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Current technology has achieved the state where it is not only feasible for many people to collect thousands of movies to easily watch at home but owning such sizable collections have become rather commonplace. As such many have become more than a bit jaded particularly in genres that are frequently selected for young, independent auteurs. When I received a preview copy of one of the latest indie horror flicks, ‘’, I prepared myself for a repeat of an experience I’ve had countless times before. We have all seen these movies where the synopsis is always the same; an extremely attractive, suitably young woman eminently agreeable to accompany her boyfriend into an unnecessarily isolated area. Depending on the specific choices made of the genres variables, there are typically several friends accompanying them, each filling a predetermined archetype. As I tried to mentally prepare myself for a viewing that would be all too close to countless others as the film began and I found myself facing an hour and a half of yet another romp highlighting boobs and blood in a slash and dash frenzy of fake entrails and breasts, initially every aspect of the screener copy appeared to validate my initial assessment. Than something most peculiar occurred as the movie continued. I was about to take a respite when I noticed I kept delaying the break. The story had captured my interest and I had to find out what would happen next. Considering slasher flicks are not my typical preference, surprisingly I had become vested in the characters. Admittedly, the degree of prejudice was induced by the title. When ‘slasher’ is a prominent element of the title the expectations for even an iota of subtly instantly evaporates. The actual payoff of the story is properly reserved for the third act but in retrospect I found it astonishing that something in the opening of the film came across as sufficiently intriguing that I remained watching. The conclusion was extremely satisfying but it inherently precludes a substantial number of topical points for discussion. While this is precisely why I was so pleasantly surprised at my enjoyment it does make writing a review more difficult than usual.

The obvious main plot inferred by the title is very messy murders involving online dating. This theme has been well explored in every conceivable degree of explicit content from graphic ‘R’ rated examples of torture porn to the attempts at an emotional approach in several cautionary tales popular on the Lifetime basic cable network. In this instance the story begins by introducing the main antagonist. A pretty cable news anchor, Priscilla Howard (Sarah Kaplan), is reporting on the most recent in a series of brutal murders that appear to online dating sites as the source of victims. A warning is given to exert heightened diligence in using these web services. Fade to the apartment of Jack Roper (Ben Kaplan) in a spacious and extremely clean apartment particularly for a single man. He is awaiting his date to pick him up. On queue the doorbell rings, it’s his date Kristy Smith (Morgan Carter), a pretty young woman in Daisy Duke Jeans and a cut off top. After a moment of introduction, they are off in her car together. Kristy and Jack have been chatting online for about three weeks and bother were looking forward to their first IRL date together.

Kristy was pleasantly surprised that Jack had a nice, well-kept apartment and nice car, far different than the usual dating app hook-up. Jack acts flustered, not expecting a strong, determined young woman to show up at his door taking control in this fashion. The date Kristy planned was a weekend together hiking and enjoying nature. Their destination is a remote cabin rental. They meet the owner who wants to be called, Momma (Jewel Shepard), an archetypical hillbilly directly out of central casting. She is overly friendly, especially towards Jack, shoving some food in his mouth with a silver clamshell shaped spoon. Her husband, Jesse Myers (R.A. Mihailoff). Shortly later they meet with their daughter, Caitlin (Rebecca Crowley), who eyes Jack while provocatively touching herself, slowly licking her lips. The filmmaker, Chip Gubera, does seem to have a fetish of sorts for the sensual use of the tongue.

The date proceeds as Kristy planned with the two of them strolling through the beautiful scenery. When come upon a lake Kristy wants to take a swim but Jack points out they didn’t bring suits. Kristy replies they aren’t necessary as she quickly divests herself of her skimpy outfit. Again, Jack appears bewildered but rapidly strips joining her in the water. That night is spent engaged in exuberant sex. The next morning, while still mostly asleep, they are disturbed by a knock on the door, Mamma with a breakfast casserole. Mamma, all smiles, shoves a spoonful in Jack’s mouth and leaves. The food may have been unexpected but it was tasty. The only unusual thing about the rustic cabin is a couple of dozen photographs of different people on the mantle. Going into general store for a beer run the couple encounter the owner, and the Sheriff Weston, portrayed by an actor listed as just Delious online but credited here as Delious Johnson. Outside they chat with another tourist (Travis Hierholzer), who is backpacking through the country. The cinematic function of this scene is expressly to introduce characters for use in the upcoming second act. This was an indication that there might be more finesse to the construction of this movie than I originally thought.

After lulling the audience into a sense of compliancy believing this was yet another low budget hack flick, the true imaginative talent of the creative minds behind the film begins to fully emerge. Chip Gubera is the epitome of the independent filmmaker with his name cut and pasted on many of the job descriptions necessary to create a movie. Director, writer, producer and even composer credits all add to his rather impressive resume. His list of projects may not be numerous but it is eclectic representing an impressive range of genres and formats. A portion of this experience was in short films which directly contributed to the skillful way that he manipulated the audience with his bait and switch storyline. The use of a three act staging is exceptionally common in many movies but the way that Mr. Gubera seemingly isolated each section of the story while almost covertly establishing connections was brilliant. He had to be aware that some segment of the audience will fully fall for the amateurish façade that permeates the first act. I am certain that part of hos design was to intentionally cull out the less sophisticated, or at least those without the perseverance to continue the film to its conclusion. For those determined cinephiles the reward was a film that transforms itself into one of the most imaginative twists on the typically hackney premise. His collaborator taking Mr. Gubera story into a working script was Chelsea Andes. She has only one other credit, a short film co-authored with Mr. Gubera back in 2007. The result was something whose crafting can only be fully appreciated after the closing credits, and the summary scene inserted into them.

The cast is incredibly talented particularly in pull of the third act repurposing the essence of their characters. Eschewing spoilers prevents me from any further discussing the details of these pivotal moments. Jewel Shepard began her career in 1978 on a path that would have set her up as a sexpot scream queen but that track never quite took hold. In this movie she is perfect as the horny older woman with a lustful eye focused on the quite, handsome young guest. Jack is also targeted by their daughter, Catlin, Rebecca Crowley purposely over play the sensuous affectations of the oversexed young woman looking for any conquest that will sate her overwhelming desire. The over acted running of her hands over her breasts and crouch while inappropriately licking everything she can reach with her tongue leads the audience to suspect her true role in the actual family business. As the reveal for those heinous activities may be realized in an expected fashion nothing can completely prepare you for the twists that the entire movie is driven. R.A. Mihailoff has been the big bad for much of his career obvious by the fact that his IMDB photo shows him wielding a chainsaw over his head. The truly great performances here are provided by Mr. Kaplan and his co-star, Ms. Carter. Both actors are relatively new to their crafts but it wouldn’t be obvious by the skillful way they develop their characters from the façade of the initial deceptive character presentation through to the ultimate revelations. This movie is a pleasant surprise that is well worth having to subdue an initial inclination to prejudge the purpose of the story.

Posted 03/11/2017

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