“The Assassination of Western Civilization” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ***** out of *****.

Director Nathan Suher’s sophomore feature, The Assassination of Western Civilization (2020), is a brilliant political discussion wrapped-up in an effortlessly enthralling storyline. The 74-minute project is a unique, magnificent take on the idea of being easily “triggered” by the ideas, especially those of a policy-making and conspiratorial nature, of others. It is also a potent warning against the deadly consequences of such actions. These resonant intellectual threads are woven into a masterful tapestry of confident pacing, thoughtful dialogue and organic character development. This is via the efficient and effective script from Lenny Schwartz. It is based upon his successful play Newscastle (2014).

Suher’s minimalistic approach to the material, which consists of the entire picture being erected in one-shot and unfolding in a single room, beautifully compliments the stage roots of the endeavor. It also strengthens the previously stated qualities inherent in the authorship from Schwartz. The obvious inspiration from such ever-relevant governmental thrillers as All the President’s Men (1976), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), The Parallax View (1974) and Three Days of the Condor (1975) heighten the timeless and timely tone of the narrative. Such bold decisions help fashion the foray into a triumph of independent cinema; one of the best movies of the year so far.

The plot of the IM Filmworks production revolves around tabloid reporter Mark Wallace (Phoenyx Williams). After news of a United States senator being slain comes to his attention, Wallace finds himself quickly being drawn further into the case. His professional interest in the incident takes a personal turn when he finds himself being visited by FBI agent Maccabees (Brad Kirton) near the midway mark. From herein, the tale becomes a verbal faceoff between Wallace and his visitor. It is one that is as much a social statement as it is a showcase of steadily mounting intensity. This all leads to a finale that is as evocative as it is thought-provoking.

What also helps the excursion is the all-around gripping performances from a well-chosen cast. Williams is superb as Wallace. Kirton is just as good as Maccabees. Jocelyn Padilla’s enactment of Susan, Christie Devine’s go as Mia and Sarah Reed’s brief work as Kate are all skillful and engaging. Josh Fontaine as Peter, Wendy Hartman as Alex and Sheri Lee as Gwen all offer strong portrayals. The cinematography from Ben Heald is sharp and fitting for the tone of the venture. Both the make-up and sound departments offer a commendable contribution to the overall prowess of the undertaking.

Recorded in Woodsocket, Rhode Island, Suher’s latest more than satisfies as both an intellectual exercise and as a nail-biting suspense yarn. The film has fun smartly laying down its intricate clues as to what is transpiring in the account. Regardless, it all gleams with purpose and intention. Nothing in the chronicle is unnecessary, unearned or artificially rendered to momentarily absorb audiences. Such adds immensely to my overwhelming admiration for the labor. Consequently, Suher has crafted a rare whodunit. It’s sharply-made, notion-filled and pleasantly favors speech over effects. Most importantly, it is completely riveting for the entirety of its lean runtime. I cannot recommend it enough.

“Right There”- (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ***** out of *****.

The beauty of the silent film era lies primarily in the actuality that the actors had to use facial expressions to supplant the sentiment that would later be inserted into dialogue. This was usually accompanied by either recorded or live music being played in the theater the work was being projected in to punctuate the emotions glimmering through actions and countenances on-screen.

These, along with tale-telling through striking camera angles, shadows, mimes and title cards, were the sparse tools of the filmmaking trade in the years from 1894-1929. It gave the cinematic compositions of this period an underlying sense of poetry, even in comic endeavors, which have proven to be forever endearing.

This time frame, more often than not, elucidates a constant sense of admiration for these aforementioned attributes alone. Such is just one of the many reasons “Right There”, a masterful eleven minute short from director Nathan Suher (2015’s “Next/ Door” and “Scary Little F*ckers”), is so immediately enjoyable and charismatic.

Suher, who wrote the delightful, well-paced script (from a story by Gregory Capello, Suher and Ian Taylor), captures the essence of Charlie Chaplin and the spirit of European cinema, which he has stated was his intention with this glorious piece, immaculately.

This wonderful, breezy homage concerns a man, The Guy (Ryan Hanley in a performance that is as energetic, endearing and enjoyable and perfectly fitting for the era Suher tributes) who tries to garner the attention of a woman, The Girl (Lauren A. Kennedy who does as phenomenal a job as Hanley, as does the entirety of the secondary cast, in conveying story through gestures).

He is drawn to her immediately. This intrigue only grows as he finds her sitting everyday on the same bench. Over the course of several weeks he tries to get her to notice him.

All the while we find ourselves riveted and wondering: “Is it his own shyness holding him back? Could he have been hurt in prior relationships? Was this pain recent? Will he get the girl?”

Because of the profoundly artistic nature of the epoch “Right There” is sending up we are drawn in by the nuance. Moreover, our intrigue is piqued by the high-caliber technical facets, the joy and broken-heartedness (sometimes in the same scene) that Suher and his filmmaking team pull off so effortlessly. Yet, because of the well-woven dramatic touches that balance the humor and heart terrifically we are forced to look deeper.

This is a testament to the profundity of the style of cinema Suher emulates so masterfully here. It is also a demonstration of the terrifically executed brilliance, the obvious admiration for the truly golden age of cinema Suher is tackling radiating on-screen. This is a gem.

The merry, often tender, and beautiful result of “Right There” is also thanks to a wonderful bit of opening animation by Dave Lubelczyk. Make-up artist Morgan Duffy captures the appearance of stars from the early 1900’s spectacularly. Chris Esper’s film editing is tremendous.

Jill Poisson’s cinematography and Kevin Keough’s score is striking and beautifully rendered. These characteristics, combine to make it all the easier to envision that we are sitting in a theater, before the age of “talkies”, and enthralled by this new invention that they call “moving pictures”.

Suher continues to showcase further range and a willingness to risk differing genres, atmospheres and approaches. The work he makes is transcendent to, not only fellow admirers of filmmaking, but everyone.

“Right There” is a sweet, lively brief work that reminds us of the tenderness, merriment, relatability and undeniable artistry the craft of unspoken big-screen storytelling can evoke.

“Scary Little F*ckers: A Christmas Movie”- (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ***** out of *****.

“Scary Little F*ckers: A Christmas Movie”, directed with tongue in cheek brilliance by Nathan Suher (2014’s “Right There”, 2015’s “Next/ Door”) and written with same said characteristics by Lenny Schwartz (2012’s Murder University, 2013’s Normal) is endlessly uproarious. Furthermore, it is an immediately gratifying, wonderfully amusing dark comedy. It also fares just as well as a horror venture.

This fast paced, twenty-three minute short film sinks its vicious teeth into the usually quaint presumptions of its holiday setting. In turn, it merrily turns it blood red.

“S.L.F”, as it has been abbreviated, tells the tale of a functioning alcoholic, Saul (impeccably realized and charismatically played by Rich Tretheway). Hoping to purchase a Christmas gift which will help replace some of the distance between him and his son, Kyle (Josh Fontaine; who does just a tremendous job as Tretheway in giving his character a distinct, multi-layered and likable personality), Saul buys a vicious little creature called a Fookah.

When he returns home the terror begins. It is than up to Kyle and Saul, along with local girl Peggy (Anna Rizzo in a gratifyingly wild, endlessly terrific performance), to stop the ensuing rampage.

Suher and Schwartz fill the screen and dialogue with on-point gags. Moreover, it contains many sly nods to Joe Dante’s genre re-defining 1984 classic Gremlins galore.

For example, the story itself begins on Christmas Eve of the year Dante’s work was released. In another parallel: the Fookah also comes with its own set of rules that the owner must precisely follow.

We see this most readily in the opening sequence. It is set inside a quaint shop. This is one uncannily akin to the commencing segment of Dante’s aforementioned gem.

This is a wink at the audience that showcases both Suher’s immediate tonal mastery and a prelude to the continuous stride of cleverness “S.L.F” issues through the whole effort.

There are many bulls-eye bits from composer Timothy Fife. The scores he conjures in this short captures the spirit of the proceedings beautifully. This is especially evident in an early credits sequence which plays like “Silent Night” as performed by The Crypt Keeper.

Those who grew up admiring both of Dante’ Gremlins films, as well as the four features produced under the Critters moniker, will have an especial affinity for “S.L.F”.

We see the similarity between Suher’s composition and these fellow beloved classics in, not only fragments of the Fookah appearance, but in their quirky characteristics.

Yet, the Fookah is matchlessly its own entity. There’s a unique attitude it has that is as diverse as the specific personality traits awarded to all three of the leads. This is only heightened by visual effects supervisor Richard Griffin’s tremendous work.

These previously stated characteristics are, like the sum of the short itself, charmingly crafted. They will have you grinning with increasing merriment from the first frame to the last.

But, this is much more than a homage. It is a character study about the bond between a father and son. There is genuine sentiment propelling the story forward.

“S.L.F.” cares about its leads. It’s one of the various elements Suher instills to keep us riveted throughout the whole endeavor.

The rest of the cast also contributes brilliantly to the project. Jill Poisson does a masterful job with the cinematography issued. The film editing by Chris Costa is sharp and well-done. Margaret Wolf’s art direction is phenomenal.

“S.L.F.” is a nostalgia inducing, witty terror-fest. It may model itself after monster films from the 1980’s, which it succeeds delightfully at, but it never forgets its soul.

It builds a glorious bridge to both the modern and the classic. This is the type of film Hollywood often tries to replicate with multi-million dollar budgets with results that are tepid at best.

Suher and company have, once again, astonished. “S.L.F” is affectionate, fun and never loses sight of its leads.

This is a deliciously grisly holiday treat.

“Next/Door”- (Short Film Review)

next door cover

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ***** out of *****.

Director Nathan Suher (2014’s “Right There”, 2015’s “Scary Little F*ckers”) and writer Brian Pickard (The Leslie Taylor Show) issues a Hitchcockian mastery of tone and ever-heightening intensity in the twenty minute thriller, “Next/Door”.

From its commencing moments of chilly silence, even before the unnerving psychological portrait Suher and Pickard have in store is introduced, we can sense something is amiss. We note this in the quiet presentation of the title card. It is visible beneath the menacing isolation captured in the camera’s slow pan to the home where “Next/ Door” and its immediately alarming narrative commences.

It also signifies an eerie prelude, hidden in the unearthly quiet, to the labyrinthine twists which Suher and Pickard utilize with rapidity and mounting fascination throughout. We are immediately in instant admiration, and endlessly intrigued, by both the set-up and the talent on display.

Awakened by an argumentative couple’s spat heard through the walls of his home the lead, Otto, in a tremendously realized and multi-layered portrayal by David Ryan Kopcych, senses violence. After his neighbor, Hector, leaves he goes over to the neighboring residence where the conflict sprang to check on the situation. What he uncovers is a scene so startling it cannot be given away but, only seen and witnessed.

This is a pulpit of intrigue that “Next/ Door” uses as a launch pad. It is a springboard meant to engage us. This is also meant to make us challenge our own surroundings throughout. Such attempts it carries out masterfully.

The way Suher and Pickard play with Otto, as well as the sudden situation he is thrust into and what transpires becomes of it, is inventive and ingenious. It is also one of the many ways the tale remains fresh and vigorous at every turn. What Suher and company have crafted here is endlessly watchable. It is also complimented by a swift-moving runtime.

“Next/ Door” hinges on its ability to successfully build an ever-increasing sense of dread and unease. It executes this with skill. This is thanks largely to its fervent, palpable credibility and charisma. We see this pulsating beneath the incredible talent the performances convey.

Lindsey Elizabeth Cork, as the object of Otto’s strange obsessions, Patty, and Gio Castellano, as Hector, bring their respective characters to life. These are all genuinely stalwart acting turns.

There is an immediacy to all of the enactments that makes the proceedings all the more realistic. In turn, it makes the tension all the more relentless and stirring as it resonates on-screen.

We believe these characters. Furthermore, we’re involved with them. We care about them and their well-being. This is a sympathy, a concern many horror works try to evoke but fail at miserably.

“Next/ Door” is captivating, breathlessly suspenseful and gripping material. It is also beautifully written and brilliantly directed. Moreover, it is break-neck paced throughout.

To its further credit, Travis Gray’s gorgeously grim cinematography captures every taunt plot element with nuance. Gray drapes the work in a veneer that is impeccable and well-suited for the attitude of the account itself.

This stunning characteristic, along with an equally atmospheric score from Kevin MacLeod and seamless film editing from Suher himself, all comes together to create a nerve-jangling rollercoaster ride. Excellent make-up work by Lauren Buckman and Nicole McLaughlin and exceptional sound work from Luis Carvalho and Nelson Reis heighten this point. These are among the various reasons that you don’t just watch “Next/Door”: you experience it.

Suher’s latest pulls you immediately in its initial seconds. It encapsulates and grips the audience’s imagination. Furthermore, it challenges our own sensibilities long after it has finished. To say this short is simply “haunting” is quite the understatement.

“Next/ Door” is a searing exhibition of what Suher can do as a director and craftsmen. Among its numerous charming attributes is how much narrative it holds in its small span.

This is a gift to, not only fellow admirers of the horror genre, but those who appreciate filmmaking in general. Because of this I eagerly look forward to seeing what other cinematic wonders Suher will present us with in the future.