I hate writing these reviews. I hate tearing down a bad movie made on a shoestring budget from a team who, for all I know, genuinely love filmmaking and hope to use this as a launchpad to pursue their passion as a career. Save Me From Everything, a psychological horror-thriller directed by Ryan Lacen and Anthony Baldino that made its debut at the Nightmares Film Festival last October and is now screening at the New York City Horror Film Festival, is an atrocious film that fails to understand the most basic needs of its own story, or even how to adequately communicate comprehensible stakes and motivations for any member of its tiny ensemble. If you stripped out all the narrative cul-de-sacs and disconnected scenes of amped-up violence and gore, this could have made for a decent…ish twenty-minute short, but instead, we are left with an interminable, incoherent, and frequently boring eighty-minute feature.
The official plot synopsis provided at the festival screening reads: “Emmy travels to Ireland to meet a Stranger, who will guide her investigation of a family curse and its sinister origins.” This synopsis belies the number of times the movie loses track of this “investigation” which this Stranger (who identifies himself as Patrick) very conspicuously does not “guide” Emmy through at any point in the film, despite being something she establishes very early on as a matter of literal life-or-death. After just over a minute of half-hearted questioning about his family history during their first liaison, they bafflingly settle into a mellow rapport more in line with an awkward first date than a woman in desperate need of answers turning to a man she barely knows as a last resort. What’s your favorite movie, Patrick? Why do you hate the texture of cardboard, Emmy?
And this may have even worked! If a “ticking clock” suspense deadline had been clearly established outside of our protagonists’ awareness, for example, this could have been an effective exercise in slow-burn creeping terror as we watch two people just sort of hang out in a meet-cute, not initially understanding their impending doom, and over the course of the film, they start to catch on and share our mounting dread. Or if we knew that Emmy was trying to obtain specific information or an action out of Patrick unbeknownst to him for nefarious reasons (or vice versa!), and we could be on the edge of our seats during the subtle manipulations of their flirty conversations. We’ve all seen that Alfred Hitchcock clip, right? Basic planting and payoff stuff.
Instead, Lacen and Baldino take a page out of the J.J. Abrams Book of Mystery Boxes and withhold crucial information about both Emmy and Patrick with the assumption that the mere existence of this concealment is compelling, and when the Big Reveals finally pile up for both of them (via the clumsiest exposition delivery mechanisms imaginable) we can be impressed and exclaim “Ah ha! So you did know what you were doing all along! We were wrong to have doubted you!” It’s the kind of narrative trick that insecure filmmakers deploy when they don’t trust their own movie and spend more effort teasing out red herrings and go-nowhere dialogue than satisfactorily expressing the actual dramatic value of anything they’re presenting. This sadly leaves lead performers Paige Henderson and Brendan McCay stranded on characterization, though I commend Henderson for at least committing to a kind of undisciplined, indulgent, frazzled energy that almost tricked me into thinking the film’s stylistic excess was at least an attempt to meaningfully reflect her character’s deteriorating state of mind.
This, unfortunately, manifests in the form of frequent amateur-hour expressions of mental breakdowns from Emmy as a reminder that we’re still watching a scary [sic] movie. Most of you are already familiar with the usual tricks from your average U.S.C. undergrad – hyperactive quick cuts to random unpleasant imagery, time-lapses, sound drops mixed with cranked-up noises, clumsy crossfades, sinister-sounding cello-dominated musical motifs, and of course, degraded film stock effects because we’re all still sweatily jogging behind Kyle Cooper over a quarter-century after Se7en’s title sequence. These squirrely montages show up during a sex scene, a scene where Emmy dances seductively on a street corner, when she’s eating greasy pub food, and when she’s in a bathroom stall. On more than one occasion, an unnamed character will look askance at Emmy, and the camera will hold a closeup on their face for an uncomfortable length of time, implying this is someone we need to remember… and then they never show up again.
Oh, and at one point Emmy wakes up from a nightmare and sits bolt-upright on her bed screaming. Hardly the worst of the movie’s sins, but that’s always been a pet peeve of mine.
One of the worst horror movies I have ever seen was House of 1000 Corpses. I found it to be a deeply-amateurish grindhouse love letter so aggressively packed with disjointed cuts, split-screens, Dutch angles, camera filters, and hysterical overacting with no consistent rhyme or reason that I still rank it among the most unpleasant viewing experiences of my teenage years, and not for any of the reasons director Rob Zombie clearly wanted it to be. Just two years later, having apparently gotten all of those insufferable film student habits out of his system, Zombie released The Devil’s Rejects, one of the very few truly excellent ultra-violent horror-thrillers of the Aughts. The aesthetic incoherence of the former gave way to focused intensity in the sequel, where Zombie directed shockingly inept acting in his debut he turned around and became responsible for career-best performances from at least three of his follow-up’s principal cast members, and best of all, his prurient and juvenile focus on disgusting gore effects for their own sake was gone, replaced with a deeply-felt emphasis on the depths of human cruelty. It is a cinematic gut-punch and a masterpiece sophomore effort from a filmmaker who learned all the right lessons from his execrable debut, and I’m so grateful that he never made a third movie trying to continue the story for no good reason.
*Ahem* … I bring all this up to express the genuine hope that director/producers Lacen and Baldino, along with co-producers J.P. Ouellette and Jamie Doyle, follow the same career trajectory. I would be overjoyed to find out some studio head or financier out there saw some nugget of potential in this cinematic soup sandwich, gave them an opportunity to make another movie, and it too becomes an across-the-board improvement similar to The Devil’s Rejects. But right now, at this moment, I only have Save Me From Everything to go off of. And it is nearly unwatchable.