Tom (Michael Hampton) is a mopey, down-on-his luck singer/songwriter who finds himself caretaking a stranger's house in exchange for free room and board. One day, in the basement, he discovers a hand growing out of the floor. Thus begins Growing Out, a ludicrous, often musical, micro-budget family affair of a horror-comedy that is frequently very funny, but lacks clear plot motivation and makes uneven use of its 105-minute running time.
Tom doesn't know what to do about the hand. He tries covering it with an old coffee can, but it grows an arm. The arm knows sign language. It tells Tom it's hungry, so Tom puts soup in a watering can and feeds it to the growth. Eventually it grows a head (Ryan Sterling), which Tom names Archie. Archie has all sorts of advice, despite the fact that he's growing out of the floor. He demands to hear Tom's music. Songs are provided by Jason De Meo, and it's all pretty pleasant, low-key rock stuff (although it's blatantly obvious that Hampton isn't playing: one song he sings to Archie includes drums and what sounds like electric guitar, even though Tom's playing an acoustic guitar, alone, in a basement).
Eventually, Tom meets his "roommate", Philip (Chase Hemphill), who lives in the almost-miniature trailer in the backyard and doesn't have a solid grasp on everyday social skills. Philip's girlfriend is Veronica (Devon Iott), a nine-fingered, attention-hungry beauty who Tom immediately takes an interest in, teaching her to play the guitar. Both Hemphill and Iott are good in the movie, but they represent the movie's biggest stumbling block. The movie doesn't know exactly what it wants to do with the characters, and they both take away from Tom's time with the far more intriguing Archie. Which is not to say the material with Philip and Veronica is boring, but it feels sort of aimless, and a lot of it could have been condensed to allow for more time with Archie. Additionally, all three of these characters' conclusions seem lacking, which results in a flat, troublesome ending.
Although he seems perpetually irritated the entire film and is lacking in chemistry with Devon Iott, Hampton still makes for a fairly engaging leading man as he tries to bond with the growth. The chemistry problem may be Iott's fault; she has charisma, but the role is a bit on the thin side and she's unable to shake the stiffness. Still, performances in the whole film, all by up-and-coming actors, are pleasingly solid. The best is Ryan Sterling, who stands head and shoulders (no pun intended) above the others. Looking like a younger, sunnier Giovanni Ribisi, his total affability as the mysteriously growing person is hilarious, and it's yet another reason Archie deserves more screen time.
Five Ratliffs are credited eight times with bringing the film to life. The film was directed by Graham Ratliff, written by Garrett Ratliff, produced by Donna and Jeremiac Ratliff, and production design was done by Shari Ratliff (it's surprising that none of them actually appear on-camera). The weakest link is Garrett's script, which could have used a once-over to smooth out the rocky story. The most problematic angle is the love story, while it's necessary, the film devotes too many long, meandering scenes to it. Graham gets several clever shots in, and while the film is too low-budget to be especially flashy, I felt vague hints of Sam Raimi and Edgar Wright scattered throughout.
I was greatly pleased with the majority of Growing Out, as independent horror comedies are both often attempted and overwhelmingly awful. Tack on independent songwriting, family moviemaking, a touch of horror, rookie actors and you have a recipe for disaster, but thankfully, almost none of that comes into play. After hearing one of Tom's songs, Archie is thrilled. "One hand clapping!" he enthuses. For such an unlikely success as Growing Out, I can spare two.
A single-width DVD case with no inserts features somewhat misleading cover art playing up the horror more than the comedy (stupid tagline for free). Still, it's cleanly designed and not too garish. The disc features the same image as the cover art, and the menu is nice.
Unlike the last Cinema Epoch title I reviewed, Growing Out is thankfully presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen. Unfortunately, the source material isn't that great. Mainly the film looks washed out. Contrast is lacking, blacks turn gray, and it's almost like there's a thin haze over the image. Motion blur and fuzziness are also present. Certainly, this is all probably inherent to the source material -- I don't want to scare potential viewers away -- but I think more could have been done to spruce up the picture.
Dolby 2.0 Surround is all this little film can afford, and it's satisfactory. The songs, obviously recorded separately, come through the most clearly and crisply, while the dialogue is audible enough. Unfortunately, no subtitles are available on the disc, which I would have appreciated (mainly to catch more of the lyrics).
Reading the back cover, pickings appear slim, but "Behind the Scenes" is actually a nine-part documentary ("Screenplay", "Casting", "Production Design", "Rehearsal", "Wardrobe", "Archie Hole", "The Park", "Nightmares" and "Outtakes", running just over 50 minutes). It's highly entertaining, put together from cast and crew interviews, audition tapes and behind-the-scenes footage (wonderfully, there are only one or two brief clips from the film). Topics covered include expanding Graham's college short to feature length (more in a bit), motivation behind the characters, magic in Michael Hampton's beard, the potential of punching Devon Iott in the face, the film's versatile production design, and acting in a hole in the floor. After seeing the film, I wished there was a commentary track, but this collection of interviews touches all the bases with ease, and it's almost as funny as the feature film. Why can't all bonus features be this good?
Three deleted scenes ("The Painting", "The Coffee Shop", and "Feeding Archie", an aggregate 9:29) are endearingly odd, especially the last one, which gives Archie more face time (no pun intended) and explains Tom's money situation. The first two are disposable, but with a little trims, the third could have been included, as it moves the plot a little bit.
In a nice move, the original "Growing Out" short film (8:14) is included. It's mostly the same as the feature film, but it's an interesting curiosity. The main difference is the growth's demeanor; which irritable and mean.
The movie's weirdly dramatic theatrical trailer (1:14) and two still slideshows of photos (2:06) and other Cinema Epoch titles (1:30) round out the special features. As the film has no subtitles, neither do any of the extras.
Had Growing Out been just a little bit better, I might have given it DVDTalk's highest ranking. As is, it's an uneven but often very funny feature film, with mediocre A/V but great DVD bonus features that's highly recommended.
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