Saturday, March 19, 2016

Boston Sci-fi Film Festival 2016.04: Merge

Monday was "Critical Mass" day at the fest, which is the day that is used to showcase local filmmakers. It draws a good crowd and the folks who made the movies get to feel awesome for the evening. As I've said before, though, when you opt to narrow your sample like that, you are very lucky when something excellent comes out of it. Maybe they got lucky during the shorts program, although I wasn't working from home and able to get to the theater in time that day.

Heck, I barely arrived in time for the first feature, especially when I discovered that my pass wasn't where it belonged. I bought a ticket and headed downstairs, and that's when I found out that I wasn't just seeing an independent film, but a high-school class project for my $12.50. A pretty good high-school class project, as those things go, although it's always kind of weird mixing that sort of thing in with the more professional productions on the schedule.

Made for some interesting bits in the Q&A with writer/director/teacher Justin Bull, including bits such as how certain characters were written out of the movie midway through because of their spring break plans. It's also worth mentioning that this was apparently less a film course than an improvisation class, which may have been a big part of the issues I had with the movie both before and after I knew its backstory.

Then, after that, it was time for the second movie, Space People. I'd checked on-line and noted that it was 105 minutes lon, which can be a pretty handy thing to know when you discover that it's a cheaply-produced spoof that repeats the same not-very-funny bit twice in one scene. I tapped out about ten minutes into it, because I generally don't like this sort of goofing on the shortcomings of old movies and TV shows to start with (have I mentioned that the best way to pay tribute to them is to make the great film their makers were aiming for yet this year?). Most of them are only 75 minutes or so, though, but an hour and three quarters was just way too much to take. So I went home, sent an email about my pass being lost and watched The X Files


N/A (out of four)
Seen 8 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

The interesting thing about Merge is that there's a pretty solid idea or two underneath the obviously untrained execution, and even that execution proves interesting since, as it's almost all improvised by the teenage cast, it probably provides a much more interesting glimpse of the future than what forty-year-old screenwriters dream up.

It also, unfortunately, has certain holes that prove to be as frustrating as interesting. The entire setting, for instance, involves a group of gifted students coming together at a special school in rural Vermont; the instructor (Scott Fielding) makes mysterious comments about the students being some sort of only hope, but never actually teaches; the students just take test after test rather than actually learning anything. And, sure, maybe that is what high school seems like to teenagers, even ones in a fancy private school, but it often seems to be setting the audience up for something that just doesn't come. Maybe that's a flaw of the improvisation - things just went another way - but it's a movie; you can go back and fix those things.

More works than might be expected, though - as awkward as some of the kids are making up a story at times, they're pretty good with each other, and a few may even have a future in this if they want it. Considering that the Q&A had the students really developing the story, it's also kind of interesting that they played the transition from smart drugs to hive mind with less panic than many adult filmmakers do. Which, I suppose, may freak the more traditional adults in the audience out a bit more, but certainly points to the future being in interesting hands.

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