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Thursday
Mar212013

Angela (2013)

Basement Bargain

Attention aspiring filmmakers: This is how you do it! Moviemaking is a tough, collaborative art to practice. Illustrators and musicians can shrug off an unproductive afternoon, but you're accountable to a whole group of people who spend lots of time wondering what you're going to do next--precisely because they're invested in seeing themselves on-screen (or seeing their behind-the-scenes efforts realized).

For years, I've lamented the convenience and power of modern recording equipment, which gives everyone who seeks it instant "auteur" status. These cretins have no qualms about charging people ten bucks a pop to watch them go through do-it-yourself film school (or, worse yet, fuck around with their friends). I can't get excited about the indie scene anymore because one never knows if they're dealing with the next Stanley Kubrick or a middling Shane Van Dyke.

So it is with great enthusiasm that I herald the arrival of Nathaniel Scott Davis' second effort, Angela, a twenty-two-minute gem that you can watch for free, right now, on YouTube. Last year, I reviewed Deprivation, which is the spiritual precursor to this movie: by cosmic coincidence, both feature a main character named Angela, as well as a killer who watches the fictitious slasher series Arbor Day on television.

Though both movies deal with stomach-turning material, Angela is the more upbeat of the two. We meet Angela (Brooke Green), a bullied high school introvert. She has trouble relating to people--largely thanks to her abusive mother (Teresa Butler Marler)--and receives a stern slap in the face after staring curiously at one of the popular kids. Running parallel to her story is Joshua's (Austin "Monster" Wood). A hairy, obese creep who shares Angela's awkward shyness he works an office job by day and kidnaps women by night (don't worry, I'm getting to the "upbeat" part).

Ah, yes, another basement-torture flick. It seems swinging lightbulbs and water-damaged cement walls have become staples of low-budget horror--likely because Saw taught us that, given the right cast, watching two people chained up in a room can be as compelling as it is inexpensive to film. The good news is, Angela isn't as brutal as Brutal. It's not as consistently good, either, but Davis' movie has a lot more going for it than one might expect from the synopsis.

Davis teases the basement setting early on, focusing most of the film on his two main characters' interactions with other people. A trip to the boss's office following a harrassment complaint and a trip to the guidance counselor following the slap are the story's high points. Joshua's co-workers have no idea what kind of danger they're in because he's got the disposition of a wounded child. Even his monstrous id is hard to pin down: when unleashed, he's unforgivably mean, but his psychopathy appears to stem from genuine mental illness rather than cartoonishly evil intent.

Similarly, Angela feels trapped in high school, surrounded by people who think she's weird for being shy. She turns this self-hatred inward--though it's made clear later on that much of her anxiety is self-pity. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Angela's world is gray and hopeless, mostly because she's never known anything different.

It truth, I could have done without the kidnapping angle. That's not as sexy, I guess, as a horror premise, but Angela would have been just as interesting had it been about two damaged people finding each other in a way that doesn't involve bruises and the fear of death. Maybe I would have bought into it more had the action choreography been better executed, but it's so clumsy that I re-watched key scenes to figure out what the hell had happened. I still don't know if one character was hit on the side of the head, chloroformed, or fell victim to a Jedi-like hand wave that made them pass out.

And that's exactly why I love the way Davis released Angela. He's clearly getting better, but he obviously has a long way to go. Had I been asked to pay for this movie, Green and Wood's incredibly strong performances might have overshadowed their co-stars' uneven skills, but the odd staging of key moments and persistent sound issues* would have likely made me wonder why I didn't spend that money building up my blu-ray library from the ashes of my old DVD collection. As it stands, I can totally see Angela, Deprivation, and Davis' next handful of short-film sketches as extras on a truly great movie that I would have no problem recommending people pick up.

*Hey, 1261 Pictures, if you launch a Kickstarter campaign to buy the next production a windscreen, I'll gladly kick in some dough.

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