Released: 22nd October
Seen: 19th November
Every now and then there’ll be an indie filmmaker who’ll send me a link to their film. It’s happened a few times so far, things like Hate Crime or Violence Voyager were little indie companies trying to spread the word about their film and I’m always happy to talk about them. Indie films do tend to get treated differently because we understand that these are films made usually by first time directors who are honing their craft and working on their skills. Allowances need to be made for a difference in budget and availability of resources so keep that in mind while we look at a new anthology film called Morbid Stories. Being an anthology film, the only real way to talk about it is by talking about each short film that makes up the anthology itself, because each one was made by a different crew and director with different visions and it’s unfair to paint them all with the same brush when they’re really different in quality and tone. I want you to remember one key thing… I was sent this, I wouldn’t have reviewed it if I wasn’t asked to.
The wraparound segment (directed by Asif Akbar) follows a woman who hears about an attack on America and, along with her two dogs, starts driving away from her home despite the warning on the radio telling her to stay inside. This is honestly not a great wraparound, in that it never leads to telling the stories that make up the film in a coherent and interesting way. If you look at a similar movie like V/H/S (a genuinely great little horror anthology), they not only make the wraparound just as scary as the individual shorts but they also come up with natural ways to justify cutting away to the short films by having the main characters pop a VHS tape into a machine, part of the gimmick of the film that gives it reason to exist. This wraparound can’t seem to come up with a great way to do that, it goes between the radio announcer talking about what the attack might be causing (an actually good idea that they only do once) or the car passes some random item that’s tangentially related to the upcoming short film and we flash back to some point within the last day to tell this brief story (a less good idea since it never feels like a natural transition). It also doesn’t help that that portion of the story just isn’t interesting. I never understood what the main characters goal was or why she even left her house when there was no reason for her to leave, or where she was going to.
The first actual short is called “Invasive Species” (directed by Mick Thomas) and has a quite simple premise. A couple wakes up to the sound of knocking, there’s a group of people outside who are trying to get their friend an ambulance and need to use the phone. Of course since it’s 3am, no one’s getting in and there’s a fairly decent twist around the halfway point. It’s not a bad short if I’m being honest, the acting is a bit iffy at times and you can almost guess what the twist will be the second the door opens but the idea is actually quite creepy and it was working for me… until they did the twist and then decided to keep going for 5 more minutes just to hammer in the joke when they could’ve done a much more effective shocking twist. It’s a good idea but the execution at the ending doesn’t work for me.
Next is a piece called “3 Months” (directed by Ashley Mei) about a bunch of kids playing with a Ouija Board and naturally some things go weird. Considering this one was made by a literal first time 18 year old director, I’m damn impressed. It’s clear the limitation was budget because the idea is solid and they make it work as best they can. The ending was actually kind of disturbing too, though I have a feeling that had there been a budget and more time that they would’ve tried something a lot more disturbing. This reminded me a lot of films I saw by other students in my film class and I’m hopeful this is just the start of something big. I just want to know what the director of this segment does in 10 years with some training and maybe a budget to afford some proper lighting.
“Writers Beware” (directed by Will Devokees) is the short I feel is closest to actually being really good. A writer who is looking to lay low after he’s done something bad rents a place on Air BnB and ends up in a home in the middle of nowhere where strange sounds keep coming from the attic. It’s very much a basic creature feature but they have some good moments and some funny writing and are smart enough to keep their creature hidden in the shadows so we don’t see how goofy he looks. It’s the one that has the most interesting idea and plays it well, though it also suffers from some strange editing choices and the framing never quite feels right. Still, it’s probably the best of the bunch.
The last short “More Than You Can Chew” (directed by Clint Kelly) is possibly the most interesting idea, but the weakest payoff. A vampire who is reluctant to actually feed on flesh gets bitten by a zombie. There’s a lot going on here, with heavy references to drug addiction and trying to go cold turkey from the narcotic of choice. It’s a fascinating idea that’s only amplified by the addition of a Zombie who is a good stand in for a mindless drug user pushing their wares on anyone. Conceptually it’s kind of brilliant and the effects work is good… but oh god the sound mixing hurts this one the most. I had headphones on and I could almost hear the distortion brought on by the screaming. It feels like this is the one that would work best if it was refilmed with a proper budget or a steadier camera with some real contrast in the visuals because there’s some potential here that never gets realised.
A lot of problems with this film I can chalk up to first time indie directors making a film with their friends, things that I know I did when I was making short films for class. The visuals are a little dull and the sound editing isn’t great, it’s at the level you almost expect for this kind of movie and for the most part I can work past it. Sure, I’d love some cutaways during a two person conversation or some interesting use of framing or shadow but some of these were made by people who’d never directed anything before (according to IMDB anyway) so a lot of little things can be forgiven. The problem is that these technical issues aren’t little, they’re major roadblocks that mean you have to basically force yourself to spot the good elements. There is good here, it’s just hidden under poor sound and visial. It’s sloppy and while I’m not expecting greatness, because I understand that indie films like this are basically just a bunch of mates having a go at making a movie, some things just aren’t OK..
I’m sure these people have great films in them, they have some great ideas that genuinely work and have me liking this film on some level. I’d even say it might be worth a watch just to support indie film makers who clearly embody the ethos of “Let’s put on a show”, but good ideas and a few genuinely clever moments aren’t enough to save a film that’s got this many technical problems. It’s not even close to being one of the worst films I’ve seen because you go into films like this with different expectations… but oh god I wish this could’ve been as good as the ideas that created it.