Saturday, January 19, 2013

Review: Sahri

In the independent film, Sahri, a small town is beset by what many people believe are demonic forces, the epicenter of which is a falling-down farmhouse with a violent and mysterious past. To make a long history short, the woman ("Sahri," played by the appropriately intimidating Chevy Anz) who grew up on the house originally turned the place into an orphanage after her parents died. After a time, and for reasons never sufficiently explained, she went quite mad and started torturing or murdering children she considers "naughty." The other children were merely "worked to death."

The movie opens on the owner of the house, Abel (Larry Mowry), as he is being tormented by mocking, disembodied voices, and turns to the Bible in an attempt to drive them away. We see the house in glimpses; it is not somewhere somebody ought to be living. Which is, of course, why there is a group of kids from a local church group who are, when we first see them, preparing to come and fix it up.

As the group attempts to find the house, they ask a biker (played by Mark B'z, of Tenessee psychobilly band Sixer 6) for directions. He leaves them with a warning taken seriously by exactly none of them: "There's a demon that runs this holler."

And with that, we come to the first of the myriad problems plaguing this script. But I'll get to that.

First, when I come watch an independent film, particularly from a small or unknown group, I always go into it considering financial and other limitations. With what the producers at DDX Media had to work with, I wasn't expecting anything, even on the level of Blair Witch Project, famous as it was for its microscopic budget. I was actually pleasantly surprised on this score: many of the makeup effects were actually fairly decent, and they worked some cool effects in, using the ol' ghost in the camera schtick. On that end, though many of the effects are obvious, the film actually succeeds beyond expectations.

The same can not be said of the sound effects. Both the score and ambient sountrack were often uneven at best. Once again, this is partly an artifact of zero budget, but certain issues, like music suddenly cutting out or switching to straight ambient sound, could have been repaired with relative ease, given the correct amount of time and attention. It didn't kill the movie, or the mood, necessarily, but it was distracting.

For all that, however, the film performed, on a technical level, better than I thought it would. I was also pleasantly surprised in another aspect: that of acting.

Now, let me state off the bat, nobody's winning an Oscar here. For the most part, the cast is not made up of professional actors. That said, I've seen a lot of indie films, Christian and otherwise, that were made simply unwatchable by the inexperience, woodenness, or sheer awkwardness of the cast. Once again, not the case here. While some actors were very wooden, or clearly uncomfortable in their roles, or simply rendered inneffective by their lack of real acting experience, others stood out due simply to the relative ease with which they stepped into their roles.

Real surprises on that score came from lead Samantha Bright (Paige), Faith Blankenship (Bethany), and Garrek Thompson (Zach).

So far, the weaknesses in this film are forgiveable -- and even expected. But now, we turn to the story. First of all, this was a really solid idea. The basic plot is intriguing and, even given the technical weakness mentioned above, could have been turned into a pretty darned good picture. What overwhelmed my true and intense desire to love this movie was that I simply couldn't shake the deepening sense that DDX Media shot the first draft of the script.

First, the movie seemed to be unable to decide whether it was a ghost story or a story about demons, and with no real sense of congruence between the two ideas. The real harm done to the party -- the real danger posed by the area to the youth group -- is a pair of hulking freaks with no back story and, seemingly, no real place in the story at large. Toward the end of the film, in fact, they just sort of... disappear.

Parts of the plot felt massively contrived and, ultimately, rather than addressing or tying up the loose ends created by the plot, the filmmakers simply ignored them.

Finally, the end felt as though it had been added at the last minute. Like, perhaps, the writer simply ran out of time to answer all the questions asked earlier in the script and so added an ending that would justify leaving them unanswered and just end the film.

So, overall, Sahri featured an interesting backstory and overall plot. The actors and effects teams did a pretty passable job, especially considering the limitations inherent with such a low budget. However, when those limits are present, it becomes even more important to get the script just right. This time around, I don't think they quite got it, but the final product does, ultimately, bode well for future endeavors from DDX.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

New & Notable 01.12.13

"Book One" of Four, "Identity" encompasses
the first few chapters of Ted Dekker's new,
complete novel, Eyes Wide Open.
Ted Dekker has been releasing his latest novel, Eyes Wide Open, incrementally as an ebook. Part 1, titled "Identity," is free on Amazon. Parts 2 through 4 are available for $2.99 a piece.

Dekker has caused some minor controversy over the release of this book, after telling Facebook followers he was taking a risk and releasing Book 1 of a series free, intimating to some fans (because it wasn't made explicit otherwise) that "Identity" would be a complete story in itself, part one of a series of novels, rather than simply the first few chapters of a larger whole. He was also not explicit about the form in which the release would be made: as an ebook only, rather than as a print book.

After each part of the work is available as an ebook, the complete story will be available in hardcover.

As Greg Mitchell prepares to release the final book of his "Coming Evil Trilogy" in February, he has released a new novella in the "Coming Evil" universe. Lengthening Shadows, available as a download for $2.99, takes place between books 2 and 3, and serves as a prequel to the final installment.

Keven Newsome and Splashdown Darkwater have released the follow-up to Newsome's popular Winter. Prophetess, which dropped November 1, continues the story of the reluctant seer as she searches for a "person of promise," whose identity is unknown to her. Winter may not know for whom she is searching, but she knows she has to find this "person of prophecy" before it's too late. Available in paperback and ebook.