There are three fundamental questions I ask when considering whether or not a film will receive a recommendation from The Independent Critic -
- Is this a film that I would pay to go see?
- Is this a film that I would want to see at a film festival?
- Is this a film with a uniqueness of vision, a strong message or some other feature that sets it apart from others?
The first question is really rather obvious. Is this a film I'd use my hard-earned cash to go see? More importantly, is this a film I'd encourage my readers to use their hard-earned cash to go see? This question isn't necessarily just targeted at those films actually seen in theaters, but also at those independent films I believe warrant an opportunity to play in at least limited release theatrically.
The second question is, perhaps, the most relevant question for a film review on The Independent Critic given my obvious devotion to independent cinema and the film festival circuit. Is this a film I'd encourage you to check out at a film festival near you? Or is it pretentious film festival drivel? There are lots of films that are solid "festival" films that will never see the light of day in theaters. They aren't bad films, but they are typically more narrow in scope and audience appeal. Some of these films will go on to play in limited release, but every year it's quite known that really well made films never receive the theatrical release they deserve. When I recommend a film upon reflection of this question, it's because I really want you to see this film if you get a chance.
The final question explains, perhaps, why I've become popular with independent filmmakers. I have the gift of being able to look at a really low budget film and seeing a filmmaker's vision. I offer honest yet fair critiques of ultra-low budget films and, sometimes, even when the film shows the obvious signs of being a low-budget flick I'll end up recommending it because of its uniqueness of vision, the importance of its message or simply because the filmmaker is able to transcend their budgetary and technical limitations and offer something special. These films may be highly rated films but, more often than not, they fall into my "modest recommendation" range of B-/C+. These films may have issues that will distract the more casual moviegoer, but the true cineaste will understand and appreciate them.
Remake, written and directed by Doug Phillips, falls squarely into the realm of question three. It's a flawed yet intensely thought-provoking film that dares to go a direction few films would have the guts to go. At first thought, Remake brings to mind another film reviewed by The Independent Critic in recent years, Evil Behind You. Evil Behind You was an extreme rarity, a faith-based film in the horror genre.
The only problem with Evil Behind You was, well, it simply didn't work. The faith-based components were muted and the horror elements weren't particularly convincing. It wasn't horrible, but it also wasn't a film I could ever recommend.
Remake isn't a faith-based film, though there's no question that faith plays a key element in the film and it's unquestionably inspired by a weaving together of faith, morality and one's personal values. The film does fall squarely into the horror/thriller genre, sort of a mixing together of 8MM meets The Grace Card.
When the daughter, Megan (Dani Palmer), of Pastor Carl Slayton (Doug Phillips) is kidnapped by a snuff filmmaker known by the name of Twitch, our fairly naive pastor soon learns that his wife, Rita (Kelly Barry-Miller), has a secret past and the kidnapping was anything but random.
To say that Remake has a unique vision would be one of the year's bigger cinematic understatements. After all, how often does a screenplay serve up snuff films, theological discussions and a compelling relationship drama?
No, seriously. That was a question. Name one time.
There's something relentlessly compelling about Remake, a film that does suffer from all the usual challenges of low-budget cinema but a film that remains impossible to turn away from for a good majority of its nearly two-hour running time. Remake will have its world premiere at Oklahoma's Bare Bones Film Festival running from April 13-22, 2012. Phillips has also been nominated as "Indie Auteur of the Year" for his work on Remake.
Remake is not a film you will likely ever see in theatrical release, both a reflection of its somewhat controversial thematic elements and its occasionally shaky production values. Truthfully, I've seen significantly better films created on a far lower budget but I've also seen significantly worse films produced on seven-figure budgets.
Remake is a film that warrants a view because, quite honestly, Phillips has managed to convincingly place within the framework of a traditional thriller/horror flick an involving and meaningful film about socially relevant issues largely considered taboo by the general population.
While Phillips occasionally produces wooden dialogue, more often than not Remake is comprised of scene after scene of natural and authentic characters wrestling their way through unfathomable yet believable issues. As nearly anyone who has ever experienced a significant physical or sexual trauma will tell you, "no touch zones" can be the lifelong impact of a trauma that the mind simply cannot erase. Remake is most successful in its quieter moments, especially moments such as those between Pastor Carl and his wife as they attempt to live their daily lives amidst horrifying circumstances.
Remake is less successful in the film's moments of higher drama, owing both to its occasionally tinny sound mix and performances that simply don't measure up as genuine terror. Quieter moments of terror, such as those between Megan and her captor, are far more convincing and impactful.
D.P. Andy Winters works well within the confines of a low-budget flick, nicely capturing both the film's more intimate moments and its more frenzied violent scenes. It's worth noting that while the film does show some blood/gore, it's relatively tame by horror film standards.
By now, you may very well be asking yourself "What about the faith elements?"
Phillips made it very clear when sending the support materials for Remake that the film is not to be considered a "faith-based" film, a disclaimer appreciated but relatively unnecessary. The truth is that Remake is a "message" film existing within a world that few know about and almost nobody wants to believe exists. The film poignantly and powerfully speaks to the brokenness that leads to trauma and trauma that exists within our everyday lives. There is evil. There is good. There is healing. There is a consequence for the choices we make and, sometimes, this consequence may very well follow us for the rest of our lives.
Love always wins. Except when it doesn't.
You will see better films than Remake this year. You will see worse films than Remake this year. But, the odds are pretty strong that you won't see too many films this year with such a unique intertwining of hope and despair, determination and desperation, evil and the love that transcends.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic