Mannequin in Static, A (2009)

A Mannequin in StaticReviewed by Erik W. Van Der Wolf

Starring Jeremy Hayes, Anna Gilmore

Written and directed by Josh Hasty

In this business of reviewing movies, nothing makes you happier than seeing new talent bring something interesting to an industry crowded with mediocrity, especially in the arena of low budget filmmaking. What filmmakers lack in budget, they far too often try and make up for by adding more nudity and violence (all things I’m in favor of, mind you) when they should be focusing on telling the most compelling story possible within the parameters of their financial constraints, then adding the boobs and blood like ornaments on a sturdy Christmas tree. Without the tree, all those lights and ornaments are just a bunch of shiny shit on the floor lacking any sense of context or allure.

Within the first few seconds it’s obvious A Mannequin in Static is a very low budget movie, and the high school play performances by the two leads do nothing to alter that impression. But it’s also obvious writer/director Josh Hasty has not only an actual story to tell here but also a clear visual sense of how he wants to tell it, something else lacking more often than not in low budget fare.

Alex (Jeremy Hayes) and his mother, Anne (Kristi Cummins), have recently moved following the dissolution of her marriage. But rather than being the fresh start she hoped for, Alex seems to be withdrawing further into his own head, becoming stoic, distant, scribbling in a notebook only he knows the contents of. In short – he seems to be well on his way to becoming the “quiet guy next door” you’ll see on the evening news one day.

All that seems to change, however, when he meets Ashley (Anna Gilmore). Attractive and vibrant, Ashley takes a liking to Alex despite his odd introspective demeanor, and it’s not long before they become an item. But, despite Ashley’s positive influence, it’s clear there’s still something brewing inside Alex and it’s only a matter of time before this happy saga ends badly.

While the story sounds somewhat familiar and we know where it’s heading, Hasty does a solid job of keeping you engaged, making you want to see just how it all falls apart. What will finally set Alex off? Who will survive?

Unfortunately, the payoff doesn’t quite live up to the build-up, a build-up that actually runs a bit too long. While Hasty gets major props for actually pursuing character development, he gives us a bit too much, to the point where it becomes a tad repetitive and starts to feel as though he’s trying to pad the running time just a bit. There are also a few character developments that come out of left field, and while they’re somewhat interesting and generate conflict, they never feel organic to the story and seem forced.

Another missing element is an explanation of Alex’s inner conflict. While we certainly don’t need character motivation spoon-fed to us (a la Rob Zombie’s Halloween), given this is a character study, motivation should at least be somewhat touched on.

All in all, Josh Hasty should be proud of what he’s delivered. On what was obviously a shoestring budget, he presents the rare character-driven genre film with a very strong sense of visual style, and despite its flaws, A Mannequin in Static is a solid first effort.

2 1/2 out of 5

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