The Chair (2007)
In this age of low budget, quickly made independent horror flicks it would appear that there is a movie cloning facility somewhere. Almost every one of these films is so predicable that you can second guess not only the action but often the very dialogue. When I first received the latest modestly budgeted horror flick, ‘The Chair’, I thought it would be much of the same. Fans of the genre are being conditioned to accept flicks that are mediocre at best. What a shock it was to watch this film and finds something as rare as a nugget of gold, a well done horror film that had some originality to it. Many movies may claim to bring you to the edge of your seat. The large majority fails but this film delivers. Even after watching hundreds of films in this genre I still found myself surprised and yes, even a little spooked by the experience. It has been a long time since that has happened. Even the most jaded horror flick aficionado out there will be amazed by this film. This film won the coveted ‘Best Film’ at the Los Angeles International Horror/Science Fiction Film Festival & Screenplay Competition, known to fans everywhere affectionately as Shriekfest. This is a film that stands above the rest of the pack. No serious horror collection would be complete if this film is missing from your shelves.
A truly impressive film doesn’t just pop up like magic. It takes a creative team on both sides of the camera. Fortunately for fans of the genre this one has everything necessary. Let’s start with the writing. The script was prepared by Michael Capellupo. Most of his credits are as an actor; mostly with parts titled Cop #1 or reporter. He may have not broken into acting in a big way but he has found his niche with screen writing. He previous writing credits encompass some German flicks that cover comedy, drama and a thriller. This was apparently a big help when he sat down to produce this script. Instead of straight horror it has elements of thrillers and even drama in it. This adds a lot of texture to the story. So many horror and thriller stories overlook the importance of drama. This helps the audience to identify with the characters and become involved in their plights.
Taking a seat in the big chair here as director is Brett Sullivan. He is a name that will be instantly recognized by fans of the genre. He directed the sequel ‘Ginger Snaps: Unleashed’ after working as an editor on the original. These cult classic films afforded Sullivan a certain perspective of this type of film that carried over nicely in this movie. His previous work as a director was limited to shorts so this is his freshman work in this capacity. He does an incredible job for a first timer. His style is visceral, slamming the audience directly in the gut. Unlike many of the other first time horror directors Sullivan doesn’t rely on the usual hackney camera tricks to get his vision across to the viewers. He comes across as unique in the field; an innovator instead of a follower. One thing that may sound odd but works perfectly is the way he cuts from one scene to the next. In several instances he will cut right in the middle of a line of dialogue, He manages to maintain the continuity of the film with this technique in a way that was amazing. He is not the type of director that uses the shaky camera to create tension. He has slow pans across the set with something happening on the peripheral of the frame. The audience may not fully realize what they just saw but it registers on a subliminal level. Sullivan has a way of getting into the head of his audience. His psychological handling of the story is expert, professional and all together creepy in the final product. This is the definition of an independent film. It was financed largely by Sullivan resulting in a slim budget. He did opt for the newer digital camera; according to production notes using a DVX-100 24p camera. Sullivan even went so far as to use his personal house as the setting for the movie. That is dedication and a man willing to put everything on the line for the sake of his vision. Apparently the cast and crew agreed to wait for the distribution for their salaries. Sullivan certainly knows a thing or two about selling his idea, thank you Mr. Sullivan for saving a venerable genre.
The film opens with title cards giving a personal message. It reads ‘Over the years I have exposed numerous spiritualist and clairvoyants as charlatans… but the mesmerizing powers of Mordecai Zymytryk still, to this day, baffle and haunt me… Harry Houdini, 1921’. We then see a montage is sepia tones hinting at torture. The effect here is disturbing and juxtaposes fantastically with the real opening shot, a young woman moving boxes into a building. The pretty blonde is Danielle Velayo (Alanna Chisholm). She is a psychology student trying to get her shattered life back on track. Hoping a change in her living arrangements will help Danielle sublets a hundred year old Victorian house. Once she is somewhat settled in she has a phone conversation with her sister Anna (Lauren Roy). Danielle is upset that their parents expect Anna to keep an eye on her. Danielle explains to Anna that this is just something that she has to do on her own. As Danielle relaxes in a bubble bath, her psych mediation nearby, she gets the feeling that someone is watching her made worse by the sound of a door creaking. After an unsettling first night Danielle calls Anna on her job as a dental assistant. Danielle goes high tech and sets up a camera to watch over her as she sleeps that night. She is so freaked out that she has Anna come over to spend the night.
Slowly things begin to happen. Nothing too bad at first but the occurrences rapidly escalates in terrifying Danielle. It turns out that her moving in has disrupted the evil spirit of Edgar Crowe (Adam Seybold), a heinous child murderer from years ago. He begins to take over Danielle’s life forcing her to start his crime spree anew. Crowe was not just your run of the mill child killer. He was aroused by the terror he instilled in his victims before he would allow them to die. To this end he had his very special ‘panic chair’ where he would inflict unspeakable terror to the little boys who fell into his grasp. Now it is up to Anna to rescue her sister. She has to discover a way to destroy Crowe without killing Danielle.
The cast here are mostly first timers in films. You would never know it as you watch their performances. Alanna Chisholm is a refreshing departure from the stereotypical damsel in distress slash victim in most horror flicks. She gives a depth to her performance that is a joy to watch. She is gorgeous, sympathetic and perfect as the vessel of the undead spirit killer. Sorry guys, this is not the kind of film that the female lead runs around naked. Sullivan has raised this film to adult heights by removing the puerile scenes most flicks depend on. The counterpoint to Ms. Chisholm’s performance is aptly handled by another novice actress, Lauren Roy. She is great as the steadfast and devoted sister. For once there is an intelligent woman in a thriller.
Once again Lion’s Gate has done it big time. They are always ready to provide a wider audience access to little independent pearls like this. Unless you are near an art house or up on the festival scene you most likely never heard of this movie. Take advantage of this Lion’s Gate release and get something really worth watching and owning.