Who is this?
It's me. It's you.
Lionsgate has been a boon for genre fans these last few years as the distributor has provided a steady stream of unusual low budget horror and suspense films. Many of them are awful, yes, but at the same time, other titles have been entertaining, offering interesting storylines and characters one doesn't often see in mainstream films.
Artifacts, a 2007 Belgian science fiction thriller, falls in the latter category. It's one of the best direct-to-video releases I've seen this year (from any company, not just Lionsgate) and a flick I'd definitely recommend to others - despite one major flaw.
Artifacts centers upon Kate, a 28-year-old career woman who is drawn into a paranoid and surreal ordeal as her friends are murdered - by themselves. It seems that each major character in this film has a mysterious doppelganger bent on terminating them. Unlike the alien duplicates in Jack Finney's classic science fiction story The Body Snatchers, however, these doppelgangers seem uninterested in assuming the identities of their twins. Kate goes quickly on the run with her ex-lover, who also appears to be targeted, and the duo tries to puzzle out what's happening to them. They also learn they have mysterious metallic artifacts (hence the title of the film) buried under their ribs.
There are many aspects of Artifacts to compliment. For one thing, despite its low budget roots, the movie looks professionally done. This is especially true of the acting, which often hinders other B-movies. Mary Stockley is very good as the heroine Kate. She can act - which helps. She's attractive yet she carries a maturity and intelligence that lends credibility to her character. It's a surprisingly strong performance. The other cast members don't let her down either - although this movie is definitely Kate's story so no other character really stands out.
The plot is compelling and engaging - and with a runtime of 75 minutes, Artifacts never seems bloated with unnecessary scenes. Its score is compelling and unusual. And while there are a few bloody scenes, Artifacts derives most of its scares from ambience and tense build-up. This is really more of a suspense film with science fiction trappings than a horror movie per se. As usual, Lionsgate provides deceptive cover art for their release of this movie.
The downside to this film is its ending - which is decidedly ambiguous and open-ended. I think many viewers invested in this film will be disappointed that a lot of questions remain unanswered.
The open-ended conclusion of the film was deliberate - writer / producer / director team Giles Daoust and Emmanuel Jespers discuss their reasoning in a surprisingly in-depth documentary (discussed further in the Extras portion of this review). As it is, Artifacts is a compelling and swiftly-paced flick, and I certainly wouldn't mind returning for a sequel, especially if it continues with the Kate character played by Mary Stockley.
On the back cover art, Lionsgate describes their video presentation of Artifacts as "16x9 Widescreen 1.78:1 DVD Screen Format." It is anamorphic. Colors look deliberately bleached and there's a lot of video noise - but I found both qualities rather complimented the tone of the movie. No pun intended: artifacts are noticeable throughout.
The sole audio track is 5.1 Dolby Digital. The unusual electronic score is bass-heavy and prevalent in the mix - but not to the point of drowning out dialogue. The music works quite well in enhancing the ambient suspense of the film, and the track is surprisingly pleasing.
Subtitles are provided in English and Spanish.
When the disc is played, trailers precede the main menu for Bangkok Dangerous, The Spirit, Restraint, Kitchen Privileges, Raising Jeffrey Dahmer, and Bram Stoker's Dracula's Guest. These trailers are also available through an Also From Lionsgate link in the Special Features menu. A separate link offers the trailer for Artifacts.
Almost astonishingly, an hour-length documentary on the making of this movie is included. Titled 100K12D: The Guerilla Filmmaking of Artifacts, it's also anamorphic. This extra has Giles Daoust, Emmanuel Jespers, and musician Ernst W. Meinrath comment at length - which is nice because they give some insight into filmmaking in Belgium as well as the movie Artifacts itself. Kudos to Lionsgate for including this in-depth extra!
One of the best direct-to-video releases I've seen this year, Belgian sci-fi thriller Artifacts has a lot going for it: Mary Stockley's performance as the attractive and intelligent heroine, an unusual but effective score, a taut script with a lean runtime of 75 minutes, and a surprisingly in-depth and interesting extra with the filmmakers discussing their project - and by extension Belgian filmmaking in general. The deliberately ambiguous ending may disappoint some and is screaming for a sequel - which the directors say they'd like to do - but the journey of the film is still worth it. Unusual and atmospheric, Artifacts is highly recommended.