Directed by Chad Archibald and Matt Wiele
Foresight Features doesn’t compromise when it comes to horror, and much of this is due to their partnership with the brilliant madman Tony Burgess. Best known for the philosophical thriller Pontypool and the novel it’s based on, their partnership kicked into high gear with the controversial and surprisingly deep Septic Man (review), a Troma-esque origin story directed by Jesse Thomas Cook that chronicles one man’s transition into a hideous sewer mutant.
Now, a year later, Foresight and Burgess are back with Ejecta, trading in the darkness of the sewers for the unknown of the heavens. Directed by Chad Archibald and Matt Wiele, the film is a grand departure from Septic Man in terms of style and content, yet still retains the unique brand of weirdness that typifies Burgess’ writing.
The film opens with William Cassidy (Richings), a secluded blogger being interviewed about his supposed interactions with an extraterrestrial being that have left him in a constant state of paranoia, fear, and pain for the better part of the past forty years. As he reveals this information to an unseen interviewer, the events of a military operation in a dark forest are played out. Their target? None other than Cassidy himself, who is shot and ultimately awakens in a heavily guarded clandestine facility overseen by the cheerfully sadistic Dr. Tobin (Houle). It seems that whoever Tobin works for has been following the online exploits of Cassidy, who goes by the handle “Spider Nevi,” for some time now, and they’ll stop at nothing to obtain the information lurking deep within his brain.
This is, of course, a very simplistic way to summarize Ejecta’s plot, and I fear that revealing anything more would diminish its more surprising elements. The film goes back and forth between Cassidy’s interrogation and the events that transpired the night before, all caught on camera by Joe Sullivan (Seybold), a conspiracy theorist blogger who views Cassidy’s tale as a “white whale.” These found footage-esque moments, captured in a way that keeps the suspense palpable without straying into cliché, serve as a sort of slow reveal for the events that take place in the underground bunker. While it breaks some of the “rules” of the sub-genre, namely the use of music to underscore the tension, it can easily be dismissed due to the context in which it’s utilized and the fact that Steph Copland’s pounding and tense score does an incredible job of highlighting the film’s more tense moments.
This, combined with Burgess’ tendency to never keep things simple or straightforward, allows the tension and fear to build naturally: We’re learning about the coronal mass ejection and its titular aftermath (both literal and figurative) as the antagonists do, both in the facility and Cassidy’s home where a team of soldiers are exploring the site following his capture. The result is an atypical narrative approach that essentially tells three stories at once. This might seem confusing, but Archibald and Wiele manage to weave them together almost flawlessly, spending enough time on each without forcing the film to become overbearing in one area or suffer from an extreme tonal shift. All of this comes to a head that, unfortunately, becomes a little too fond of generic horror scares before redeeming itself in an emotionally charged and downright fascinating final scene.
One area in which Ejecta truly shines is the acting. Julian Richings, who had a supporting role in Septic Man, plays Cassidy as a broken down husk of a man, his quiet British demeanor lulling you into a sense of security before succumbing to the horror that he’s lived with for the past 79 years. He’s a non-leading man getting a leading role, and he earns every second of it with his performance. On the other end of the spectrum is Lisa Houle, perhaps most well-known to genre fans as Sydney Briar in Pontypool. Utterly commanding in her role as Dr. Tobin, she imbues in the character an incredibly deceptive personality that, upon her initial introduction, makes her feel almost sympathetic to Cassidy’s plight. We quickly discover, however, that her weird, bubbly, and almost overly cheerful first impression is merely a mask for her sadistic desire to get inside Cassidy’s head.
Like Septic Man and Pontypool before it, the work of Tony Burgess demands you put your thinking cap on. On the surface Ejecta is a twisting tale of sci-fi horror involving shadowy figures, terrestrial or otherwise; but Burgess, never one to spoon feed you answers, slides in the subtext in an almost inconspicuous manner, compelling the viewer to truly think about what they just watched. It demands a re-watch, or perhaps several, to fully pick up on the little nuances of the plot and affectations of the characters that help make sense of the film’s true meaning.
There needs to be more pairings like Foresight and Burgess, the former for their do-it-yourself attitude and devotion to the genre and the latter for his brilliant mind. Give me weird and original over safe and derivative any day.
4 out of 5