Odd. That would probably be the best word to describe Rapturious, a hip-hop horror film about a white rapper who may or may not be possessed. When I describe the basic plot, I'm sure there are other words that may come to mind like "ridiculous" or even "crap," but for whatever flaws it may have, Rapturious is neither. So, yeah, the best way to describe the film is "odd."
In an unusually long pre-title sequence, the film starts, oddly enough, in the old west. The notorious, cold-blooded outlaw Dead-Eye Pete (Jim Fletcher) sits in a jail cell awaiting his execution. As a preacher (Stuart Rudin) thumps his Bible, warning of the damnation that awaits Dead-Eye Pete, the killer shows no signs of remorse. In fact, he seems to have enjoyed all the misery he has dished out over the years. As the sequence continues on--complete with a cameo by 1970s seminal tough guy William Smith as the sheriff--you will start to wonder if somehow you popped the wrong movie in. But be patient, because after about twelve minutes, the opening credits start to roll, and the film kicks into gear. With Dead-Eye Pete long since in his grave, the film moves to contemporary New York City, where white rapper Rapturious (Robert Oppel) is on the verge of becoming the next big thing. Unbeknownst to his posse or his manager, Sid (legendary scream queen Debbie Rochon), Rapturious has a bit of a drug problem. When Louis Savage (Hoya Gurrera), the rapper's dope dealer, hands him a small baggie of the newest drug on the streets, "after life," we know Rapturious is in for trouble. Louie even warns him that after life will "turn you criminal," but our misguided hero does not listen. As soon as Rapturious snorts the new dope, he begins having violent hallucinations, and grows increasingly paranoid as he becomes convinced someone is out to get him. But is it the drugs, or are demons really chasing after him, trying to take possession of his soul? And how does Dead-Eye Pete figure into what's going on?
The mistake I made going into Rapturious was assuming it was going to be some sort of comedy. Writer-director Kamal Ahmed is best known as one of the Jerky Boys, the comedic duo who became famous for their hilarious prank calls. So it's easy to see how I might have figured Rapturious would be some sort of dark satire about some white rapper selling his soul for success, when in fact it is Ahmed continuing to prove himself as a real filmmaker, capable of more than comedy.
Although Rapturious is a low budget film, Ahmed's go-for-broke ambitious filmmaking counterbalances the occasional moments where a lack of money is obvious. Ahmed's commitment to the project comes through, and helps to carry Rapturious during times when the film loses some of its footing. But in all honesty, the film doesn't really stumble all that often. Sure, you can tell there wasn't much money to make the movie, but that never becomes a distraction. More often than not, you're caught up in the stylish atmosphere, and trying to figure out exactly what is happening.
Where the film has its greatest problem is also where it has its greatest strength, and that's in the "odd" story it tells. Ahmed's script is careful never to be so obvious that it spells out exactly what is going on--he forces the audience to pay close attention, and figure out much of what is really unfolding. The flipside to this is that Rapturious does force you to pay more attention and think harder than you might be expecting to do, and that may confuse some viewers. As it was, I got pretty much everything Ahmed was saying--or not saying, as the case may be--but I honestly didn't feel confident that I had gotten everything that was going on. It wasn't until I listened to the audio commentary, and Ahmed explained everything, that I realized I had followed what was happening. (In all fairness, I was really tired when I watched the film.)
There are far worse things a film can do than making an audience think a bit more than it was expecting to. And when you look at Rapturious as a complete film, it gets more things right than not. The cast all deliver solid performances, far better in fact, than what you usually find in other "urban" films. But what really works is Ahmed's storytelling abilities, both as a writer and as a director. He has set himself up with the challenge of creating a film that promises to be one thing, but turns out to be something completely different; and by and large he succeeds.