Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Movie Review: Grain (2006)

 GRAIN - photography horror from Joseph Ort - Poster Image

Written & Directed by Joseph Ort

Slava Roman...Robert Smith
Brian Houston...Johnny B
Kimberly Peterson...Autumn Stevens

Photography students Robert Smith and Johnny B are paired up for an assignment, but a combination of technical problems and general incompetence causes it to not go so well. To counteract this ding in their GPA, they sign up for extra-credit and head out to the National Park to shoot some nature pics. Amongst the rocks and trees and bountiful expanse of wilderness, they stumble across something a little less natural: a strange man burying what appears to be a body wrapped in black plastic.

Robert, who would seem to be more at home as a photojournalist than snapping Glamor Shots, fires off a few frames of film until their cover is blown. They successfully flee from the stranger, only to return later that night to seek proof of what they believe they saw. They find a body, all right, only it's the body of a dog. Johnny is quickly convinced that it was just a man burying his family pet, but Robert still has concerns. More than concerns, he has suspicions. And more than suspicions, he has an obsession. Robert is sure that the stranger he saw in the park has killed someone, and he's going to make damned sure that he finds the proof he needs.

Robert doesn't spend all his time obsessing over this possible murder. In the off-hours, he obsesses over Autumn, the drop-dead gorgeous blond bombshell who is also in his photography class. Initially, his talk of "following the path laid out before him" and such comes off as philosophical--almost Beatific or Buddhist--but the more he obsesses, the more dangerous it begins to sound. Not Zen at all...but more like a stalker, someone who could easily claim that he and Autumn were destined to be together, that Fate laid them on this path side-by-side, that it was meant to be! So what do you do when the hero is unstable and a bit of a creep? I suppose that you keep on rooting for him, and hope that he can keep himself in check.

Grain is shot-on-video, which gives it a distinctly amateur flavor from the get-go. This homemade quality works well on films that showcase supposedly homemade footage (Blair Witch, REC, Video X), but here it just seems cheap. There's a reason for that, though. This movie is cheap, shot for an estimated $4K according to the occasionally-accurate IMDB. But, ten or fifteen minutes in, once your Hollywood mindset has had an opportunity to adjust to the DIY side of the rainbow, it's no longer all that distracting, and you can enjoy and appreciate the hard work that obviously went into making this movie. There are interesting camera shots and angles (most of which work in the film's favor), some creepy scoring, and a fairly decent sense of underlying dread throughout.

The acting does seem a bit rusty at times, but seeing as how this was the studio's first (and so far, only) feature film, that can be easily overlooked. The characters were believable, which is the important part: they're not superheroes, they're not bad-asses, and they're not action stars. They're real people caught up in a real, terrifying situation, and they act accordingly. Sometimes in disbelief, sometimes in denial, and sometimes quite stupidly. Just like any of us might in a similar situation.

There were some bizarre, almost otherworldly sequences of the movie--dark visions, nightmares, dreams-within-dreams, etc.--that have caused more than a few people to compare it to the work of David Lynch. It's understandable, but not entirely accurate. David Lynch seems to be weird for the sake of being weird, perfectly willing to sacrifice intelligibility for illegibility, while Grain, well....makes sense. If anything, I'd say that with it's voyeuristic sense of suspense, it was Rear Window on wheels for the underground set.

My only major qualm with the picture was it's running length. Clocking in at just under two hours, a little trimming could have not only made the plot a bit tighter, but also helped with its marketability. These days, sitting down to a long movie, especially when it comes from a director who has not yet necessarily carved out his own fan base, is quite a commitment.

Luckily, I'm deeply committed to plopping ass on the couch for long stretches of time. If I weren't, I would have nothing to write about, now would I?

I can safely recommend this movie to fans of independent film making, and people who are tired of the mundane PG-13 WB-casted thrillers that populate the local cinema. I look forward to more from this studio in the future.

110 Minutes
United States


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