Monday, April 25, 2016

Dark and Brutal: A Pre-Release Review of Horror Indie Film THE CHAIR

Production still from THE CHAIR
Sullivan (Timothy Muskatell) at the mercy of Warden (Bill Oberst Jr.) in THE CHAIR
Back on July 31, 2014, Peter Simeti completed a successful pre-production crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter for the indie horror feature THE CHAIR. Just over a week ago, the filmmakers finished post-production and sent out access to an online screener to those whose contributions rated that perk. As a result, I was able to view the final product. With Simeti's permission, I'm happy to provide this spoiler-free, pre-release review of the film.

THE CHAIR is the cinematic adaptation of the indie graphic novel of the same name. Simeti created the latter in collaboration with Kevin Christensen and Erin Kohut. Kohut wrote the screenplay while director Chad Ferrin ("Easter Bunny, Kill! Kill!", 2006) helmed the production.

Production still from THE CHAIR
Roddy Piper in THE CHAIR
THE CHAIR tells the dark and brutal tale of Richard Sullivan (Timothy Muskatell), a prisoner on death row who claims he's innocent. He's there because a court convicted him of raping and killing children. While in prison, he witnesses torture and savage killings at the hands of the sadistic Warden (Bill Oberst Jr.) and his team of guards, led by Murphy (Roddy Piper). To survive, Sullivan must match the insane brutality of the prison while confronting his horrifying past.
This story translates smoothly from graphic panels to moving pictures courtesy of the cinematography of DP Christian Janss. The prison is a shadowy dungeon, so Janss' ability to capture the film's hard-core action in this environment is impressive. Kudos for this achievement also goes to Ferrin and the crew members who handled the lighting at his direction. 
Have I used the words "brutal" and "hard-core" too much? That's not possible. This movie pulls no punches to bring to life a psychotic and sadomasochistic world. Here the "good guys" are just as remorseless and unhinged as the so-called criminals.
Oberst's Warden appears first as an evil, twisted genius as he presides over the prison's gory rituals. But his character turns out to be more complex than this. Oberst shows that he is more than capable of handling this complexity and the plot twists that it entails.
The two sides of Warden's personality are underscored by what he is wearing. The Warden who wears goggles with his leather apron and gloves contrasts strongly with the frumpy and conventional corrections-system bureaucrat who appears later in the film. By contrast, our anti-hero Sullivan does not change in appearance until the end of the film, but we do see another side of him before that. Flashback sequences reveal his horrific childhood. Muskatell does an outstanding job of incorporating the scars of this upbringing into his adult version of Sullivan.

Production still from THE CHAIR
Naomi Grossman in THE CHAIR
One figure from his childhood is the main reason that Sullivan's life took the course that it did. His mother, played with terrifying gusto by Naomi Grossman, took out all her life's frustrations on Sullivan through horrendous abuse. Clues to the nature of the coming showdown between Warden and Sullivan lie in the details of this dysfunctional mother-child relationship.
Warden and his minions dispatch the other prisoners one-by-one, leaving Sullivan as the sole inmate. Why is Sullivan saved for last? Why is he so special? Why does Warden not execute him immediately when his passive resistance becomes active, bloody rebellion? You'll just have to wait for the premiere of THE CHAIR to find out. Take my word for it: it's more than worth it.

: A "Funding Producer" for THE CHAIR, TFK gained access to an online screener through a crowdfunding perk. Peter Simeti granted permission for this pre-release review. This website and its author received no monetary compensation for writing and publishing it.