Saturday, January 2, 2016

SCREEN (2013): Big Horror on a Small Budget - an #ArchiveDay post

Nicole Alonso in SCREEN
Nicole Alonso in SCREEN


Editor's note: TFK posted this review on a now-defunct legacy blog in March, 2014. It has been revised, updated, and edited for reposting here.

What kind of horror feature can be made with a Canon 5D Mark 2 camera, a zoom H4N portable audio recorder, and an iPhone? If the filmmaker is David Paul Baker (David Wilde), the answer is SCREEN (NR, 2013) -- a good and scary indie flick, indeed.



Background and Credits


Written, directed, and produced by Baker, SCREEN was released via Vimeo On Demand on December 15th, 2013. The film stars Nicole Alonso, who subsequently played the lead role of Tank in "Crawl or Die" (2014), which she co-produced with indie writer/director Oklahoma Ward. Both Alonso and Ward are close associates of Baker. Alonso's co-star is Leslie Andrews, who starred in "Sick Girl" (2007) and most recently was in the LGBT video web-series "Eastsiders".

Baker himself started his career as an actor in London, then wrote and directed his first film, "Pasty Faces" (2000). This first experience in the film industry, which involved too little creative control and too much compromise, led to a distaste for the mainstream directorial career path. He decided to write screenplays instead, which led to his first independently-produced film, "Mission X" (2009). It also led to a vision of harnessing the technology of the Internet to showcase his work and grow a following for it in an online home.

Baker consciously styled SCREEN on the classic low-budget horror movies of the 1970s. Nevertheless, the film started out with a larger budget than these films did. Unfortunately, the recession of the late 2000s led to Baker's losing his financial backing. Baker found funding elsewhere (in part by successful crowdfunding), but had to make significant alterations in the structure and execution of the film.

Story Summary


Leslie Andrews in SCREEN
Leslie Andrews in SCREEN

A group of horror fans are found scared to death at a rural drive-in movie theater. Whatever they saw on the movie screen also bled through the screens on their mobile devices. The film then flashes back to narrate this event through the eyes of two women who were there. 

Carrie (Andrews) invites Lola (Alonso), a friend from her high school days who has recently located her via Facebook, to a Halloween party at an old, defunct drive-in movie theater in a small town in Oklahoma. Since Lola needs to drive 300 miles to attend, she initially refuses, but then changes her mind due to the frustration of caring for her alcoholic father, with whom she lives. She wants to escape from home for awhile, party, and meet people. 

She picks up Carrie, and together they road-trip to the party. Unbeknownst to Lola, the purpose of the party is to commemorate the 40th anniversary of an episode of mass carnage that occurred at the drive-in. Over the course of the drive and while the pair stay overnight in a hotel room near their destination, Carrie reveals what she knows about the history behind the party and some of her reasons for wanting to be there.

The next day, they research the history of the drive-in incident and interview its sole survivor, who was blinded by the experience. It appears that something sinister was behind the deaths. The survivor tells Lola and Carrie to stay away from "the SCREEN." Despite this warning, nothing will stop Carrie from attending the party; she has personal reasons for observing the gruesome anniversary. 

Meanwhile, Lola's misgivings grow as she finds out more about the drive-in’s past. She attends the party anyway, finding a mix of horror film freaks, bloggers, party animals, and a more ominous pair of masked psychopaths. Strange things begin to happen as night falls and the party gets more and more out of control. Lola initially dismisses Carrie's supernatural interpretation of these events, but eventually realizes that something evil is happening. This time, will there be any survivors?



Commentary


For me, Baker's approach to making SCREEN is a winner, despite the obvious low-budget limitations on production values. Baker's lack of access to sophisticated special effects and CGI allowed him to concentrate on basic horror film-making. And the effects that he was able to use -- such as sound and video distortion -- are very effective. The interweaving of iPhone video fits into the storyline and lends an air of authenticity to the film, which isn't always the case with found footage.

The road trip scenes that precede the party allow for both plot and character development. The latter isn't always a big feature of 1970s horror movies (Baker's model), but when it is (as in this film), it heightens the suspense before and the horror during the gruesome climax that the audience knows is coming.

Finally, Baker's choice of plot elements and characters allows for a series of head-fakes that almost convinced me that something other than what I knew was going to happen would be the outcome of the film. It did creep me out that some of the secondary characters at the party are real-life horror bloggers, who don't fare very well in the film.

Note to self: don't think of horror and the supernatural as only fictional, and definitely don't party too hard at the site of a previous horrific event, especially on its anniversary. "Asshattery gets you killed" could be one message of this movie.

Summary


For the low price of $2.99 for a 30-day rental, this movie is available on Vimeo. I recommend that indie horror fans spend the money (I did) and watch the movie -- or better yet, organize a DIY drive-in screening (I just might).

TFK's Rating (on IMDb): 6 out of 10 stars


Disclosure: TFK viewed this film on Vimeo and wrote this review based on personal selection. No review request was involved in this choice.