"You could tell how good a friend is by whether they'd help you move a dead body…would you?"
These words are spoken in the opening scene of Paul Osborne's Favor, handily setting the tone for the hour and a half of steadily escalating horror that follows it. Most folks, including cinematographer / editor / writer / director / overachiever Osborne, probably wouldn't see this as a horror movie. Some might call it a dark drama or even a slow-burn thriller, but when your two lead characters are a sociopath and a psychopath all I see are hideous human tendencies waiting to manifest themselves in horrific fashion.
Kip Desmond (Blayne Weaver) has a pretty nice life. He has got a high-flying career in advertising, a beautiful and understanding wife and an attentive mistress. Correction: he had an attentive mistress. You see, Abby the mistress (Rosalie Ward) is lying dead in a motel room after taking an accidental spill during an argument with Kip. He being the sort that doesn't normally get his hands dirty, approaches childhood friend Marvin Croat (Patrick Day) and says the words that I opened with. Marvin being the sort that would do absolutely anything for his friend, readily agrees and goes about the messy business of getting rid of Abby's body.
Of course, that's just the beginning and the fun starts in earnest when Marvin realizes the magnitude of the favor he has just done for Kip. Since friends do each other favors all the time, Marvin happily decides to cash in a few of his own. He starts by asking Kip for some money and then moves on to bigger fish by checking whether Kip's wife Claire (Sheryl Nichols) could set him up on a double date with one of her many single friends. The date goes disastrously since Marvin isn't what you'd call a catch (being unemployed and socially awkward and all). He decides to fix this by getting Kip to hire him for a job that he's grossly underqualified for. When this setup also blows up in his face, Marvin finds himself at an impasse with Kip. This is when things get really ugly.
There are many more twists and turns before Kip and Marvin come to an understanding but I won't spoil them here. Suffice it to say, this film is a tricky beast with a constantly shifting tone that is tough to pin down at first. It goes from dramatic to humorous to gut-wrenching and back again without missing a beat. Thankfully it all works because of Osborne's deft handling. He draws us in with a delicate touch until it's time to for him to bring his sledgehammer down…and bring it down he does. Despite feeling the mounting tension coiling around my spine, I was still caught off guard when the climax unleashed its ferocity. It is a bold and memorable conclusion to a film that had already done plenty to set itself apart.
If Osborne is the evil puppeteer behind the scenes, then Blayne Weaver and Patrick Day are the fully committed marionettes who never realize how dangerously close they are to getting their strings cut off. So they dance around each other, trading all forms of punishment while silently spiraling towards mutually assured destruction. The film has an incredibly capable supporting cast with Sheryl Nichols, Rosalie Ward and Christina Rose (as Kip's flirty assistant) doing excellent work. There's even a fun cameo from Jeffrey Combs as Kip's deadpan boss. With that said, this is Weaver and Day's show all the way. They command every scene they're in and play off each other as if they really have known each other their entire lives. Weaver gives Kip a slick smugness that clearly projects how he holds himself to a different set of standards. Day starts the film in lovable schlub mode but slowly peels back layer after layer until we know what clear-eyed insanity looks like.
For a micro-budgeted film to succeed, every element has to be tight. The performances have to be taut, the script has to be sharp and the production has to carefully use its resources while trying not to look cheap. Osborne, working closely with his cast and crew, has achieved exactly this. Favor is a small film that casts a big shadow and that's not an easy thing.
The anamorphic widescreen image is certainly serviceable but also has a few flaws worth mentioning. A number of scenes have crushed blacks with regions of shots lacking shadow detail. There is also excessive grain in a few of the darker shots with a couple of solid backgrounds looking less than stable. With that said, the flesh tones are even and the dull color palette perfectly captures the less than cheerful circumstances of the film.
The audio is presented with a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 mixes. I chose to view the film with the 5.1 surround mix and thought it did an adequate job. The score by Joe Kraemer is often downcast and somber which definitely accentuated the tone of the film. The separation of the soundstage wasn't all that impressive but key sound effects (like the metallic clang of Marvin's shovel) achieved their desired impact. Most importantly, the dialogue came through loud and clear without requiring any straining on my part. This is ideal given how much of the film's tension is wrapped around the strained conversations of Kip and Marvin.
This release is loaded with extras. First up we have Party Favor (28:49). Apparently, the film was a Kickstarter success story so this featurette is dedicated to its backers. After an intro by director Paul Osborne we get to see rehearsal footage broken up by a number of outtakes. As I indicated before, Osborne is a bit of an overachiever wearing many hats on set but it's even more impressive when you realize that he and his wife (who also produced and acted in the film) had just had a baby. This featurette takes a funny and engaging look at the whole production touching on topics as diverse as the use of real wine in certain scenes to the boom operator's social media addiction.
Next up, we have a pair of Q&A sessions. The first is from the Phoenix Film Festival Panel (21:04) and features Blayne Weaver and Patrick Day fielding questions from an enthusiastic audience alongside other actors. The tone is friendly and instructive as they cover what it feels like to be an Indie Actor. They talk about getting into the business and the sacrifices they've made (and continue to make) along the way. It's an honest look at the film industry and fortunately the participants in the panel don't pull any punches. The next session is with the entire Cast and Crew (15:58) after a screening of the film at the festival. Osborne leads this impromptu panel and talks about how he wrote the lead roles specifically for Weaver and Day. He also talks about his general writing process and how he came up with the idea for this film.
The next few extras are dedicated to the music of the film. Scoring Favor (2:04) is a quick chat with composer Joe Kraemer and includes his thoughts on how character driven films provide great material for strong themes. Fun Fact: Kraemer actually thought of the film's main theme in his swimming pool. Next, we have Midnight (3:18) which is a music video of sorts for the song by Michael Morrow which is prominently featured in the film. The video largely consists of grainy black and white footage of a live performance of the song interspersed with scenes from the film. The song itself has the feel of a folksy murder ballad and fits the film quite nicely. A pair of Deleted Scenes (2:46) and a couple of Extended Scenes (5:17) don't add much to the film but are certainly nice to have. Trailers (3:51) for the film are also included.
Last but not least we have a Feature Length Commentary with writer / director Paul Osborne and the lead duo of Blayne Weaver and Patrick Day. The track was recorded at the Napa Valley Film Festival and carries a genial and informative tone. This isn't surprising considering the fact that Osborne explicitly wrote the film with Weaver and Day in mind. In addition to this, all three of them have known each other for years. There is an easy camaraderie at play that makes the track a very engaging one. The trio talk about technical challenges like filming certain key scenes out of sequence and the detailed histories they devised for the characters in order to delve into their psyches. At the same time, they're not above obsessing for minutes on end about strange objects stuck to characters' butts. Like I said, the track is fun and informative.
Favor is what you get when a committed filmmaker hands over a razor sharp script to a pair of talented and fearless actors. Paul Osborne makes up for what must have been a tiny budget by making sure we can't take our eyes off Blayne Weaver and Patrick Day as they put each other through hell (while turning the screws on us). If you're in the mood for a small but ambitious film that takes chances larger productions would balk at, then this one comes Highly Recommended.