Understandably, that statement will be filtered through your own tastes and your own biases regarding 300. The point I’m trying to make is that, while this film is inarguably groundbreaking and miles beyond most of its lo-bud brethren in terms of technical execution, it most certainly will not be for everyone.
The film is a fairly well-creamed pastiche of genre and mainstream influences with everything from THE MATRIX to DIE HARD and, most recognizably, EL MARIACHI thrown into the mix. Gregg Bishop knows his Hollywood action blockbusters and indie hipster gunman flicks and does a magnificent job of working their conventions into the plot, while avoiding the pitfalls of genre pigeonholing. It’s practically impossible to classify this film as belonging to any one specific genre. Sure, it’s an action flick, but it’s also a murder-mystery (with shades of JACOB’S LADDER and THE VANISHING), a horror flick (a la FINAL DESTINATION/THE CROW/THE FRIGHTENERS) and a dark religious fantasy (see THE PROPHECY). Luckily, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the myriad influences, the film is also highly entertaining.
Bishop is a technically proficient director and has spared no effort in turning this $15,000 (yes, 15 thousand dollars) film into something that looks like it cost 5 to 10 times as much. The effects are very well done, the stunt work (by LOTR: THE TWO TOWERS stunt coordinator Nils Onsager) is intense, and the camera work and editing are polished to perfection.
Justin Welborne as a Reaper
Basically, the film follows Sam North (the immensely talented Nathan Mobley, easily the best actor in the film) as he heads home from college to re-unite with his small-town sweetheart and start their new life together (we’re never really sure what he’s going to do in this backwater, but she is a cute waitress and he has a large inheritance). That night, as he is waiting in darkness near the river (?) to meet her, his car is t-boned by a white van and plowed into the river. One crazy foreboding fever dream later and Sam wakes up in the hospital, where he is soon joined by a cadre of bad dudes who have, apparently, escaped Hell using Sam as a doorway through from the other side. These fugitives are soon being hunted by a trio of equally undead bounty hunters known as ‘Reapers’ who are almost unstoppable killing machines with kung -fu skills, knife-fighting-skills, gunslingin skills, bo-staff skills… basically everything but Napoleonic Dynamite-dancing skills. As Sam and his new pals run for their freedom, if not their lives, Sam learns that his fiance has been kidnapped, he is the prime suspect and there are untoward shenanigans at play.
Nathan Mobley as Samuel North
Mobley carries the film effortlessly and is so charismatic that you will swear that you MUST have seen him in something before. He is supported by some fine performances by Shale Nelson as his brother, David, the lovely Jaimie Alexander of TV’s WATCH OVER ME, Poncho Hodges as the stoic Oz and Cory Rouse as Mally, the hapless smartass who’s chained himself to Oz’s giant ankle. I was also taken with Daniel Massey Tovell’s silent role as the lead Reaper, a more enigmatic take on the unstoppable killing machine than I have seen in a very long time; and Vince Canlas as the unsettlingly calm Cain.
Now that you’ve heard all of the reasons to love this extremely well-made and entertaining flick…
Be forewarned. It is still a low budget action flick. Some of the supporting acting is ‘questionable’ and there are some plot holes of the type that make OCD viewers foam at the mouth and convulse uncontrollably. All of those flaws were easily overlooked, however, in the face of just how much care was put into making this damn movie. The only thing I really had any problem with, was the ending. I was just put off by the very sudden injection of Christian theology and matter-of-fact revelation of a ‘mysterious higher purpose’ that was never hinted at or prefaced in any way throughout the film. In fact, I was thoroughly impressed with how well Bishop avoided the ‘religion’ trap in setting up a movie dealing with the afterlife and resurrection. There was no specific reference to ‘The Devil’. The afterlife the refugees escape was referred to as ‘The Pit’ instead of ‘Hell’. The ‘Reapers’ are never demonized or used as some kind of dogmatic allegory, they are just furious undertakers reclaiming the undead. The whole thing comes across very vague and non-denominational, which was incredibly refreshing… until the last 5 minutes of the film. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, we get hit with the Christianity stick – multiple times – and what could have been an excellent thematic device, is soured by a sunny gospel ending that was entirely unnecessary. I have nothing against people exploring their faith within the story of a film, but have it be a running theme. Don’t skirt the issue for 90 minutes and then bash me over the head with it as the credits start to roll.
My favorite shot of the year thus far!
Still, this was a great flick to spend a couple of hours with and an asskicking debut from a very promising filmmaker and an actor you will be seeing a lot more from.
The DVD is out now from Allumination Filmworks with commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes, trailers, and a beautiful 1.85:1 widescreen transfer.