UK Release Date – TBC
I probably complain a lot about filler in independent movies, it’s a pretty typical way of reaching feature length without actually having enough real material in a screenplay beyond pages of inane dialogue. Pacing is always an issue when your average low rent thriller lacks any real set pieces and is never going to be a showcase for a lead star’s acting chops. At the other end of the spectrum however we have something like Parasites, which cuts to the chase, quite literally, within about 10 minutes. However on the other hand this is a story almost entirely made from scenes of people running about with the odd musical interlude here and there. Can a stripped down thriller like this maintain its own stamina without becoming too absurd? As you might suspect there are a few immediate issues.
Marshal (Sean Samuels) is lost on the wrong side of town with two friends who are not providing much help with directions. The silly clichés are established pretty fast here, they can’t get the GPS to work and they can’t get cell reception. It’s apparently a nightmare district where pay phones are disconnected and everything become deserted after the sun goes down. After coming across an area filled with cardboard boxes and tents being used to shelter huge numbers of homeless residents, their car gets a flat tire. A local gang led by Wilco (Robert Miano) arrives to dispose of these pesky college kids, and quickly Marshal is left alone and on the run. It’s an efficient start to the proceedings, and it’s refreshing to see them skip over the usual padding. However subsequently there is an issue regarding the characterisation.
Most of the cast are trite Street Trash style lunatics. And this is certainly not on that level in insanity. The protagonist himself barely speaks during the running time, and spends most of it alone trying to escape. Early on he’s robbed of his belongings, including his clothes. Having to run through the L.A. storm drains completely naked, it’s a pretty dramatic start to the proceedings. Unfortunately this is just so they can have him steal the clothes from one of the villains chasing him and get mistaken for one of them later. It would be interesting to keep the stakes so high for longer, though it’s perhaps cruel for the actor involved. Every so often one of the gang will catch up to him, one with a dog, one with a shovel and so on. Luckily for him they usually appear alone so they can have a quick one on one scuffle. The sudden pangs of violence are fairly bloody and effective which keeps the tension going throughout.
The deserted city streets offer some nicely scummy nocturnal locations, and the film has an interesting, if at times fuzzy look to it. There are plenty of yellow glowing lights and filthy alleyways. There’s little realism to any of this as Marshal rarely comes across other residents, and the roads seem to be strangely empty. But it does lend the whole scenario and certain amount of suspense. He runs and runs, despite at one stage acquiring a leg injury. It doesn’t seem to pose a long term problem after being quickly patched up. One throwaway remark about playing college football is enough to establish his physical fitness I guess.
While the main bulk of the story consists of the hunters and the hunted, there are a few random breaks to allow things to breathe. At one point character actor Joe Pilato appears from behind a pile of trash and starts ranting about the Korean war, and as you’d expect it’s amusingly over done with plenty of expletives turning the air blue. He doesn’t really do much else beyond this one pit stop unfortunately, but it’s an amusing diversion. Elsewhere they include a mystery scene where a sinister black van abandons a man with Down syndrome on the street. I expected this to come back around later but it serves no actual narrative purpose. The only other major development is when Marshal comes across a prostitute being harassed and saves her from two thugs, and she later agrees to help him escape. It’s a weird turn of events and requires them both to do some more vocal acting, which doesn’t really work out well.
Performances elsewhere range from barely emoting up to really chewing the scenery, particularly from the main antagonist. He’s a openly nasty guy who hurts his own followers when they refuse to help, and he frequently lets out racist insults to drain away any sympathetic traits. In one bizarre scene he tries to justify all the killing by raving about local landmarks being replaced by modern chain stores for some reason. I guess he just really hates Starbucks. These kinds of vague attempts at social commentary don’t really fit despite the obvious economic problems shown in the area, some of which are clearly parts of the real world. But this just isn’t the story to do that, it’s a dumb thriller about crazy hobos chasing a guy for 80 minutes.
Clearly they were aiming for something more, and in terms of structure there are some elements reminiscent of The Warriors, or other movies from that era. The score is a big nod to John Carpenter films, in particular the direct musical references to Escape From New York. The decayed urban landscape certainly feels like an attempt to recreate that run down, desolate atmosphere. Don’t expect anything on those kinds of quality levels here though. There isn’t a lot of internal logic and the basic premise doesn’t build to anything more interesting. There are some amusing scenes and a few brutal horror moments. It does have a certain momentum, but they rely too many times on scenes where people run as music plays – the licensed tracks are far more distracting than the electronic soundtrack used. The ending is probably my biggest point of contention where for some reason they try a ham fisted attempt at being topical that really feels out of place. The should realise what their own strengths are instead of reaching for a ‘inspired by true events’ angle.