In addition to the many horror movies that made their premiere at SXSW – you can read all of my full reviews to date here – I caught a few titles that fall into the documentary, techno-thriller and, well, horror…comedy (I'm still trying to figure out the film's intent) sub-genre. I'm talking about Elijah Drenner's That Guy Dick Miller, Nacho Vigalondo's Open Windows, starring Elijah Wood, and Creep, starring Mark Duplass and Patrick Brice. Here, find my capsule reviews while I still play catch-up from SXSW!
That Guy Dick Miller: This endearing look at a genre icon should at least move you just enough to shed a tear out of mere appreciation for an actor who has been a significant part of our childhoods. If you didn't know him from A Bucket of Blood or Little Shop of Horrors, then you certainly recognized him in Gremlins or The Terminator or Small Soldiers. At the heart of this doc is the story of an actor who took the gigs when they came, worked hard and found a caring long-lasting relationship in Hollywood. Miller transcended the bleak odds the industry throws at most actors and by his side the entire time was his wife Lainie.
Director Elijah Drenner chronicles Miller's days working in Westerns (in one film he played both a cowboy and and Indian!) to his time with Roger Corman and later Joe Dante. Highlights include anecdotes about how Miller got to tame an unruly monkey and – in a slice of behind-the-scenes footage – we see Miller reprimanding Corey Feldman on the set of The 'Burbs. That Guy Dick Miller is mostly a celebratory piece. I'd say perhaps the only real "low" points discussed was the period Miller was trying to find work post-Corman and how Tarantino cut him out of Pulp Fiction. There are also shades of some interesting family stuff with his brother I wish was explored more, still, That Guy Dick Miller is a wonderful love letter to an awesome character actor (there's some pretty great stuff of him talking about Demon Knight!).
Creep: Writer-director Patrick Brice plays Aaron, a videographer who answers a Craigslist ad. The job is simple: Record a day in the life of a dying man, Josef, who wants to leave behind something special for his son. What begins as an innocent project takes a quick turn into the "weird" when Josef – the eponymous "creep" – begins to show his true nature.
The film adopts the current "faux documentary" (or "found footage" – whatever you want to call it) approach to tell its story. That was turn-off number one for me. Once I got past that and hoped for something unique with Creep, what I experienced was a film that seemed to made by people who thought they new what horror was. In this case, I charge Brice for this crime as well as Duplass who takes co-credit for the story and stars as Josef. A few scenes work in what I feel is an insult to the genre. Duplass turns in an amusing performance, yet I feel like his deranged character would be better suited in a different film or alternate approach to the story.
Creep might work for those don't regularly digest horror films, but for the hardened fan, this is a film that spins its wheels all too often and feels like an exercise in self-indulgence.
?Open Windows: The biggest disappointment of the fest. It's a shame because I adore Nacho Vigalondo and his previous efforts like Timecrimes and Extraterrestrial. I watched this one on my laptop and that might be the best experience for the film as – much like another thriller this year called The Den – the entire film takes place on a computer screen. Vigalondo guides us from one open window to the next, telling the story of a man (Elijah Wood) who – in a Hitchcockian way – roped into a giant, convoluted plot rife with computer hackers, techno-terrorists, police and an actress (Sasha Grey).
There's one key piece of dialogue that's spoken about a third of the way through this mess that led me to believe that perhaps Vigalondo was pulling a fast one on us and was going to draw back the curtain on some big joke at the end, but that joke never came. I tried to look it as a spoof of techno-thrillers like The Net and Virtuosity, alas, that perspective doesn't have legs either. Vigalondo should be applauded for the storytelling approach, because it could not have been easy to pull off, but the acting (save for Wood) is inexcusable as is the chaos that pollutes the third act. Oh well…