October may be over, but the horror hits just keep on coming. I was sent a screener of the new horror short Defarious from writer/director/editor/assumed man about town Chase Michael Pallante by way of R&F Entertainment. At a brisk 11 minutes (but more like 9 excluding production bumpers and a lengthy credit sequence), the film tells the story of a woman terrorized by a nightmare, only to have it bleed over into her waking life...I guess. I just know that by reading more into the film after watching it twice. This is my main problem with Defarious, while the score and sound design work rather well, everything else about it is muddled and not all there.
To be honest, I even hesitated to write this review. I really don't like giving negative reviews to independent productions, especially short films. I know how hard it is to make a film with little to no budget and the passion and determination it takes to see it through. I'm much more for keeping negative reactions on things like this to myself and letting the films find their own audiences and champions. I have plenty of Nic Cage and John Travolta films to shit on if I feel so inclined. This one felt a bit different to me though. The short does have some positives and shows some signs of talent, but it mostly missed the mark with me and resides in a genre that I consume regularly and have been known to give a lot of leeway to.
So, the story, or more accurately the lack thereof. I know this is a short film, but I've seen plenty of shorts that could convey a complete story and characterization in the same amount of time. While the synopsis says the film is about a woman suffering from night terrors and the loss of her mother, stalked by an evil apparition that bleeds over into her reality and blurs the lines of what's real and what isn't, the film doesn't convey such “lofty” ideas. The short plays more like this: a woman wakes up from a nightmare, can't find her phone, walks around her house until she's stabbed and thrown off the second floor by a guy in white face paint, sees a hallucination of her mother, then gets violently murdered by said invader, the end. It was only the second time I watched it that I sat through the credits to catch a stinger scene of the woman waking up again. Even this isn't entirely clear, as the scene looks like it may be the same one from the beginning, just from a different angle. Instead, the film just plays like a single scene from a basic slasher, but more like one of those shot on video slashers you used to find in your local video store. You know, the ones with deceptively catchy titles and box art that never lived up to their initial promise...those got me every time. Other than the film's muted tones, there's really only one scene that alludes to it being in a nightmare and that's only because someone turned on a smoke machine.
The acting and effects also don't do the film many favors. Janet Miranda as the lead Amy spends the film wide-eyed, going overboard with everything from emotions to hand gestures. I really didn't understand the character at all, her motivations, what she's scared of, what importance her mother played in her life, none of it really comes through in her performance. Jason Torres plays the titular Defarious, seeming to think he's doing more of a Tim Curry Pennywise thing, when it really comes off closer to a T. Ryder Smith The Trickster kind of thing (and I actually like Brainscan, see how forgiving I can be?!?). The look of the demon, dream monster, Purge enthusiast, whatever the hell he is, is somewhat creepy, but it's just another guy with a knife in all black with white face paint and some dark around the eyes. Nothing too memorable there. The brief gore effects consist of a few FX stab shots and a lot of CGI blood splatter, which just really does nothing for me. I read that they built a dummy of the lead actress for the killer to stab during the scene, could they not stuff that thing with some blood packs and meat or something to make the gore visually interesting and at least give a memorable practical effect in its brief run time? The kill scene is more or less the moneyshot of the piece, but it certainly didn't make me feel sticky afterward.
Now it's only fair for me to talk about the few positives I had for the film, which really just revolve around the atmosphere the sound creates. The score by Jonathan Martinez is quite effective, building up to psyche-outs at times, but giving the film a spooky and dream-like vibe. The sound design is also quite good, but it goes unnecessarily too far at times with creepy child laughs and a demonic evil laugh from the killer. The camera work isn't too bad, though there are a few handheld shots that seem out of place and a tracking shot from upstairs following the actress moving downstairs that I believe tapped the wall while moving to a rather humorous effect.
Defarious does show a bit of promise and talent. I think the short is an attempt to try and pique interest into a feature length film. Part of me is curious as to how that would play out, but I'm not sure if there are enough ideas there to make it anything interesting or memorable. It seems as if the film is doing well on the festival circuit, even scooping up a few rewards, so maybe it was just lost on me. Check it out if you come across it and decide for yourself. It's not long or boring enough to feel like a waste of time and maybe it will play closer to your horror sensibilities than mine. Oh yeah, and what the fuck does Defarious mean anyway?