The Direct to Video Connoisseur
I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.
Thursday, June 6, 2013
Our friend director Jason Horton (Twitter @jhorton2003) came to me to review the new film he directed, Deceitful. We've done two of his other films before: Monsters in the Woods, which I was a little hard on, and Trap, which I really enjoyed; but with those films, Horton also wrote them. This will be a little different, because he wasn't one of the four listed writing credits, so we'll see how that goes. I know what you're thinking: "Four people on the writing credits? That's never a good sign." Open mind, open mind, open mind.
Deceitful is about Robert, played by Terry Savage, the co-owner of a lucrative company that programs apps, which are designed by Isaac (played by Fredro Starr). He's also cheating on his wife with his sister-in-law, and is selling the company behind Isaac's back. When a mysterious yet beautiful woman comes to work as his maid, will all his transgressions come to a fatal end?
Unfortunately, this looked like it was written by four people. Things were a little all over the place, characters were unevenly developed, and the action and conflict would disappear in a maze of dialog that often repeated the same information multiple times in the same conversation. Ultimately this had maybe enough material for a Silk Stalkings episode, and I think if some of the characters and moving parts were trimmed from it, it would have been a really good Silk Stalkings episode. For instance, the plot twist at the end is very predictable, which made it not work in this case, but if we're looking at two detectives investigating the aftermath and piecing together the story as we go, it would've been more compelling. A cohesive, consistent story is difficult to achieve though when so many people have their hands in writing it.
I think Jason did a great job mitigating these issues through his directing and Steve Snyder's cinematography (Mr. Snyder was also one of the four writers). Yes, there were moments where we had a series of single-face shots that might have been better with a wide shot and both parties speaking-- I don't know if he was going for an Ozu effect, or maybe the actors' agents wanted more shots of their faces on-screen, or maybe they were just added in after--, but much more often we had really great frames that upped the tension or made the scenes more stylized and sexy. There were also a lot of great establishing shots-- or to go back to Ozu again, "pillow shots"-- that added more of that Noirish atmosphere I think the writers of the film were ultimately going for. I feel like Trap was more consistent because it was both Horton's vision in the writing and the directing, but I thought he acquitted himself really well here.
This scene right here was absolutely electric. The acting, writing, and cinematography all came together in a way that created a fantastic scene. We had Nancy Gomez, who played the new maid, turning on Kalilah Harris, who played Savage's wife, after Harris slapped her. This is everything I want in a movie like this, but unfortunately the script didn't offer too many opportunities for scenes like this to happen. Tension, intrigue, just enough violence, these are the kinds of things that underpin a great suspense thriller. Whoever wrote this scene should've been the one to write the whole script. And again, cinematography, great job cutting to a close-up, cutting to a wider shot, then finishing overhead, all made it look great; and Horton as a director leaned on both actresses and allowed them to carry the scene, which they did well.
One of the problems I had with the unevenness was that we never had the right character development. Right away, we have a great sex scene between Jenn Pinto's Gabrielle and Terry Savage's Robert, which really pulls us into the film. Right after, we're focusing on Jenn Pinto in the bath tub, looking at a pregnancy test. The feeling then is that the film will be centered on her. This is only reinforced with her conversation with Savage, which hints at some intrigue between the two, and maybe a devious plan. This disappears though, and we only see Pinto once more before she comes in at the very end. Why is she so central to the beginning then? And then we're sure Savage's Robert will be the main character, only to see him disappear too as we focus on the tension between Gomez and Harris. By the time we get to the end, it's just a swingers party with the couples switching partners. Fine, whatever, but what is that doing for us? And what do we care about these characters?
We have two rappers in this, the already mentioned Fredro Starr from Onyx, and Layzie Bone from Bone Thuggs N' Harmony. Fredro had a much bigger part, and I think he was trying to go outside what's expected of him with this role, playing a software developer and not a thug. I think it would've worked, except his first scene is dialog with Savage about Savage selling the company that was mostly "But dude, you can't do this!" "But I am doing it." "But dude, we grew up together!" "I don't care, I'm selling the company." "But dude, you can't! We came up together!" "So, I'm selling the company." I was like "Oh my God, we get it! End scene!" So that's Fredro Starr as a software developer. Layzie Bone was a detective, and if you look at the cover, you get the sense that he's a detective trying to crack a case. There is no case to crack though, he just shows up at the end, and doesn't really sell the whole "I'm a detective" thing at all. Let's just say he's not Ice-T in SVU. On the other hand, I'm cool with that. If he's going to have a one-scene cameo, let it just be Layzie Bone being Layzie Bone.
Below is the pool boy. This scene he had with Savage was very Skin-a-max non-sex scene, and there was something about it that had me hoping these two would be having an affair. Instead, of course, they went paint-by-numbers pool boy hooking up with Savage's disillusioned wife. I would've loved that relationship between Savage and the pool boy though. They both have these imdb bios about how "He's always been a self-starter" or "He was this and that when the acting bug hit him", like they're these real practitioners of the craft of acting. Good, try some method acting and make out with each other. What, you don't want to do that? Why, I thought you were a professional. Seriously though, the issues this movie had with the writing wouldn't have been so bad had this been a Skin-a-max flick. Maybe if they had something like the need for a love scene every twenty minutes, it would've given the writers more focus and kept the script from the meandering dialog and back-to-back scenes where relatively nothing happens.
Finally, Dorian Gregory has a one-scene cameo at the very end, where he plays the head of the company trying to buy out Savage's. I would have thought that he'd have more imdb credits than all of the rest of the cast combined, and I'd be wrong about that, because Fredro Starr actually has 13 more than him by himself. Fredro Starr is also only 3 months younger than Gregory. Wow, who'd'a thunk it. I'm assuming Gregory was paid for one day of shooting, and they probably got him in and out as quickly as possible. Most of the shots are just of his face delivering his lines, so I wonder if they just shot him, had him read, then shipped him off. Either way, it was great seeing him, if only for a second.
Okay, so while I think Jason Horton did a solid job directing this, it couldn't overcome the fact that it was written by four people. I know with these low-budget films things happen, but that doesn't make it any easier to follow when characters that seem like they're going to be the focus of the film disappear, or when the plot becomes uneven. These are issues that can be mitigated if there's any amount of tension and intrigue, which some scenes had, but ultimately not enough to make this work. I couldn't find this on Netflix or RedBox, but it is available to buy on Amazon.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2706120/