DVD REVIEW:  Brackish

The past decade has produced an entirely new dimension in the world of low-budget film. Anyone can go out and purchase an inexpensive hand-held digital video camera and call themselves a “director”. I would like to first say that I am all for people capitalizing on the ready availability of technology in order to chase their artistic visions, especially young artists just starting out. The access to such high tech equipment so early on in their lives is a huge advantage to high school and college students trying to define their style, their voice. Hell, if my friends and I had had this ability back then, we surely would have being doing just the same. The story becomes a little different, though, once you expand outside the fringe of the artsy youth scene and into the cutthroat world of true independent film. Then it becomes more than merely artistic experimentation.

The work that is produced is tossed out into the gladiator pit with the lions to be devoured along with the toughest of competition and the creation as a whole must be able to withstand the onslaught of critique, both from its peers and its critics. When serious creators of this new breed of independent film begin their work, knowing the vast limitations of their resources, they have to keep in mind that other core elements of the film will become even more important because they cannot fall back on a slick presentation or fancy special effects. The basics, the essentials of film such as acting, script crafting and timing have to support and carry the production from beginning to end, without fail. Otherwise, as in the case of BRACKISH by Mad Angel Films and director Matt Peters, the film feels like little more than a home movie, but without the genuine emotion or spontaneity of real life.

Some people would disagree with me, saying that extreme low budget film is considered “cult” and is created beyond the structure of traditional film. To this I adamantly shake my head. Cult films are films that are obscure but test societal, emotional or creative limitations previously defined by Hollywood; they are intense statements that strike a profound cord with the underground fans. The cult world still must hold true to some, if not all of the necessary core elements of a “good” film; just because a film is rotten, does not make it “cult”. Personally, I say that anyone who suggests differently is just trying to hid behind their bad taste in movies, but that is a different subject for a different time…

Now, I might have gone a little easier on this film due to its extreme low-budget basis if it was not for the one page “history” of Mad Angel Films and Kyomatt Entertainment Inc., included in the DVD, which, in and of its self, made me laugh out loud. I have a solid decade of background in marketing so I know the power of self-promotion. However, it’s one thing to list one’s professional accomplishments in a resume styled presentation in order to lend credibility to your company and entirely another to ramble on about how brilliant you are and how radical your work is, in between talking about your college/life experiences, for an entire page. To quote from the bio: “The idea of Mad Angel Films was conceived many years ago, while Matt Peters was still in high school. Matt aspired to tell the greatest stories known to man and to leave a great legacy by conquering the world…

Perhaps the yearbook inscription was an omen of things to come, and thus the creation of this company had been prophesized by the gods.” Just an idea, but until the film community as a whole, or at least the cult world, decides that you are a gift from the gods, don’t mention it in your cover letter. This rambling corporate/personal bio was accompanied by several pages of bios about each actor/actress (of which it appears only a couple have any true acting experience…explains quite a bit), a page of bios about each of the bands involved in the soundtrack (the soundtrack was the best part of this film…) and a strange page of newspaper clippings about the film being screened in random cities, but the articles only really state the dates and places without any critique. Again, more strange random information that really made me cock an eyebrow more than say to myself “now this is a crew that really has their shit together”. I realize that they are trying to scrape together all of the supporting material they can muster, but sometimes it’s best to just let the work speak for itself. Then again, in the case of this film, maybe all of that extraneous info actually buffered it a bit…

Now, about the film itself…

BRACKISH is the tale of a young man’s attempt to resurrect his dead fiancé through the use of magic. After the death of his fiancé, Sarah (Irene Young), Jake (Dior Aioubov) sinks into a deep depression. In an attempt to pull him out of his darkness his sister Tila (Rachel Powers) and friends Chad (Alfred D. Amendolare, III), Brad (Josh Campbell) and Beth (Catherine Presite) organize a camping trip to the haunted ruins of the town where Jake and Tila’s grandfather once lived. It turns out that the bloody past is still alive and well. After finding a journal once kept by his grandfather that speaks of a strange curse of immortality, Jake decides to try to resurrect his lost love and unwittingly unleashes the wrath of the demon-worshiping cult that was the original demise of the town decades before.

This sounds like a solid premise for a fairly decent slasher flick. Peters and Mad Angel even had the absolute perfect location for their movie complete with overgrown ramshackle houses, rusted out cars and a huge lake amongst a forest of pines. And we all know what kind of sexy, horrible madness can happen with a lake in a slasher film! However, they completely failed to capitalize on any of this and it is in great part due to two things: terrible acting and poor scene direction. The acting in this film was so bad that at times I actually started laughing. I understand that every aspiring actor or actress has to start somewhere, but just because someone is “aspiring”, as clearly stated in the pages of printed bios, doesn’t mean that they actually have any lick of talent. It is so terribly painful to watch an hour and half of people repeating their lines as if they were holding the pages in front of them and reading them for the first time. Take an acting lesson! Or, better yet, pick a different career to pursue.

The excruciating performances were coupled by a script so stereotypical and dry that is sounds as if a few lines from random slasher flicks were pulled sloppily together and sealed with a couple of cases of Lonestar beer. This was coupled with a variety of random uncut glitches such as a cameraman sneaking through the forest beyond the actors, a cloaked member of the cult running through the woods in flip-flops, a ghost wearing granny panties under her slip, and a knife that apparently has no blade when it is being thrust into someone (um, just a note, but they invented the stunt knives with retractable blades quite a few years ago). In the hundreds of times a film is viewed during the editing process, I would like to imagine that such obvious errors would be caught, but perhaps I assume too much.

As for the poor direction and bad timing I mentioned earlier, several of the scenes seemed to drag on endlessly without any true resolution. For instance, when Jake finds his grandfather’s abandoned house and decides to explore it, we watch Jake go slowly through every single room for at least a good five minutes of film time before he finds the journal where the information about the cult is written. This is far, far too long of a build for such an anticlimax. There are several similar scenes within the movie, which only gave me the impression that they were stretching the script in order to fill time. This is never a good option. If there isn’t enough script, simply cut and place the emphasis on action. A short, entertaining film is far better than a boring film that drags on for twenty minutes longer than necessary.

The last aspect of this critique that I will bring up is that of genre. When BRACKISH begins, it has the feel that it could go one of two ways: eerie ghost story or backwoods slasher. About fifteen minutes into the film one realizes that they are attempting to incorporate both styles of horror, which, if done well, can work. Ah, but two genres aren’t enough for this film! Oh no! Let’s bring in a devil-worshiping-human-sacrificing cult flavor and, wait, just wait…ZOMBIES! That’s right! For a brief moment at the very end suddenly there is a cry from the cult leader for the “children” to rise and suddenly there are zombies staggering around, but only for a couple of minutes before Jake beats them all with a baseball bat. I have to tell you, I was laughing so hard at this point that tears were streaming down my face. It was so ridiculous, so absurd, that I knew that this was a last ditch effort to save the movie with some sort of over the top ending.

To quote again from the included press materials: “Matt filmed many of his movies while at college and had his work praised highly. He study deep into the artistic avant-garde ways of film making and learned it was all nonsense.” Nice proofreading…

Well, Matt, if the “artistic avant-garde ways of film making” are all “nonsense” I’m just not sure where BRACKISH falls because as far as I can see, it’s calling a close cousin. Again, I have to say that if I hadn’t first read the high-horse propaganda insert I might have had a different take on the film. That it was just a fun, ridiculous experiment by some young film producers trying to find their way. But when someone puffs out their feathers like they just came bearing awards from the Cannes Film Festival and then present a piece that looks like it was spliced together by high-school students (no offense to high school students…I’m sure there are many that could have done a far better job), it’s really hard to take the company or the work seriously. I’m more than certain that Mad Angel will continue producing films for many years to come. I just hope they can perhaps humble themselves a bit and realize that there might be a bit to learn from their forefathers in film. If anything, at least hire some decent actors and stop claiming themselves born from the forehead of Zeus.

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