Friday, 27 September 2013

Among Friends (2012)

It is an old saying that you cannot have enough friends. To an extent, this is true as really it should be rephrased to you can never have enough good friends because there is another old saying that rings more truly - that you would be lucky to count one person at your funeral as a true friend. ‘Among Friends’ is scream queen Danielle Harris’ directorial debut that really brings home how truly awful people can be and may help you to question how many of your friends actually are friends. It is scripted by and co-starring the also beautiful and talented as Harris is Alyssa Lobit as the film’s antagonist Bernadette who is a psychologist by profession and hostess of a pseudo-murder mystery party as she has a dark hidden agenda for her group of thirty-something guests. She exposes them as the rotten people they really are bringing their true deep down inside despicable selves to the surface.

Set in Hollywood against an 80’s backdrop six friends are picked up one by one in a Limousine (three men and three women) - Adam (AJ Bowen), Marcus (Christopher Backus), Blane (Chris Meyer), Melanie (Jennifer Blanc), Jules (Brianne Davis), Sara (Kamala Jones) - and are all taken to Bernadette’s party. There is one extra guest missing though - Lily (Dana Daurey). Former Jason Voorhees and present Victor Crowley performer Kane Hodder in a two-scene cameo plays the driver. Upon arrival, the couple Blane and Jules pop mushrooms together and start tripping as all of the group are sitting at the dinner table when the friends discover they have all been drugged losing all feeling from the waist down. This is where Alyssa reveals her real game to her guests.

After tying them up to their chairs with duct tape, she shows them that she has had cameras hidden around their homes and that she is going to expose them to each other how they really are behind closed doors. She also explains a couple of rules. They only get to ask her one question each but each question she answers results in her taking something from them that usually involves mutilation. The group gets to vote as to whether she gets to do things or not but it is the minority and not the majority rule that decides. Therefore, only one vote can decide her actions. After it is asked what has happened to Lily, Alyssa tells them that she is upstairs and shows them on her TV screen from a video camera in the location that Lily is unconscious in her bathtub. A night of terrible truths and torture ensues.

This is all it is. Lobit has written her screenplay with careful consideration in mind for an ultra-low budget production and the limited resources the director would have to work with creating a story (if it can be called that) around that. Danielle Harris’ over two decades experience entertaining horror fans in front of the camera learning her filmmaking craft from her directors has paid off in the respect of delivering a technically sound debut behind the camera utilizing those limited resources to full effect to realize the script. There is just little story here to be invested in though. It is not the problem that it is a situation based movie set entirely in one location but the whole of the proceedings is just one act with no twists and turns. The so called friends show up, are drugged, tied up, are shown what complete and utter shitbags they are to each other behind their backs, turn on each other while the cast annoyingly overacts and are cut up. That is it. The unsatisfactory abrupt ending in relation to Lily does not resolve any of this either. In fact, it is so anti-climactic it really is not an ending at all and is as if the film just decides to stop with an unfinished narrative. It is also hard to ignore the implausible great big gaping plot hole of how all the cameras Bernadette has hidden around their residences just so happens to catch everything that they have been up to that serves as their reasons for being there.

The characters are two-dimensional and obnoxiously unlikable. Their vindictive bickering instead of banding together to help each other get out of their predicament showing no redeeming qualities after their treacherous behaviour is revealed just makes it impossible to care about them to sympathize for their situation and it is hard to give a shit what is going on. To make it worse Bernadette has no motivation whatsoever. This total lack of backstory renders her actions unjustifiable and no reasoning to explain what she is doing makes her just as unlikable and no better than the horrible people she is torturing. Any explanations she does give are just nonsensical holding no water. All this serves to render the film emotionless and is made all the worse by the failed attempts at humour.

I do not doubt the talent of either Danielle Harris or Alyssa Lobit. We have all seen Harris’ big acting chops in front of the camera and she gets the best she can out of this weak screenplay being behind it and pulls off some impressive visuals too. The best of which is Jule’s trippy hallucinations including cameos from the director in the clown costume she wore in Halloween: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) and the great Michael Biehn (husband of Blunt). Lobit despite the weak characterization from her own writing puts in a solid performance and is menacingly convincing as the movie’s psychotic antagonist even if her character’s motivations are not. It is as a screenwriter here that she fails.

‘Among Friends’ is a bad film no two ways about it. However, Danielle Harris shows potential here with some interesting elements in what could be a promising second career. I think it is best to think of this as a messy experimentation as Harris hones her skills and I think this is the only reason to watch it as if your viewing the very first work of a film student; it may be shit but you can see a few peanuts worth picking out. If she can find the right script, a possible sophomore directorial effort from one of the best scream queens working in horror today could be something a lot more worthwhile.

* out of ****

Dave J. Wilson

©2013 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.

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