It pains me because I rarely ever go in to a film, let alone an indie film, wanting to dislike it; especially zombie movies. I’m a sucker for apocalyptic zombie movies, and the very good ones can affect me for days. I’m also a fan of sidestepping typical character molds with a focus on the relationships in the LGBTQ corner. “By Day’s End,” though, is not a good movie. “By Day’s End” tries to have its cake and eat it too by forcing a relationship drama within the mold of a pretty cookie cutter zombie movie, when all is said and done.
A film producer reaches out to two podcasters to get them to shoot a documentary about murder and a demon in a wooded area near Los Angeles. They head to the location to gather footage and evidence, bringing along a photographer they know for help. Once there, they get exactly what they were looking for and maybe a bit more.
A woman fearing her son may be a psychopath with sinister plans hides cameras around their house and records herself talking about her son, her thoughts, and her fears. Eventually, things take a turn for the worse and things start changing.
It’s hard to imagine a more bizarre experimental movie I’ve come across in years. Jack Henry Robbins’ film “VHYes” at its best is a funny, smart, experiment with nostalgia, while at its worst, it feels like a weak pilot for Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim expanded in to a near feature length movie. Some might appreciate the jarring changes in tone and bite size comedy that is peppered throughout “VHYes” and while I thought it left much to be desired, it also had a lot going for it, with some fascinating commentary about nostalgia and memories. It really wants to be “Amazon Women on the Moon,” at the end of the day, but it ends as a mildly fascinating meshing of genres, and comedic bits.
Laura Moss’s “Allen Anders…” is a beautifully bizarre bit of experimental horror that I kind of loved when all was said and done. Mimicking an actual worn out VHS tape, we’re subjected to a 1987 stand up routine of a young comedian named Allen Anders performing at the Comedy Castle. Anders looks worn, exhausted and covered in sweat while an agreeable audience looks on. While Allen is never exactly hysterical it never really matters as the audience responds to just about everything he says with nods and laughs. When he’s done with his skit, he’s called up on stage once again to repeat the very same routine.
I expect that James Kaelan and Blessing Yen’s “America the Beautiful” might end up being one of the most polarizing and controversial films of Slamdance 2019. I can also imagine it might draw some jeers from the audience that might draw some preconceived notions from the outset. Even as someone who has been on the opposite side of the whole MAGA wave, I liked the idea of a found footage thriller based around Trump fanaticism. The idea is very good it’s just that the movie itself leaves so much to be desired, mainly because of its habit of being very abrupt and badly paced.
Despite the fact that I’m a fan of the found footage sub-genre, whenever I come across a new independent film that embraces the format, I release a small groan of worry. Granted, the format can still unleash some gems, but too many times filmmakers tend to fall in to the trappings of clichés and typical twists, not to mention building up to something and never actually delivering. Thankfully “Butterfly Kisses” is a strong horror film that skillfully implements the format while also examining the dangers of becoming obsessed with lore and the darkness of humanity.
AJ Wedding’s found footage movie mostly gets by on its interesting concept that I had a very good time with. Wedding takes the found footage concept and imagines if the “Jackass” crew pulled off one too many pranks on one their crew prompting a psychotic murderous rampage. “The Jokesters” has a ton of potential to be a very original and fun horror comedy, but in the end shockingly feels only half developed. At eighty minutes, it’s surprising how little it realizes the big hook with the descent in to pure gore and horror.