Ginger Nuts of Horror
Dir: James Hart
Writer: Dave Jeffrey (based on his short story)
I'd like to confess something to you all, here; I often feel an almost crushing sense of guilt. A kind of paralysing anxiousness that there is so much amazing stuff out there, and I'll never get to read or see it all. This sharpens when I happen to be friends with someone online, or when I've interacted with them. I feel that I should be at least knowledgeable of even one tiny story of theirs. It's a burden. But to give you an example; I've got, roughly speaking, around six hundred unread books in my house, and I'm always buying more. I have at least the same in unwatched films/TV shows. And I truly wish I could read/watch them all; at the very least, I wish I could read faster. It's why I don't often accept items specifically for review, and why I read what I want to read, rather than what I 'have' to.
Added to this, is always the little bit of trepidation that I may not even like what I'm being asked to look at; this counts for stories for critiquing, too. There's always that little voice in the back of my head fretting that I might have to say something negative to the person who's asked for the review/critique; I can't help it. I've found that regardless of what most people say, honesty is rarely a welcome thing. Luckily then, I've tended to be exposed to great stuff. To date, I've only had occasion to refuse one person a review I couldn't leave in good conscience - though that writer has somehow managed to inexplicably garner accolades from names I'm frankly astonished would lend themselves to what I read; and have only had one short story that I really had issues with - and that author was very gracious and accepting of my thoughts, though I still worry now that I somehow offended them. So, long story even longer, I'm wary of what I agree to look at...
And it was this mild - yet profoundly irritating - sense of trepidation that I agreed to watch the short film Ascension, a few days before it gets released to the general public. I really needn't have worried.
Ascension is a thirty-minute, or so, short film from the independent film company/group, Venomous Little Man Productions. It concerns a tiny group of survivors who have somehow managed to keep their little community going eighteen or so months into a devastating zombie outbreak. In order to give their lives meaning - beyond mere survival - scouting teams brave the surrounding wilderness in search of other survivors. It is with such a group of three members of this community as they head out on a patrol if the surrounding area...
Now, I know this film is low-budget - possibly even micro-budget - yet aside from the news-type footage at the start and one or two seconds of amateur acting, you certainly wouldn't think so. First off, the makers have managed to secure some great acting talent for their pic. I don't mean big names or anything; rather, people who can actually act. They give a very real and authentic sense of people living on the edge, people who have been through - and are still going through - an awful, horrendous experience; they are weary, drawn, yet possess a sense of determination and camaraderie. Aside from a couple of mildly clunky expositional lines early on, the dialogue is natural and delivered with authenticity. Added to this, is camerawork and direction that feels as good as anything a bigger studio could do. The pacing is perfect, the shots are fluid and smooth. And the soundtrack; absolutely loved it. It was very reminiscent of mid-80s Tangerine Dream, especially the film Near Dark. Very professional and appropriate without being overbearing. My only quibble with the production was the volume of the dialogue in comparison to everything else; it was very muted, with the sound effects and music much louder in comparison. The effects are also well done, though used sparsely throughout the film but are easily the equal of films with much higher budgets.
But what of the film itself, the story? Well, this is harder for me to talk about because I don't want to give away any spoilers. What I will say is that, like most of the best zombie films and books - like most of the best horror, in fact - Ascension isn't really about the monsters, it's about the people, and the thirty minutes or so running time focuses almost exclusively on them. It's a very tight tale yet is perfect for its length. They makers don't try and cram in too much; just enough to make things interesting, just enough to give you a sense of the world the characters inhabit. It unfolds naturally and logically and there's a lovely line of melancholic emotion running through it. I was actually a little choked up at the end, but as I say, you'll need to watch the film to find out why. I was very much taken up with the whole thing, the characters, the situation, the story and I felt it was a mature, professional looking piece of work all round.
All in all, a pretty impressive feat by what is essentially a group of people doing what they do out of love. If you have any interest in independent horror film-making, zombie tales especially, you won't want to miss this one.
I also want to mention the lovely little in-joke in the film, where one of the characters is reading an anthology called Alt-Zombie edited by Peter Mark May; it just happens to be the book in which Dave Jeffrey's original story upon which the film is based appeared. Great little detail.
I also want to quickly say that I got the chance to see two other films from Venomous Little Man Productions. These were The Junction, which is a nice little creepy short film following a man who wakes in a strange woods with a TV set in front of him, and Derelict, which is a very powerful piece of work about a man living on the streets suffering from PTSD. Both these films show that VLMP are not a one-trick pony and that they put the same care and polish into everything they do.
I'm definitely keen to see what the company do next, and I'd love to see a full-length feature from them soon.
Venomous Little Man Productions website
PAUL M. FEENEY
GINGER NUTS OF HORROR , THE HEART AND SOUL OF HORROR FILM REVIEWS