Writer/director Philippe Robert has caused quite a genre buzz with his French language horror flick Resonnances, a shockingly meager-budgeted feature length debut that is chock-full of natural dialogue and fun monster sequences. The geek chatter comparison to the vibe of Raimi's Evil Dead series may be somewhat overstating this film's hipness, but I'm here to tell you that I haven't enjoyed a "big monster" adventure like this in quite some time. And that's even with the fact that the creature doesn't make even make its initial onscreen appearance until about 62 minutes in of the film's 83 minute runtime.
The setup is remarkably spartan, with Robert relying on the simple premise of plopping a few characters into danger as potential monster food, and then waiting to see who gets munched on and who survives. This time it's a sextet of twentysomethings - three male, three female - on their way to a night of fun when a foggy road and a high cliff become the least of their worries. As the film's prologue shows us, a meteor/seed pod crashed there centuries ago and hatched some sort of creature who likes to burrow along just under the surface - like the worms in Tremors - occasionally dining on random townsfolk. That's all you need to know. In what is basically a run-hide-run-repeat scenario Robert lobs in a couple of side twists, involving an escaped serial killer and a spectral ghost, but those bits seem completely unnecessary, almost as if he borrowed them from an unfinished script somewhere.
While much has been made of Resonnances minuscule budget in geek blogs, the fact of the matter is Robert makes it work. The dialogue is simple, with characters saying and acting much like you would like think actual people would should they ever find themselves hunted by a giant tentacled creature from outer space. There are bits of humor, some unexpected deaths, all building to a crazy showdown where Robert does his best to bring it all together in a chaotic convergence that is quite entertaining, theoretical special effects shortcomings and all.
That brings me to what could be my "crabby old man vs you young kids who better stay off my lawn" portion of the review. Movie-watching young pups weaned solely on horror films with glossy special effects will likely be woefully disappointed, as there is very little onscreen monster here other than shaking bushes and miniature sets meant to convey a humongous burrowing underground creature. The big reveal is not much more impressive - effects-wise - but those of us who came up through the trenches of craptastic special effects will not be seeing anything worse than we haven't already seen. What makes Resonnances a trippy blast is the spirit of what Robert of bringing to the table, that sense of appreciation for the genre, the use of the Wilhelm scream (twice!), the barebones honesty of telling a people-in-peril monster story. Low rent effects? Who cares? Because by the time the climactic survivors-versus-monster takes place I was past the point of studying the special effects, and instead I was happily munching on popcorn enjoying the show.
Bring me more, Philippe Robert. Bring me more NOW!
The nonanamorphic 1.85:1 letterboxed presentation will hardly be remembered as the finest hour of Synapse, but it is clear that much of the disc's video shortcomings come from the original shoestring budgeted source material. Colors are fairly drab, at the least for the first half of the film, and unfortunately the entire second half takes place outside - at night - so things only degenerate from there. This is not an especially attractive print, but I still say the film merits a viewing by fans of low-budget horror.
Audio options are provided in French language Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 flavors, and to be quite honest there is very little difference between the two. In a bad way, that is. The 5.1 offers a wee bit of rear channel sound - infrequently - and both deliver mediocre voice quality with little in the way of fidelity. Optional English subs are also provided.
You know the supplements are going to be slim when the backcover touts "Special Features" that include chapter selection and letterboxed presentation. Sadly all that's here is the film's tell-the-whole-movie trailer. While most Synapse releases are normally chock-full of bonus goodness, this one comes up short.
It is on the spirited strength of this low-budget horror film from Philippe Robert that mandates that I add him to my list of "directors to watch for". The effects - the equivalent of the genre's money shot - are not especially good, but the film has a snappy pace and a few characters (one dimensional or not) that I actually kind of liked.
Fun stuff - rugged print and all - and certainly a film that any fan of indie horror should take a look at.