Starring Helene Udy, Taylor Dooley, Nicole Jarvis, Lee Perkins, Todd Gordon
Directed by Justin Paul Ritter
Released by Heretic Films
For the past few months I’ve been reading about just what a great movie KatieBird: Certifiable Crazy Person is from sites all over the ‘net. It’s received heaps of praise from its varied festival showings and been heralded as one of the most groundbreaking indies in recent memory by some.
Needless to say, I was curious. Despite the horrible title (the name alone would’ve sufficed, methinks), I was willing to give it a chance since everyone else out there in horrorland was screaming about how great it was. In the end, though, I really think it was a victim of its own hype for me.
The story of KatieBird is pretty simple: We meet the title character in present day (played by Udy) as she comes home from her father’s funeral. A man who appears to be both her psychiatrist and her lover, Dr. Richardson (Gordon), is there to comfort her, but he’s saying all sorts of strange things about wanting to know “the entire truth” and insisting he can be trusted. Suddenly, she’s no longer grieving but instead attacking him and forcing him to have sex with her (a nice switcheroo from the misogyny I’ve been seeing a lot of lately); then she ties him up with chains and begins to tell her story.
Growing up, the young KatieBird (Jarvis) idolized her father (Perkins). He would drive around with her for hours and just let her observe people, never saying anything about what was right and what was wrong, allowing her to come to her own conclusions. Occasionally this meant she would go out of her way to help people because she believed it to be the right thing to do. She was also incredibly intrigued by what her father did in the barn for all those hours but was told she would not be allowed to see until he felt she was ready.
Years later he determines she is ready when she tells him about a boy who has shunned her affections. Together, father and daughter (now played by Dooley) seek out the young boy and bring him back to the barn, which, as Katie Bird always suspected, is where her father brings his victims. He’s a serial killer, you see, and is now training KatieBird how to be one as well.
As the story of her past unfolds, she tortures Dr. Richardson, performing the same tactics on him that she did on her first, and presumably everyone since, victim. It’s an interesting story, one I admit has never really been attempted before, but with KatieBird it’s not just the story that is told but how it’s told, visually.
Ritter had the idea to show the entire film through the use of multiple panels as opposed to the traditional widescreen, one-angle viewpoint. It’s confusing at first, and personally I was incredibly annoyed with it more than a few times, but admittedly it sets itself apart from pretty much every other indie film in the marketplace because of this unique approach. It doesn’t hurt that it was shot beautifully with creative angles to take up every panel on the screen and fantastic lighting setups that keep the shadows nice and dark and the bright colors incredibly vivid. One scene in particular, when KatieBird is pursuing/being pursued by her fist victim through an orchard full of dead trees and orange leaves, is especially effective. However, this scene suffers from the same issue as the movie as a whole; it just goes on for way too long.
Thankfully, the multi-panel presentation is not just a gimmick but actually represents the fractured mentality of most of the characters. When things are calm and somewhat normal, we see it in one master shot. As the insanity creeps in and KatieBird becomes more and more fucked up, it splits and shatters, indicating this girl is becoming more and more the killer her father wants her to be. It’s an original, if not somewhat distracting, way to tell your story, so props must be given for that.
Now if only said story had a bit more meat on its bones. Shortly after KatieBird bags her first victim, the movie becomes damn slow and repetitive as she acts out her first killing on the doctor while she’s telling the story of how it all happened in the past, making the same demands and manic speeches about needing to know she is loved by having physical pain inflicted on her while both young and older. The special effects are well done from start to finish, but once you get past that, you’re still left with a film that comes off more preachy than anything else. You don’t necessarily want to buy into what is being preached – that the flesh is a mask hiding the truth and we’re all phonies at heart – since it’s the preaching of a psychopath, but it’s preaching nonetheless.
Watching the special features, you may get a good idea why the film comes off like this. Writer / editor / producer / director Ritter is a very, very passionate guy when he’s talking about KatieBird and presumably anything else he feels strongly about, so when you sit down with the 15-minute featurette “Movies Not Excuses,” you should prepare yourself to be made to feel lazy. The mini-doc consists of Ritter talking about how he didn’t make any excuses as to why his movie couldn’t be made, he just made it, and how he sacrificed all he had to make sure it got done. The ultimate in suffering for your art, one could say. You have to appreciate that level of commitment to a film, no matter what the final results are. There are also brief interviews with cast and crew, which are preceded by on-screen text explaining how they affected the director. There’s not a lot to it; I wish it had been a bit longer and showed actual behind-the-scenes footage, but much like the movie it’s about, it’s different than most featurettes.
The other features are “Misa Does Make-Up,” a minute-and-a-half look at some getting done up to be victimized; trailers for the film; and trailers for other Heretic releases.
Then, of course, there’s the inevitable commentary. Ritter, Dooley, Udy, and Perkins all get together to chat about the film for a track that is energetic and full of life, keeping things interesting from start to finish. Something about Ritter’s voice makes it a bit grating on the nerves after a while, as it always seems like he believes what he’s saying is the most important thing in the world. At least that’s how I took it. It’s not that he’s pretentious or anything; he’s just really, really serious about the movie he made, and it comes off a bit sledgehammery at times. He gives the rest of the cast plenty of their own time though, which keeps it moving along nicely and fills you in with the kind of cool behind-the-scenes stuff that all commentary tracks should be filled with.
And how could I forget the soundtrack? The second disc of this two-disc set is the full soundtrack, and depending on how you feel about it during the movie, that may be a blessing or a curse. During the film the soundtrack plays relentlessly; there is I believe about 20 seconds without some sort of guitar, drum, or sound effect playing. It’s especially distracting when KatieBird’s father is on screen, as they chose to use some kind of demon gurgling sound to play every time he gets angry. It’s kind of annoying but subtly effective at the same time.
At the end of the day, I have no idea what I thought of KatieBird, which is really weird for me. The acting from most of the male leads is sub-par if not worse, but the actresses who play the title role make up for that and then some. The story and the way its told is original; it just doesn’t have enough substance and goes on for far too long. The DVD is well put together with a stereo track and liner notes by Ritter detailing how he went from re-writing stripper thrillers to making a true exploitation movie, but I wish there was more to it. See what I mean? Back and forth, good and bad. I can, however, say for sure that if you’re tired of the standard indie movie made by people with nary an idea of how a camera works or if you’re just looking for something different from all the rest of the dreck that passes for direct-to-DVD horror nowadays, you should check out KatieBird. Chances are you’ll trust your own conclusions better than mine anyway.
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