez brilliantly reinforces such a factor. Correspondingly, Lou Cannizzo and Martin Hayward’s visual and Jessica Hayward and Reyes’ special effects are similarly captivating. The five-person camera and electrical as well as the same said make-up department offer terrific contributions in their respective arenas. Maggie Stapleton’s wardrobes are exceptional. Pallante’s editing is sharp and skillfully administered. This Long Island, New York recorded opus, a Rhythm and Flow Entertainment Inc. co-fabrication, also boasts spellbinding and unmistakably eerie voice work from Shanae Harris. Alim Ali and Pallante’s stunts are magnificent. They grandly amplify the quality at hand.
“Defarious” was made for only $25,000. Yet, it looks and feels like a multi-million dollar Hollywood exercise. In its brief span, Pallante tells a comprehensive fiction in a post-modernist fashion. The outcome is envy-inducing to say the least. Yet, this tour de force, shot from August 29th through September 4th of 2015, is exciting in another arena. It is jumpy without ever resorting to cheap gimmicks to accomplish such a task. Astoundingly, it also has the unpredictable internal logic of a waking dream; an unshakable night terror. This is one of the strongest attributes of the exertion. Such a distinguishing influence fluently puts us into the often-confused psychological state of our heroine. This is provided with fervent gusto. Such makes it easy to see why this incredible labor won the coveted Best Film award at The Northeast Film Festival Horror Fest. Pallante has delivered one of 2016’s greatest entries in celluloid apprehension. I highly recommend seeking this one out.
The official site for the film can be found here.
The Facebook page for “Defarious” is located here.
R&F Entertainment’s Twitter page is here.