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In general, there are really two types of bad film. The
first is the empty cash grab—a film that has a minimum of care and craft in its
creation, because the filmmakers see it as a quickie profit device and nothing
more. The second type is the “noblest intentions” sort. Its creators were
passionate about the project, felt they had a strong, compelling vision and
were more than likely convinced that they really had something that an audience
would find interesting and engaging. Be they ambitious, enthusiastic amateurs
or myopic, egocentric auteurs, the final result is a film that is, for general
audiences, unwatchable rubbish.
FADING OF THE CRIES (out on DVD from Lionsgate) is, sadly, a
perfect recent example of the second type.
This debut feature by writer/director Brian A. Metcalf
essentially boils down to a young woman named Sarah (Hallee Hirsh), who, after
finding a magic amulet in her house, comes under assault by an army of zombies
controlled by a necromancer named Mathias (Brad Dourif). With her mother and
14-year-old sister trapped in their home, Sarah finds herself suddenly under
the protection of Jacob (Jordan Matthews), a sword-wielding, toothpick-thin guy
in a trenchcoat and the purplest jeans this side of old-school HULK comics.
Together they traverse a seemingly endless series of CG environments full of
ghouls and bad digital FX to eventually find themselves in a showdown with,
As the central action hero, Jacob looks like a skinny emo
teen in a cosplay MATRIX getup. Metcalf has supplied his hero with a magic
sword that looks to be 4 feet long, yet he seems to only use it in that
knife-fighting style where the weapon is held upside down and the blade runs
along the user’s forearm. I can’t comment as to whether this style of sword
combat is effective, or even exists, as martial arts is not my area of
expertise, but I can say that, as presented in the film, it’s pretty boring to
watch. Why give your hero a 4-foot blade and not let him reach out sometimes
for the really great visuals?
Metcalf seems to have held notions of incorporating stylized
environments and elements throughout the film via CGI. Think of the virtual
environments of SIN CITY or 300, and you’ll understand—a computer-generated
hyperreality for the characters to interact in. I applaud the guy’s ambition if
that was his aim, but he certainly didn’t have anywhere near the resources to
pull it off convincingly. Fight sequences are also marred with gobs upon gobs
of digital wankery, with character motion-blur, faked “quaky-cam” when
characters strike each other and virtual gobs of unconvincing digital blood
spurting all over equally digital floors. It’s weirdly like watching real
people trying to interact in a video game with far outmoded tech.
Don’t look to the writing or acting to save this movie,
either. Metcalf’s overriding theme is the importance of family—Sarah comes to
appreciate hers, despite their flaws, through the zombie invasion; Jacob is who
he is because his family was slaughtered; the uncle who owned the house prior
to Sarah’s family (played by Thomas Ian Nicholas, whom viewers might remember
as Kevin Myers in the AMERICAN PIE series) started the whole mess by trying to
learn how to resurrect his wife and child with Mathias’ amulet; and even
Mathias himself seems to be motivated in his evildoing by a desire to resurrect
his own wife and child, who were apparently killed by townspeople long ago.
Metcalf doesn’t supply his viewers with enough in the way of positive emotional
input on all these relations via flashbacks or scenes of emotional resonance,
though, and the inept handling of this central theme simply adds another injury
to an already unbearably crippled film.
The acting is planklike, with peaks into scenery-chewing
throughout the film, but Metcalf’s writing was certainly no help to his cast.
It pains me to see Dourif, who, after fantastic work in Peter Jackson’s LORD OF
THE RINGS and HBO’s DEADWOOD, apparently still needs a regular paycheck enough
to accept a role in a film such as this. Metcalf’s dialogue for Mathias is
mostly ludicrous, and it isn’t fun to watch such a talent hamming his way
And yet, those with a keen eye will notice remarkable
attempts at detail and artistry throughout. While the eye might reject and
recoil from the obviously fake backdrops, sky FX and combat visuals, the
realization that Metcalf was really trying, and probably trying hard, seems
staggering. Humbling. Visuals like the shiny digital dust overlay in the film’s
central house are, yes, just as unconvincing as all the rest of the digital
detritus Metcalf is intent we wade through, but…for the love of all that’s holy
in cinema and the bargain bin, it’s digital dust! Metcalf seems to have vividly
known what he wanted, even if the resulting product didn’t pan out.
The DVD’s bonus content consists of the film’s trailer and a
15-minute “Behind the Scenes” featurette that largely consists of Dourif and
Matthews saying nice things about Metcalf and the script, as well as a lot of
shots of the actors doing their thing in greenscreen environments. It’s a
bizarre viewing experience, as you know the interviews are overly gracious and
fawning, but when they show you two actors running hand-in-hand on treadmills
in a green room, and explain that that’s how they pulled off a scene of our
heroes running through catacombs under the town, one can’t help but feel a bit
insulted: “You mean they really weren’t in that obviously CG environment they
were running through?”
FADING OF THE CRIES may be a good pick for the bad-film
enthusiast who loves this sort of cinema for what could be called its
unintentional qualities, a fate I have to admit I believe the first type of bad
film mentioned above deserves. As FADING stands as the second type, it can be
seen in a more reverent, perhaps even mournful, light. Metcalf clearly was
really trying here—there’s just too much attempt at an intricately detailed
onscreen world to write it off as empty exploitation. Misguided enthusiasm is
probably a far better classification for this one, and let us hope that FADING
OF THE CRIES is his period of cinematic growing pains.
DVD/ Blu-ray Reviews
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