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STUDIO Leomark Studios
RUNNING TIME 89 minutes
Lovecraft on a budget!
David Bunce, Susan Cicarelli Caputo, Rob Dalton, Ron Komora, Mary Jane Hansen, Tom Gliserman
Daniel Upton’s relationship with his friend Edward Derby is abruptly changed after Edward becomes romantically involved with enigmatic hypnotist, Asenath Waite. As Edward’s behavior becomes more erratic and events unexplainable, Daniel investigates. Is it madness… or something far more terrifying?
Many Lovecraft stories are public domain, and the great thing about that is that any schlub can grab a camera and make ‘em into movies. The terrible thing about so many Lovecraft stories being public domain is that LITERALLY ANY SCHLUB can grab a camera and make ‘em into movies.
In my two years writing at CHUD, I’ve had to review enough “literally any schlub” microbudget horror flicks to know that they’re usually a complete waste of my time. I know that sounds like an awful thing to say, but I don’t think it’s worth writing a thousand words just to shit all over some highly motivated (albeit inept/amateur/inexperienced) filmmaker who toiled on their tiny movie for months and months, even if the end product is total crap.
I so dread writing reviews for these kinds of movies that last year I skirted reviewing one by designing alternate DVD covers for it. I just don’t feel right writing scathing reviews on the work of young or amateur filmmakers who quite literally don’t know what they’re doing. I don’t want to discourage these filmmakers, especially if they’re young or first-time filmmakers, because maybe they have the knack. Maybe they’ll figure it out. If a filmmaker has made a ton of these awful movies, what could I possibly write about them? I don’t wan’t to promote their shitty art, and no self respecting filmmaker would ever think my lone opinion is worth taking seriously.
So when I agreed to review The Thing on The Doorstep, I had a sinking feeling that I might have to just let this one go. The first thing that tipped me off is that the filmmaker’s name is all over this thing. Director, editor, cinematographer, and VFX artist. If that name isn’t Shane Carruth, this isn’t usually a good sign. The film’s trailer reeks of “literally any schlub” filmmaking, and that’s unfortunate because despite some wildly inconsistent production values, this microbudget indie horror is made by someone who obviously knows what he’s doing.
When I talk about production values, in this case I mean that the film looks pretty shoestring. You’ll know it immediately, too, because the film opens with some VFX shots that a lot of viewers simply won’t be able to overlook. I wish I had something nice to say about the film’s VFX, but almost none of it holds up to scrutiny. That’s a big hurdle to clear for most viewers, especially because the effects are so heavily featured in those first crucial minutes. Once the effects are out of the way, things run much more smoothly. The climax of the film suffers for similar reasons: there’s a brief (but important) appearance by a CGI-enhanced character that really hurts the big reveal of the film.
Then, there’s the look. I see the same look often in microbudget indie horror: blown out, blurry, and colored to death. The soft focus filter is (for some dumb reason) a commonly used effect for microbudget filmmakers who shoot on video. It’s okay in small amounts, but on most or all of your movie? Get outta here with that shit. I don’t care if you thought it looked good in Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow. I don’t care if you bought a cool lens. I don’t care if you smeared Vaseline on an cheap lens. I definitely don’t care if you tacked it on in After Effects or Final Cut. It’s fucking clown shoes, and it deserves a death by piano wire garrote.
Also, nearly every shot in the film is a near monochromatic sepia-phlegm. The contrast is cranked up, crushing detail in the shadows and blowing out the highlights. It’s an oppressively ugly color job, made worse by the fact that most of the movie seems to be shot on a not-so-great camera with a very limited dynamic range. There are some lighting woes, too, like in this dialogue scene. The harsh key light in this shot makes it look like they lit this character with an atomic explosion…
…but the dude in the reverse shot is lit very evenly.
Inconsistencies like this can ruin the illusion that the characters are inhabiting the same space. But these kinds of issues don’t overrun the film. In fact, some of the film’s scenes are lit very handsomely, reminiscent of how David Fincher likes to shoot his interior night scenes. Some of the film also appears to be shot on a totally different camera, so we get the occasional injection of something really beautiful, like this:
Then, we have to accept the fact that in tiny productions like this one, casting can be hit or miss. You hire local actors, and sometimes they just can’t deliver the perfomances that the medium demands. Luckily David Bunce is a solid leading man. As Daniel, he anchors scenes when others around him drift into strange line readings or odd affectations. I can’t shake the feeling that the role (and the role of his wife, Marion) called for someone a bit younger, but what matters is that he’s turning in a good performance. He adds a naturalism and ease to the frustratingly literary dialogue.
But as a whole, The Thing on The Doorstep is one of the only microbudget indie horrors I’ve seen that actually FEELS like a bigger movie. It has a pace and rhythm that these kinds of movies usually lack. It has a really nice score. It’s edited well. It’s shot coherently. It displays visual literacy. I found myself engaged. Sure, there’s plenty of things I didn’t like, but I can nitpick the hell out of any movie. The bottom line is that not only is this movie good enough to warrant criticism, it’s good enough for me to recommend. It wasn’t a waste of my time, and If you’re into low budget Lovecraft, it won’t be a waste of yours, either.
The package isn’t great, with the sole feature being a trailer. The video quality is all over the place, but like I mentioned earlier, I think some scenes were shot on a nicer camera. From what I can tell, most of the audio was recorded on location, so interiors with tile floors can sound a little mushy due to the natural reverb. Nothing in the audio is egregious, and the score sounds great.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars