Dear Closet Space,
Independent cinema is a strange animal that tends to belong to a class of its own, often operating under a different set of guidelines for quality than the mainstream. The restrictions and limitations of budget, time, and personnel give rise to a film style that can be sometimes cheap, sometimes creative, and sometimes square in the middle. Virtually all aspects of such films – from the acting to the production design to the lighting to the camera work – are at times judged for being amateurish when compared to the big Hollywood productions. However, it can be argued that this less than professional quality provides a purity of style unfettered by an industry-run system more focused on monetary gain over artistic integrity. Watching you, Closet Space, I get the impression that you were intended to be a masterpiece of independent horror, but I have to say the results fall somewhat flat.
Your concept is simple enough; a group of college students search for their missing professor who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. It sounds almost cliché except for your particular twist and selling point, from which you derive your title: a closet door that leads to a pandimensional space wherein strange creatures reside. Immediately, my curiosity was piqued for your potential to terrify; after all, much of your action takes place in pitch black with marginal lighting provided by the characters, reminding me of the age-old philosophy that less is more. It is a rather interesting and unconventional approach to the haunted house standard, and for that your writer Jason Stewart and director Mel House deserve special mention. As well, when the creatures are presented in all of their tentacle-wielding glory, they are mostly concealed in darkness, proving that the filmmakers understand that seeing the monster makes it not quite so scary anymore. The combination of practical and digital effects also serves you well with the jelly-covered plastic and rubber tentacles reminiscent of The Thing or the original Alien, while the CGI works in its occasional and thankfully small doses, often used more to enhance a shot than to dominate it. Also especially noteworthy is the soundtrack by The Unquiet Void, a tapestry of dark ambient textures that perfectly complement your otherworldly and alien nature.
But let’s be honest here; you are still an independent film, and while that doesn’t necessarily preclude that you won’t be of the highest quality, you do miss the mark in so many areas, particularly the performances. In so many instances, there is a feeling of forced emotion on the part of the actors, often resulting in reactions that fall flat of any believability – i.e. screaming too loud, cursing gratuitously, evil laughter that sounds so hammy that one wonders if the creatures are secretly fans of B-grade horror films from the ‘50s and ‘60s. The worst performances come from James LaMarr and Peyton Wetzel. Granted, LaMarr’s unemotional and completely deadpan delivery could be a stylistic choice intended to foreshadow the big reveal at the end of the film, but it gets particularly infuriating to sit through the film’s 100 minute length and endure his monotone voice. As for Wetzel, his portrayal of the archetypical cocky, wise-cracking, foul-mouthed hero wannabe is so devoid of any credibility, so full of artificial bravado that he comes off as a rather dry caricature whose own demise can’t come soon enough. His insistence on continually speaking, especially when it’s totally unnecessary tends to remove any atmosphere of tension or fear from the scene. Seriously, we could see the camera you just tripped on; was it necessary to say, “Oh, it’s a camera”?
Perhaps most insulting of all is the level to which your promotional campaign touted you as inspired by the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. Not that your writer and director can be blamed for having an appreciation for one of the 20th century’s literary masters of horror, even going so far as to feature characters wearing shirts with the Miskatonic University logo. Certainly, any creature design that emphasizes tentacles will immediately bring to mind any of Lovecraft’s monstrous creations, but given that you are a film with modern sensibilities, you do tend to reach for an overly sexualized version of Lovecraftian horror more akin to the likes of Edward Lee or Jennifer Brozek. Never mind the standard relationships at play between the human characters, which is usually par for the course for any story of your sort, but the sexual undercurrent that has been applied to your monstrous antagonists really puts you more in the realm of being a live action Hentai. This assessment isn’t helped by one of your more gruesome scenes revealing a toothed vagina that devours another character’s hand and face, making this viewer wonder if your writer watched the anime of Wicked City one too many times. It’s grotesque and not without an element of humor, but it hardly evokes any legitimate horror.
In conclusion, I have to say that you are an unfortunate disappointment, Closet Space. You heralded much potential with a decidedly creepy variation of an old concept, and you had all the elements to take that creepiness into genuine terror that really plays on the age-old question, “Are you scared of the dark?” As well, your special effects throughout are effective and tastefully executed, and I must reiterate, the score by The Unquiet Void is nothing short of brilliant. It is really in the acting and the screenplay where your potential is unrealized, and while it’s not to be unexpected for an independent production such as you, they are perhaps the two primary components that can murder your chances of ever being seen as just another low budget mess… and that is, alas, what seems to have happened to you.