The blog-o-sphere is strewn with movie reviewers, bloggers, and armchair critics who all have a different opinion about the process of writing about movies. Some take the approach of good or bad, while others get lost in the minutiae of the film stock (or latest high-tech video camera) used by the cinematographer or the pros and cons of a digital intermediate to the overall aesthetic contribution to the look and feel of the film. Others keep company with opinion. So you might ask, how does one Review the low-to-no-budget independent film?
It is easy enough to be critical of low-budget films. It doesn’t require much effort at all really to tear apart the hard work and passion of a film you have nothing vested in except the cost of admission – and maybe a tub of popcorn, a jumbo coke with not enough ice, and at least one chocolate something. For those of us who receive screeners and the handful who have made their own films, the examination of such movies can be a difficult task. On the one hand we represent an opinion, sometimes educated, often wielded with impunity, that is expected to contain a certain amount of objectivity and distance, to offer insight and advice on whether a film is ‘watchable’ or enjoyable to the general public and not just a small core of film geeks, fellow filmmakers and celluloid aficionados. That’s where the challenge really begins, honesty and integrity versus a quick fluff and fold for the sake of something nice to include on the back of the DVD box.
The task of writing a review worth its salt is simpler when the genre is horror, more so when it narrows to the particular sub-genre of High school slasher film and even further when budgetary constraints, freshman stumbles, and passion unchecked makes a fully realized story nearly impossible. But it is possible. Despite the urge to throw the baby out with the bath water, in this case the DVD and box into the fireplace, every film contains an experience and an opportunity. Yes, I said it. Opportunity. Actually, Roger Ebert tweeted a quote earlier today that took a moment to fully register on the heels of writing an editorial about the task of writing reviews. He wrote, “John Cassavetes born 1929. Whether it’s a crappy film or a good film, anyone who can make a film, I already love.” I have to agree to a certain degree, though there are some films, by Cassavetes included, that are for the sake of a cinematic experience very nearly unwatchable but for once. Sure the filmmakers are charming and interesting, or rude and exuberant in their arrogance (see Troy Duffy, Boondock Saints, etc). Yet a film made is an accomplishment indeed and if you haven’t been on the other side of making and finishing a film it is quite an astounding feeling and one that doesn’t always translate to the screen or even acknowledged by the audience. Do you know how technically difficult it was to make Water World? I mean it was still pretty terrible but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
What is most relevant to any review is consideration of not only the means by which the film was made but for the intended audience – an audience that won’t have any misconceptions or trouble confusing an indie film with their polished, big-budget Hollywood brothers and sisters. Those films belong in an entirely different aisle in the rental store or online catalog. You won’t find these movies in the Red Box either. Independent movies ask a lot of their audience, more than just a suspension of disbelief; movies of this nature very often rely on charade and gimmickry, on gore and body counts, on nudity and vulgarity and fans love them for it.
As a reviewer, blogger, filmmaker and budding movie critic, when I find myself drawn between the hardwood handle of a freshly sharpened ax ala Jack Nicholson in The Shining or the quivering utterance from Jeffrey Rush as the irrepressible Marquis De Sade writing in blood, wine, and feces for the sake of expression or madness or both, I tend to look a little closer and make a point of bringing the audience to some kind of middle ground knowing very well that films are a personal and eventually a social experience and what works for one, regardless of form or budget, doesn’t always appeal to others for the exact same reason.
So the next time you’re struggling your way through a film like I’m Still Here or It’s Pat (1994) remember the person sitting next to you or the person reading your review of the film might themselves have had some transcendental experience as a result of the same film you’d throw popcorn at if you hadn’t emptied your tub already. Opinions are easy, quick gut reactions that don’t always come from a place of consideration.