|Poster by Chris Humphreys.|
Starring Christine Bell, Destinee Bradley, Paul Brokaw, Nick Canchola, Shawn Coots, Bennett Duckworth, Jefferson Holman, Kurt Parks, Ian Schowalter, Allen Schuler, Sean Seivers, Logan Williamson
with Dave Conover and Bob Moak
Written and Directed by Beau Kaelin
Date of Screening: 13 October 2012
Village 8 Theaters
I've known writer/director Beau Kaelin for a while now, as he's the guy who runs the Midnights at the Baxter movie series and is therefore directly responsible for me finally getting to see Dick Tracy and Tombstone on the big screen. Symbiosis is his third film made since I met him and his fifth overall. It's also the first of his works I've managed to see. I knew his general taste, but of course there's always that trepidation about seeing the work of someone you know. What if it sucks?
Thankfully, Symbiosis doesn't suck. On the contrary, it's a lot of fun and genuinely creepy.
The premise is familiar enough: two teens discover some kind of creature in the woods, which turns out to be incompatible with the life expectancy of humankind. We're meant to obviously consider the title a description of the relationship between predator and prey, but what makes Symbiosis compelling is that this extends to the characters themselves. Summarizing the characters could read like a head-spinning joke of some kind: Bryan (Canchola) needs his stepbrother Nick (Seivers) for a ride out to the woods; Nick's buddy Eric (Williamson) has a grudge against Bryan's friend Cody (Parks) because Cody has been dating Eric's sister Leslie (Bradley) and she's been upset lately, only that's because of her clandestine relationship with science teacher Gerald Oswald (Coots). Got it?
All the performances are solid (rare for a guerrilla production), but there are two that particularly stand out. Beau had made quite a fuss on Facebook about how excited he was to work with Bob Moak again, and after seeing his performance as retired scientist Dr. Jordan Lomax, I understand why. Moak imbues the film with much of its credibility, delivering techno-babble laden exposition as though it's old hat. I have no idea what Moak actually knows about biology, metaphysics or the supernatural, but there's a familiarity and weariness to his performance that suggests he could go on for hours about such things.
The other performance that really impressed me was Christine Bell's as Sarah Oswald. She's only in two scenes. One is merely an introductory scene in which her husband Gerald comes home only to quickly make an excuse to leave; she's laid up on the couch with a broken foot. It's the second scene that wowed me. Alone at home, Sarah has become engrossed in an all-night horror movie marathon on TV and sits eating popcorn absentmindedly. Of course, she's unwittingly become prey at this point. It's the most gripping scene in the film because the entire thing rests on Bell's facial expressions and mannerisms. We've all seen scores of actors try to compensate for not speaking by overacting and flashing exaggerated faces and cartoonish body language. Bell sells it, though, with pitch perfect nuance.
At first, I thought that scene would be played for laughs; that Kaelin was going to descend into Killer Klowns from Outer Space-style violence. I wasn't alone. There were a few chuckles early in the scene when it became obvious what was taking place, but the energy of the theater shifted as it played out and by its startling conclusion, it was clear that we all knew from that point on, horror was going to displace comedy.
I'm not a horror expert; more an "apprentice" of sorts by now. I've seen enough to know that Symbiosis isn't merely an imitation of what has gone before. It's thoughtfully written and paced, with characters who are recognizable as people rather than fodder.
William Ragland's score can be downloaded here.
Chris Humphreys' posters can be purchased here.