Written by: Robert Archer Lynn and David Alford
Directed by: Robert Archer Lynn
Starring: David Alford, Andrina Maness, and Keir O'Donnell
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"In May of 2003, a five-member paintball team set out on a cross-country trip to a national invitational tournament in Ventura, California. They never arrived."
The horror genre is often criticized for churning out the same, tired films that simply ride the coattails of any given trend; for example, the success of Halloween and Friday the 13th resulted in numerous slasher and body count films of varying quality and often exhibiting little ingenuity. However, the genre has also undeniably been a breeding ground for interesting, creative takes on any given theme--after all, how many times has the vampire myth been re-imagined and reinvigorated? In 2007, the folks at Amylase Independent took a time-worn concept and plot but attempted to do something new with it by filming it in one 110 minute continuous take, with the action taking place in real time. The result is Deadbox from director Robert Archer Lynn; is it truly as groundbreaking and riveting as the concept seems?
The film opens by telling us that a five-person team of paintball players were enrolled in a tournament; however, they never showed up, and the events of Deadbox show us why. It turns out that the team decided to go "environmental" on their way to the tournament and get some more practice in. The environment they choose is an abandoned prison that turns out to be not-so-abandoned after all, as it houses a lone, raving, ex-military psychopath who thinks he's still in the field of battle. He mistakes the paintballers as a team of assassins and begins picking them off one by one.
Of course, the most pressing concern here is the effectiveness of filming the film in a continuous shot. From a technical perspective, the crew pulled it off, as I imagine it must be very difficult to pull off an entire film in one take, essentially. However, it's also a bit deceptive because the film apparently has been edited down to about 88 minutes (from the 110 minutes of footage), plus there are transitions to show slight lapses of time. Thus, the film isn't quite as raw and unfiltered as you might expect; in fact, had I not known about it, I probably wouldn't have noticed. If anything, it might actually hurt the film a bit, as some scenes drag on far too long, and it seems like the actors are left to ramble somewhat. For example, there's a scene late in the film where the "final girl" rambles on about something involving Sherlock Holmes, and I have no clue what it was all about.
If anything, the filming style does deliver a very guerrilla, fly-on-the-wall perspective. It's not first person (like The Blair Witch Project); instead, we closely follow the characters' every move. As a result, shots rarely feel carefully framed, as many shots are cropped tight, perhaps to imitate the claustrophobic surroundings of the characters. This is mostly effective, but even this ends up being a bit hindered by the cinematography, as the film is often overlit, resulting in a high contrast, blown out look that obscures the action on screen. It would appear that Deadbox had the same problem as another film with a somewhat similar setting, as the entire movie takes place during the day. This affects the atmosphere, as the situation never feels as scary as it would if it were taking place at night.
One thing Deadbox does boast is better than average acting for an independent feature. Some of the cast have actually appeared in mainstream films and television shows, and the characters are generally believable, even if their interactions are somewhat predictable. Co-writer David Alford is good in the role of Cutter, the psychopath gutting up all the fodder, even if most of his dialogue consists of repeating the same thing over and over. Still, there's something maniacal about his performance that's just effective enough in conveying menace. Beyond this, however, Deadbox is your typical body count film, and its effectiveness varies in this respect, as the gore is decent when you see it. There's even a bit of a torture scene in the vein of Wolf Creek or Hostel. However, some of the deaths occur off-screen, and, though we see the aftermath, are just ineffective. The film's climax is at least somewhat interesting, as the final confrontation ends in an unconventional method that goes beyond the usual final girl showdowns.
Overall, Deadbox feels like an experiment that never quite reaches its potential, nor does it do much with its unconventional method of filming. That said, movies filmed in one continuous shot are certainly few and far between, and it's interesting from that standpoint. If anything it's hard to criticize the effort of the cast and crew here, as it couldn't have been easy to accomplish and remain somewhat competent on a technical level. While it's not exactly the most stylish and well directed film, it's still better than you might expect given that they got it all in the can in one try. As a slasher/body count film, it's nothing new, so it's more interesting as an experiment than it is an entertaining film. Deadbox has come to home video by way of Ocule Films, whose DVD has a decent anamorphic transfer and both surround and stereo soundtracks that are bit more difficult to hear at times, but it's decent enough. You can visit their website to purchase the film, but you're probably better off waiting to see if you can simply Rent it!
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