By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***1/2 out of *****.
Bornless Ones (2016), the eighty-minute full-length feature debut from writer-director Alexander Babaev, summons the spirit of Sam Raimi’s seminal horror classic, The Evil Dead (1981), spectacularly well. Respecting the foundation laid down by Raimi, Babaev has crafted a rollercoaster ride of gore. It is one which is propelled by increasingly ghastly coincidences. Furthering this parallel is that these fearful events revolve around a batch of ruthless demons. All of whom are summoned to a secluded cabin the woods. Additionally, Babaev’s structure and general build-up of the presentation, alongside the previously stated mechanisms of the tried and true plot, are also reminiscent of Raimi’s tale. This is with the first half of the endeavor being more character-oriented. To its further favor, it is also noticeably well-mounted. In this early section, Babaev, whose direction is taunt and quietly stylish throughout, successfully executes a continuous sense of ominous dread. Once the runtime passes the halfway mark, the film tilts into full gear. From herein, it hits a momentous creative stride of claustrophobic, apprehension-inducing sequences that never wavers.
Likewise, Babaev fills each frame with inventive images and scenarios to brilliant consequence. They, in turn, make the unfolding chaos ever-present ever more tense and palpable. A memorably macabre moment at forty-two minutes in, which involves the torturous sight of a deceased child in a bath tub, is definitive proof of such a statement. It is also a testament to the largely convincing nature of Artem Miroshin’s accomplished visual effects. The idea Babaev conceives of “demons who heal”, as it is described by an individual in the effort itself, is especially novel. It further showcases the inventive spin Babaev puts into the standard mechanisms of such a rigorously held terror formula. In so doing, Babaev incorporates an even balance of promise and pay-off. Such works as well in Babaev’s narrative as it did when Raimi incorporated such a manner of account telling stability thirty-six years prior. Yet, the sum of Babaev’s affair isn’t entirely reliant on these imitative attributes to establish its high-quality. As a matter of fact, Babaev’s deft screenplay is decidedly fashioned more from the modern cinematic approach to the genre. This is in regards to the fact that it delves deeper into the brooding and often pained backstories of its leads. Such is in comparison to the previously stated Raimi authored groundbreaker. Yet, the configuration as a whole is, ultimately, hindered by occasionally tiresome dialogue. This is most visible when such celluloid derived speech lapses too often into the repeated question of “What’s wrong with you?”. This is projected as a go-to reaction to the revulsion-laced happenstances our central figures undergo in the later stretches.
Babaev’s routinely erected on-screen personas, none of whom may prove as iconic as Raimi’s hero from The Evil Dead, Ash (Bruce Campbell), are united by a variety of past tragedies. This is both openly articulated among some and with others initially kept secret. Such issues a perfect pulpit to develop ever-enigmatic personalities. All of whom constantly keep audiences intrigued. Simultaneously, this gives Babaev an opportunity to erect several genuinely surprising dramatic twists. These are positioned throughout the undertaking. Such authentically gasp-worthy instances beautifully compliment the unnerving tone of the construction. Moreover, they bring a human allegory to the frightful fiends that dominate the fiction. These elements assist the exertion in showcasing that it is much its own entity. Such transpires to great consequence. This is while keeping its obvious inspirations much in check. It makes for a well-rounded, delightfully entertaining exercise in dread. Such is one which is capped off by an ingenious final scene. In this brief bit, Babaev issues a clever and sinisterly smirk-inducing change in roles and perspective. Such represents a deliberate turn from the expected. Though Babaev can never completely liberate himself from such trappings, the sum of the exhibition remains potently engaging because of such unique components.
After a tense, gorgeously realized and attention-garnering opening section, Babaev focuses in on Emily (in a credible and charismatic performance from Margaret Judson). She has been left to care for her cerebral palsy afflicted brother, Zach (in a depiction by Michael Johnston that is towering and powerful; the emotive driving force of the labor). We follow her and group of her friends. This is as they help Zach, Emily and her boyfriend, Jesse (in a stalwart enactment from Devin Goodsell) settle down in their new abode. Yet, almost immediately the group uncovers strange symbols and handwritten notes. Making matters worse is the discovery of a satanic mural. All of which are strewn throughout the edifice. These are signposts related to the catastrophic circumstances, unknown to Emily and her confidants, which were inflicted upon those who owned the house previously. All the while, Zach seems to be undergoing sudden, miraculous improvements in regards to his condition. Yet, once an effort is made to remove these bizarre markings seven so-called “guardians”, ominous defensive entities, begin to gather outside. Such is another emblem. It is one personifying the chaos that is about to be unleashed.
Relatedly, this Uncork’d Entertainment distribution and Black Drone Media production, mostly shot in California’s Pine Mountain Club, is a triumph in the performance arena. It is graced with a hilariously energetic portrayal from David Banks. He plays the quirky, eccentric real estate agent, Richard Alonzo Jr. III. Mark Furze as Woodrow, Bobby T. as Michele and Victoria Clare as Christina are all wonderful in their portrayals. Gwen Holloway is particularly striking in her brief turn as Emily’s mother. Nick Saso as Dennis, Rob Tepper as Dr. Weisenberg and Svetlana Titova as Dolores are terrific. Pony Wave as Sarah and Greg Travis as Billy all bring distinctly remarkable life to the personas they embody.
From a technical standpoint, it is just as accomplished. The music by Paul Hartwig is compellingly constructed and masterfully moody. Correspondingly, the cinematography from Egor Povolotskiy is phenomenally proficient. Babaev’s editing is seamless. The camera and electrical department, make-up crew and sound team all deliver impeccibly in their specific categories. Augmenting this appeal is Catelin Dziuba’s fresh and exciting costume design. Similarly, Carlos Cortez’s art direction is eye-popping.
Such results in a flawed, but certainly admirable and worthwhile attempt. Many of the story beats ring with a sense of deja vu. For example, the anticipated episode early on where the team arrives at a rundown gas station. Such is a time-tested trademark often spied in motion pictures such as these. But, Babaev proves unafraid to boldly touch upon sobering subjects etched from real life fears and atrocities. Such illuminates and gives purpose to our protagonists. It makes us care for them even more because of this decision. We understand their motivations. Because of this, we feel the intensity of their plight. This is as they combat the otherworldly wickedness at hand. Such makes the suspense Babaev generates so ceaselessly here more profound and nail-biting. The pedigree of invention Babaev registers further elevates the material. Moreover, there are other slyly positioned winks to other entries in The Evil Dead series outside of the original. There is one especially smirk-inducing moment involving the tongue of the possessed and a pair of open scissors seen in the last act of Babaev’s latest. Such calls to mind Fede Alvarez’s 2013 remake of Raimi’s masterpiece. The voices of the overtaken in the oddly titled Bornless Ones, though not wholly believable and shakily dispensed, also seem to mirror such a trait in the three film (or four if you count Alvarez’s previously addressed reboot) series. Such adds an extra undercurrent of fun, especially for fellow cinephiles, to the proceedings. Because of such measures Babaev proves all that can be done with a familiar plot and set-up. The culmination of these minutiae is certainly worth seeing for yourself. You can do so when the movie arrives in select theatres and is simultaneously released on video on demand on February 10th, 2017.
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