There are certain marks to independent films that seem only to be in independent films. Some of these signal that they belong on the border between "Independent" and "Amateur". Others signal that they belong closer to the realm of the "Professional". Often professional films will adopt amateur-like techniques to enhance their art in a skillful way. Often amateur films will emulate those same techniques, but still look amateurish, regardless of the statement that "That was intentional."
Damien Sage's bent short film (or "micro-film" as the opening credits claim) D.O.D. (Dead On Delivery) is a difficult independent film to review because it's got a lot of these marks all through its half-hour (or so) run time. Some show that this is an early film of his and that he's got a journey ahead of him before his films feel professional, others show an artistic merit that signifies that with the proper budget and backing, Sage might almost be well beyond the confines of amateur film-making already.
It's clear that a lot of effort and thought went into this film to get it as close to the platonic form that existed in Sage's collection of the ideal. Digital filming and editorial special effects help this along well. Further, he utilizes some unique and interesting lighting ideas. A dark film in and of itself, most of D.O.D.'s scenes take place at night. Properly lighting a night-time shoot takes a lot of time, skill and money. This is why I was interested to note that some of the late-night scenes were actually shot during the day, using interesting filters to darken the shots into a dream-like nightscape that adds to both the surreal nature of the film, and to the illusion that the sequences take place after sundown.
The story (also written by Sage) is just short of incomprehensible, possibly intentionally. Still, unlike a good many of the films out there that ultimately become difficult to sit through, this horror/ art/ drama managed to keep my attention through to the end. I might not have known where Damien Sage was going with this, nor was I sure what he was trying to say, but I certainly wanted to find out where the film went and how Damien Sage was going to say it.
Holding interest is a compliment here, especially as the plot (scraping away the strange visuals and nightmare imagery) goes a little something like this: A college student during Finals Week named John (Artemicion Zirconia) orders a Video Nasty (specifically The Driller Killer) on VHS from an online auction site, starts to fall into paranoia around the same time his lover Todd (Sage himself) starts to feel neglected. Then the tape arrives on one weird, weird night. All the while John may or may not be the target of a mysterious stalker with leather gloves and a gay pride wrist-band... and no other real clues to the identity.
In many ways, D.O.D. comes off as a modern-day silent film (the film is half over before any dialogue takes place) with a score that would have sounded "Futuristic" thirty years ago and a few interesting motifs from classic suspense and horror films. At other times, the film seems like one of those late 1970s/ early 1980s futuristic semi-sci-fi films. Sometimes the film even becomes a sentimental gay fairy tale romance (albeit a surreal and weird one) complete with the silhouettes of two men passionately kissing against the background of a huge rising moon. Even with all these divergent elements, it's hard to say that D.O.D. is trying to be something it's not. While these things make the film somewhat indecipherable and almost impossible to categorize, they don't actually make the film overly ambitious.
The music here helps. The score by Ethan Ego (who also has a cameo in the film as The Mysterious Figure) is a good enhancement to the overall film and the industrial songs by Aeryn Suin of RIP/TORN (as opposed to Aeryn Sun of Farscape... or actor Rip Torn for that matter) are slick and interesting.
Made on a low-to-no budget, Sage uses every trick in the book (some to great success) to help the film stand out and look good. At times it does fall into some of the same traps that many independently shot digital films do and perhaps there is a bit of an over-reliance on video editor special effects. In truth, much of the acting is fine, but the occasional shocking moment feels staged and less than stellar. This is, after all, an independent film, well-made on a microscopic budget. Making movies is not easy. Making a BAD movie isn't easy. D.O.D. is not a bad movie. Sage and his crew put a lot into this one and their efforts most certainly show. While D.O.D. might fall short of brilliant in this incarnation, there is brilliance within the film that helps to make it an interesting, if enigmatic mosaic.
Three Stars out of Five for D.O.D. (Dead On Delivery), the short film equal parts depth and density that shows a great deal of promise in its creator. While the film can be enjoyed on its own, it really stands as a hallmark in the opening stages of Damien Sage's film career. It's a good presentation piece advertising what Sage and Company have up their sleeves. His visual choices may need refinement to a degree, but they already show promise, as does his editing capability with sound in mind (the fact that the bonus feature on the DVD he sent me actually included a skillfully directed music video is telling in and of itself). This may be an amateur film in its current incarnation, but with promise like this, I can see Damien Sage becoming a very professional filmmaker. I for one will be excited to see what he comes up with next... he's got a hell of a jumping off point!
Hey, stop stalking me everywhere I go!
Click HERE for more reviews and occupy yourself THAT way...
And yes, there's even one for The Driller Killer!
Just watch out... when it arrives you may wish you hadn't clicked!