“Defarious” – (Short Film Review)

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.

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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.

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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.

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“Night Job” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.

The strength of writer-director J. Antonio’s eighty-five-minute debut feature, Night Job (2017), is built on the unpredictable. More specifically, the various encounters with a wide assortment of individuals our ever-likeable hero, James (in a charismatic and always watchable personification of a fictional persona by Jason Torres), encounters. For example, he faces, in one of the most unexpected and amusing flashes in the invention, a priest (in a terrific depiction from Robert Youngren). The man of God has been summoned to James’ building to perform an exorcism. Likewise, one of the climactic passages, which involves an accusatory homeless man (in a smirk-inducing and wonderfully eccentric performance from Brignel Camilien), works just as well in this respect. Along the way, James meets a psychic by the name of Josephine (in an excellent representation from Shanane Christine Harris), a con man (Adam P. Murphy, who is terrific) and an adult DVD Vendor (in an extraordinary presentation from Lester Greene). There is even a woman that incites in James a flirtatious rapport. Her moniker is Catherine (in an endearing and proficient turn from Stacey Weckstein). Such transpires late in the endeavor.

These sections are all beautifully done. Moreover, they make the demonstration layered, rich and full of life. Adding to the mix are equally well-timed and successfully uproarious sequences involving various partygoers, cops and relationship related spats. Yet, each accruing happenstance is so apparently random that it makes the sum of the picture consistently entertaining. It also mirrors a certain reality. This is one that folks in twenty-three-year old James’ situation, whose first night shift as a temporary doorman in a Manhattan high-rise apartment building is the unique focus of the composition, must constantly undergo. This is as one of the various unwritten demands of his current employer.

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But, what is just as pleasantly erratic is the tender sequences of heartfelt depth. These are seamlessly peppered among the many effectively humorous instances that run through the bulk of the composition. The most noteworthy of these items is a discussion with our central figure and a near blind woman, Stella (in a quietly powerful, consistently credible and charismatic performance from Bettina Skye). In this exceptionally harrowing bit, which comes right before the hour mark, we learn of James’ literary dreams. Stella makes this portion increasingly enchanting. This is with her shared life learned lessons and positive reinforcement of James’ ambitions. The segments involving Stella and James are the cornerstone of the movie. They tap into an emotional honesty that is natural, graceful and transcendent. These qualities enhance the variety. They also touch upon themes that will assuredly prove relatable to a widespread audience. The sole color configuration in the photoplay, which comes immediately after the portion involving James and Stella, is both smirk-inducing, eye-popping and heart-stirringly ambitious. Here James sees himself as the poised individual he could be. Such an image is conjured by Stella’s optimistic words. In this sense, Antonio seems to be balancing out the oddness of those James meets with an underlying message concerning the kindness and unexpectedly hope instilling measures of strangers. Such only adds to the sly profundity at hand.

Such a stalwart attribute is also a courtesy of Antonio’s smart, honest, confidently paced and surprisingly bold screenplay. His dialogue is perfect for the material. It elucidates the small talk and other commonplace discussions strangers engage in among one another splendidly. His characterizations are proudly born from this existence mirroring trait. Such details make it easy to understand the motivations and the frequent confusion James alternately embodies throughout the construction. The deliberate, meticulous pace of the script augments these physiognomies masterfully. The result, when combined with Antonio’s luminous and assured guidance of the project, is an endeavor that promotes a great new cinematic craftsman. Simultaneously, it summons the soaring charming inherent in the greatest independent films.

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Also, building upon this magnificent foundation is the herculean impact of the enactments. Besides those mentioned above, Timothy J. Cox is brilliant in his fleeting role of Mr. Jones. Brandon J. Shaw, credited here as “Apartment 718”, fares just as well. Greg Kritikos as Romeo, Una Petrovic as Charlene and Carmen Borla as Olivia are also remarkable. The same can be said for Laeticia De Valer as Kelly, Steven L. Coard as Mark and Jose Espinal as Eddie. It is a distinctively large cast for an exertion that feels so intimate. Everyone involved delivers spectacularly. In turn, the labor is amended another of its many superior charms.

The crew is just as indispensable in creating the high-quality art that proudly radiates through every frame on-screen. T.J. Wilkins’ jazzy music is tone-setting and undoubtedly appropriate for the material. We notice this in the opening moments, which when combined with Valentin Farkasch’s immersive black and white cinematography, is guaranteed to generate nostalgia in fellow cinephiles. This is as an undeniable alignment to an old-fashioned noir from the 1930’s or 1940’s becomes evident. Such an impression is lifted throughout this comedy-drama. This is even when modern components which seem to dictate otherwise meet the bystanders’ gaze. Such an atmosphere is riveting and endlessly admirable. The seamless and sharp editing from Sam Druckerman makes this allusion complete. Correspondingly, Magda Suriel’s make-up is top-notch. Jennifer Humala and Luis Inestroza offer a crisp issuance of sound. Kyle Brown’s visual effects are a marvel. Unlike many modern mainstream undertakings, they do not take you out of what is occurring. Instead they vastly enhance the viewer absorption. Jonathan Alvarez’s camera department contribution is just as deft, capable and exciting.

Antonio has crafted a memorable masterpiece of movement and interaction. It calls to mind Kevin Smith’s ground-breaking debut, Clerks (1994). Not only is this noteworthy in its general focus on the inner-workings of a young man (or men as in Smith’s case), but it is true in the way it effortlessly develops its protagonists. This is while simultaneously diverting spectators via purportedly routine occupational dealings. Enhancing this comparison, is that in neither venture do any of the happenstances feel forced or inorganic. There is a low-key beauty to both, especially in its clever banter-oriented emphasis, that will keep cinema patrons repeatedly returning to the narrative. Such makes Antonio a promising talent. He has arranged an affair that is victoriously witty, graceful, funny and inspiring; a tour de force that onlookers will delight in seeing. Night Job, a Sacred 9 Films production, is scheduled to be released in November of 2017.

The Facebook page for the flick can be found here.

The Twitter page for Sacred 9 Films can be found here.

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