Saturday, March 08, 2014

Normal (2013)

I'll write about it a bit more when I get around to doing This Week that covers the past month, but this was the second Saturday in a row where I did more than two movies in as many municipalities, and those can be some long, sleep-til-noon-on-Sunday marathons, especially when they wind up tighter than expected. In this case, I think I figured that I had a little more time to hang styling the Coolidge and chat with Brian Tamm than was actually the case, although it's not his fault that the 66 bus likes to seemingly go backward if the MBTA tracking apps are correct, or that it delivered me to Harvard Square just in time for there to be a longer-than-usual wait for the Red Line. Which means that at about around ten, I was in the T station, hoping hard that the 8pm screening ran long or that Chris Hallock and company were doing a long intro for the 10pm show.

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Ha-ha! Ten-fifteen and the Q&A for the last one was still going on! Obviously, I didn't see the intro, but I think that's director Richard Griffin on the right, wrote Lenny Schwartz in the middle, and Chris on the left. Well, him I know. Sorry about the red-eye. As I got in, Griffin was answering a question about cinematography, and then things broke up to adjourn to a nearby bar.

And, it turned out, leave me there to watch the movie by myself. I found that kind of amusing; the tickets for the 5pm and 8pm shows sold out fairly quickly, and Chris talked about adding the late show, but it appears that two shows was just about the level of demand for some pretty decent locally-produced psychological horror, and who knows how much of that was friends and family of people involved traveling up from Providence, where the movie was shoot minus some Boston exteriors.

(Don't feel too bad for Chris having to stick around and run it for just me, though; he headed upstairs and watched Citizen Kane in 35mm.)

If you go to the eFilmCritic review, you'll see that I end by comparing it, and by extension Griffin's other movies, to the cinematic equivalent of community theater, but I don't necessarily do that to dismiss them. What better metaphor is there for Griffin's Scorpio Film Releasing, which specializes in getting the same group of writers, directors, and actors together to do a few low-budget movies per year? That's what they do and good for them.

Especially since they do, in fact, seem to be getting better. Not many of these groups seem to last as long as this one, and at least based on what I've seen, Griffin is getting better: Atomic Brain Invasion was a somewhat better than usual 1950s sci-fi parody, still not good but at least better than most of that fundamentally misbegotten genre, while Murder University was the same sort of thing, except with 1980s slashers, and at least managed to have it's moments. You could at least see potential and progression there. And while i admit that I'm more likely to rate a movie which actually tries to do a higher than one that looks to spoof it, I think that Normal is just a stronger movie all around than the others.

A good part of that is the cast; I seem to recall liking Sarah Nicklin in Atomic Brain Invasion, and it looks from IMDB that this is her and husband Michael Reed's last movie in New England before decamping for the West Coast. I hope they do well there, not just because ones hours everyone succeeds in what they set out to do, but because they seem ready for the promotion to the big leagues. Leaves Griffin with a heck of a hole to fill, though.

Normal (2013)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 1 March 2014 in the Somerville Theatre Micro-Cinema (Somerville Subterranean Cinema, digital)

This is not the first time independent director Richard Griffin has tried to give his audience the creeps without having his tongue planted in his cheek - given how prolific the Rhode Island filmmaker has been since he started making movies about 15 years ago, it's no surprise that he's done a bit of everything - but it's likely his best so far. It's occasionally as shaky as one might expect from an off-the-grid production that straddles the art-house and the grindhouse, but it works out pretty well.

It starts out with Jim (Michael Reed) interrupting a rather one-sided conversation with the body in his bathtub to take a call from one of the residents of the building he and brother Tom (Nathaniel Sylva) own where Jim is the superintendent. The tenants are odd - newlyweds David (Patrick Keeffe) and Lucy (Monica Saviolakis) seem normal enough, but Kate (Elyssa Baldassari) is clearly disturbed, while both middle-aged George (David Erin Wilson) and seedy roommates April (Samantha Acampora) & June (Shannon Hartman). He only has eyes for a call girl (Sarah Nicklin) whose affections seem more sincere but who won't let him use her name when she's there in a professional capacity. Tom wants to sell and move away with his girlfriend, but Jim refuses. It probably has something to do with that corpse.

There are two types of serial-killer story that leap to mind from this situation, and while the second has probably been done enough that it's familiar enough on its own way, it is still more interesting and less purely mechanical than having Jim do nothing but murder his way through his neighbors as they complain about their apartments not receiving the maintenance they need. Griffin and writer Lenny Schwartz don't tease the audience by being needlessly cryptic for longer than they need to, but they do make good use of ambiguity and misdirection well enough that things can go in different directions without it being too obvious. The end is, perhaps, a little too weirdly metaphorical for the film's own good, but it gets there more honestly than some other movies of this type, in part because of an amusing (but still creepy) self-awareness.

Full review at EFC

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