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Hollywood can often be a cold and cruel place, but what if there was something else going on besides predatory casting directors and unscrupulous agents? There have been a number of horror films that explore this theme, with Starry Eyes being one recent example. Cameron Romero's interesting but imperfect Auteur takes a look at obsessive filmmaking and the possible influence of the occult in Hollywood.
Jack Humphries (B.J. Hendricks) introduces himself right off as a "failed documentarian". He's decided that he can rehabilitate his career by making a film about notorious flameout horror director Charlie Buckwald (Ian Hutton), who threw his future away when he walked away with all the footage from his masterpiece, Demonic. Buckwald now lives as a hermit, somewhere in the Los Angeles area, and Jack is determined to find him. Whether Jack wants to make an artistic statement, or whether he merely wants to please his father who produced Demonic and would like to recoup his investment, is a question and a source of tension throughout.
The story is told as a mockumentary, with interviews of people who were involved in Demonic and knew Buckwald, most notably Tom Sizemore playing himself. Other than Sizemore, the most interesting character is Kate (Madeline Merritt), the lead in Demonic who played the possessed girl. Something happened while filming the climactic scene, and it changed her. Now, she is sexually aggressive and promiscuous...and disturbing. Buckwald thinks she's possessed by something sinister and wants to track him down in order to release Demonic to the world with wicked intent.
Auteur isn't exactly slow paced, but it falls victim to the same issue that a lot of found footage type films do: not much happens. There is a lot of talking, some creepy implications, and some cool imagery here and there. Other than that, there's not much excitement until the climax. Sure, there is the notorious exorcism scene where Buckwald keeps insisting on take after take after take. Throughout the film, we will occasionally switch back to that sequence as the actors get progressively more frustrated, until Buckwald decides to take rather drastic action with spectacular results. It's cool how this builds tension in parallel with the main storyline, but the scene never comes off as creepy as it should until the end.
The real draws for Auteur are Tom Sizemore and Madeline Merritt. Sizemore gives a just on the verge of losing it performance, with energy, verve, and a gimlet eye toward his past problems. Merritt throws herself into role of the sultry possessed actress as well. The way that she aggressively comes on to Jack within minutes of meeting him is quite disturbing. The rest of the performances are pretty good as well -- just not as engaging. (...though it's never explained why Jack has a deep southern accent and his father doesn't.) The film as a whole is a mixed bag, though. There are moments and images that are quite unsettling, and the buildup works well, but it sort of falls apart in the third act. The back story doesn't come together, and the motivation for the demonic force is too goofy to work. Auteur is worth a watch, but don't expect to be blown away. Rent it.
The image is 1.78:1 widescreen, and looks good, keeping in mind that it consists of "behind the scenes" footage from the faux film Demonic and largely hand held interviews using natural light. It looks as it was intended to look.
Audio is Dolby Digital stereo and sounds good, with many of the same caveats as applied to the video. No subtitles are included, which is always frustrating, but the dialogue is nevertheless audible and clear. No alternate language tracks are included.
The only extra is a trailer for Auteur itself, which is decent.
Auteur is an interesting film at times, but it can't seem to maintain that hold on the audience consistently. Occasional chills and a couple of very good performances aren't quite enough to get the film to the level it could have been. It's not the worst way to spend seventy five minutes, but it's not the best either.