Benson and Moorehead: Springing Forward

 "I just saw a zombie shooting heroin."

Two years ago Aaron Benson and Justin Moorehead made the highly ambiguous and ambitious low budget film RESOLUTION. At, I championed the film with a glowing review and it also made its way into the 13 MIND BLOWING HORROR MOVIES OF 2013 as an honorable mention. For their first film, they tackled themes of friendship, drug abuse, the haunting re-occurrence of history, and indecipherable endings. Resolution, at its heart is a drama about two childhood friends. Without the horror, Benson and Moorehead would have created a great indie buddy film. With their second feature, they continue this concept. The horror of SPRING is secondary to the budding relationship of the story.

I was provided the opportunity to see SPRING at the Telluride Horror Show last October. In all of my research leading up to the festival, I overlooked the fact that it was the same directors behind RESOLUTION. It was a rookie mistake, but when I saw their names pop up in the credits I was even more excited than before. Prior to that screening there wasn't much in the way of reviews, criticisms, or word-of-mouth. I had no expectations going into the film. It was the last screening after a twelve hour day of horror and it still held a captive audience.
From its premiere at TIFF until now, Benson and Moorehead have had a very successful six months. The title of their film is not only ridden with metaphors throughout the story, but is also reflected in the lives of its creators. In the film, the death of Evan's (Lou Taylor Pucci) mother and a bar brawl become the impetus to a trip to Italy. The slow death of both his parents has left him stuck within his own purgatory. By fleeing to Europe, he seeks change and a new beginning. Evan is a flower crippled by the many winters of his life. His journey of self-discovery begins his new season. Benson and Moorehead have also found a restorative metamorphosis through the distribution juggernaut that is Alamo Drafthouse. I collect every title Drafthouse releases, they are quickly becoming the Criterion of independent cinema. By finding distribution through Drafthouse, the creators of SPRING have blossomed.

Lou Taylor Pucci, who proved himself as a young actor in the indie scene back in 2005 with the back-to-back release of Thumbsucker and The Chumscrubber, is no stranger to horror films. Though I'm not too keen on the remake craze, he was great in Evil Dead (2013). In Spring, Pucci handles himself with a soaring grace. Pucci's Evan is a character in conflict. Though the grief of being without a family hits him hard, there is also a guilt-stricken freedom he's never been afforded before. He starts a new chapter of his life by travelling. What begins as a debaucherous adventure to soak his mourning in alcohol, eventually becomes a longing for companionship. This is when Louise (Nadia Hilker) enters his life. Louise is a beautiful and brilliant scientist who has traveled the world, knows countless languages, and somehow is seduced by the broken Evan. At this point we begin to ask ourselves about the horror. Louise has a mystery to her that feels ominous as does the atmosphere of the film. While the cinematography utilizes every aspect of this picture-esque fishing village, it also infuses extreme close-ups of battling insects and decaying animal carcasses. The score emphasizes a foreboding by amplifying sounds of the insect kingdom to a point of distortion. We truly feel the horror way before any is shown to us.

SPRING moves from being an homage to Richard Linklater's Before trilogy into the realm of H.P. Lovecraft during its final act. Some will disagree with any mention of 'the ancient ones' in regards to this film, but who else are we to credit with transformative creatures that defy category? The love story that blooms in Spring is not normal by rom-com or rom-dram standards, there is an obvious reason for this and one more subtle. Evan and Louise are not lovers like Noah and Alice or even Romeo and Juliet, they form a bond out of necessity. Evan has been caring for others most of his adult life, while Louise has been running away from others. When Evan's life becomes a meaningless void he seeks to fill it with someone to care for. Louise has never known full acceptance until meeting Evan. He becomes the first person she can disclose anything to without judgement or fear. This is not a love often seen on celluloid. Moments after the film's conclusion we wonder what will become of their relationship. It provides us a similar feeling as The Graduate did in 1967.

The creature effects fit perfectly within the story. Though the monstrous images stand out, they do not detract from the love story being told. Benson and Moorehead have struck gold again. By not falling victim to the repetitive nature of horror tropes they have solidified themselves as new and innovative voices in genre-bending cinema. If they continue this course of treating the horror in their material as secondary to the story, I see a long career of thought provoking indie films in their future.


Cloyne and the Persistence of Persona

CLOWN (2014)

Directed by: Jon Watts
Written by: Jon Watts, Christopher D. Ford
Produced by: Eli Roth
Rated R
100 min

Digging Up The Marrow and finding Adam Green

Adam Green's latest film is mostly a tribute to Adam Green. He wrote, directed, produced, edited, and starred in a film about monsters... and himself. If your a random horror fan, who for some reason doesn't know who Adam Green is, don't worry. DIGGING UP THE MARROW gives you a full recap of his career. It may come across as narcissistic at first, but Adam is so lovable that you watch in hopes that he will actually find monsters.

The plot is simple: while Adam is gearing up for a new season of HOLLISTON he receives a piece of fan mail that sends him down the rabbit hole. The journals of William Dekker outline a new approach to what creates something monstrous. Armed with a camera and a never doubting belief in creatures, Adam and his long time friend/cinematographer Will Barratt set off to the Marrow (an entrance into the catacombs of freak city).

Adam is willing to put his show and his life in jeopardy just for a tiny glimpse of otherworldly beings. By starring in the film as himself and featuring members of the horror community, Green creates a very post-modern monster film. You will see a fantastic list of cameos in the film: Tony Todd, Joe Lynch, Lloyd Kaufman, Don Coscarelli, Mick Garris, Tom Holland, and Kane Hodder. It becomes a game of who's who in "Horror Hollywood." These directors all coming together to be featured in Adam's film, creates a reality to all of the subsequent events. Which is the main goal of any found footage film. The only problem within DIGGING UP THE MARROW is who plays William Dekker. While everyone else is themselves, the role of Dekker went to the brilliant Ray Wise. Normally, there would be no issue with casting Wise. Since we all know who he is, this fact actually steals away from what Green is trying to accomplish. It would have been an excellent choice to have used Alex Pardee for the part (his artistry is featured throughout the film).

This is no gripe against Ray Wise, who cemented himself in the nerd community by giving us one of the best television performances ever captured. His Leland Palmer is etched into our memory. Leland's daughter has been murdered, his hair has turned white, and he cries while dancing - no character has ever shown the absurd reality that grief can be. Wise began his horror career as Dr. Holland in SWAMP THING and throughout the years has held our attention with an onslaught of small roles. He's worked with Paul Verhoeven in ROBOCOP, Victor Salva - the sex offender - in JEEPERS CREEPERS II, Mike Mendez in BIG ASS SPIDER!, and had the stand-out performance in Richard Bates Jr's SUBURBAN GOTHIC. Ray Wise has been everywhere and while he's never been Hollywood's leading man, he holds a special place in our hearts. He worked with Green in CHILLERAMA and as a landlord in HOLLISTON's first episode. It would seem only right to provide him a leading role in DIGGING UP THE MARROW, but it deters you from the cool reality that Green sets up. Wise's conspiracy theorist/monster hunter character is believable and delivered with such ease that you almost forget that it's Ray Wise - but in the end, you just can't forget that it is RAY WISE!

Everything else about Adam's film is a work of love. The monsters look beautiful and the world-hidden-from-ours concept is intriguing. While watching, you will want to believe in this realm Adam's found. I appreciate that besides Ray Wise, the reality of the film is kept intact. This means that the real people, who play themselves, do not die. This may seem like a spoiler but it's not. Anything can happen to William Dekker since he is a fictitious character, but everyone else in the film is alive and well today. To have any 'real' person die within the story would have been a huge letdown and ruined the film. So, I'm just saying, you do not have to worry about this letdown. It's an all-around fun experience and you get to see fellow horror nerds talking about monsters. I would highly recommend it! You know, if your into Adam Green, Ray Wise, and monsters.