Bed Bugs (2006)
Written, Directed, and Edited by Sean Carley
Distributed by Carbon Films Inc.
Apparently the excrement and skin shed by dust mites can add 1 pound or more to a mattress each year. That's the kind of factoid everyone is vaguely aware of but no one dares to really think about. Otherwise, who would sleep?!? Not that it matters anyway. After watching Sean Carley's new short film Bed Bugs, sleep is bound to be the last thing on your mind.
There are two types of horror films that I am especially fond of: the gory yet smart black comedy stylings of fare such as Shaun of the Dead, Slither, and Feast or the fuck with your head, make you face your deepest fears type of stuff like Session 9, Jacob's Ladder, and the Japanese Ring films. Bed Bugs definitely falls in the latter category and manages to pack more skeeviness in its brief 17-minute runtime than any movie I've seen in years -- and that includes feature length films too. Carley, who has written for both Stargate: Atlantis and Degrassi: The Next Generation, has, with this impressive first effort, crafted a film that succeeds on just about every level. It's atmospheric, creepy, and thought-provoking -- the three major prerequisites for an unconditional thumbs up from this woman.
Bed Bugs tells the tale of Julie, a young single gal who has just bought a mattress and had it delivered to her home. She seems quite pleased with her purchase, and you can't help but smile along with her as she slips under the covers for her first night's sleep in her new and improved bed. For some reason Julie's dreams are unusually vivid, and she remembers every detail. As it turns out, the film's tagline, "You haven't been sleeping alone after all" is all too true, and whatever it is that Julie is sharing her bed with is bestowing her with some very special powers. But, as is always the case in matters like these, the powers come at a cost, one that Julie willingly accepts at first but eventually comes to realize she must fight against if she is to survive her devious bedmate's ultimate plan.
Amazingly, Bed Bugs only cost about $1,200 to make. For it to look and sound as good as it does is a testament to Carley's talent and true indie spirit. He writes on his MySpace page, "I [shot] with my own Panasonic DVX100A. Friends and family filled the acting roles, and I edited and mixed the entire thing on my laptop. I had to learn most of it from top to bottom, and I took it on with a vengeance, finding a thrill in creation that I had never experienced before (and often an equal amount of frustration). Similarly, I taught myself editing AS I WAS EDITING this film." If this is what Carley can do without knowing anything, I eagerly await his next project now that he has a better idea of what's involved in the process. Julie's dream sequences, reminiscent in style to the killer videotape from the Ring series, are interesting and realistic, demonstrating Carley's keen eye and imagination. His attention to details like color and texture is especially evident in the painfully gorgeous scene of Julie's yellow-gloved hands cradling a bluebird against the backdrop of her bright red clothing. It's a small, yet stunning moment.
And speaking of Julie, Tracey Beltrano's portrayal is first-rate. She carries the film almost single-handedly for its entire length and has the kind of arresting, atypical features that keep her from falling into the plastic, too perfect to be real crowd populated by so many contemporary actresses and add credence to her performance. She looks and acts like a regular person we can all relate to. Another plus is the music provided by Odori. The ambient sounds she came up with for the score set the perfect mood and tone. Also, the wound and blood effects that come into play as the story unfolds are totally believable. Carley and his cohorts may have had many hurdles to overcome while making Bed Bugs, but they did so admirably.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a Q&A session with director Kevin Smith, who, coincidentally enough, spent the better part of half an hour singing the praises of Degrassi past and present (which I'd never even heard of before then). One of the topics he touched upon was the difficulties facing an independent filmmaker today versus when he was starting out ten years ago. The playing field has changed drastically, and it's up to the new crop to find innovative and creative ways to distribute their works. MySpace, which is how I first heard of Bed Bugs, is one such outlet. There's also the festival circuit, and Bed Bugs is gaining attention there as well. Its next stop will be the Rhode Island International Horror Film Festival on October 7th. If you live in the area, I strongly urge you to attend. Otherwise, keep your eyes and ears on the Internet for more news about Bed Bugs' future showings and its potential distribution.
It isn't often that we get to see someone who is destined for success take his first baby steps. Usually it's not until after they've achieved notoriety that their early shorts are released as part of a DVD package, and time and again we're left scratching our heads over how something so amateurish led to such greatness. In the case of Sean Carley, we don't need to wonder or wait. His filmmaking skills are on full display right here and now, and I feel quite fortunate to be among his first group of enthusiastic supporters.
4 1/2 out of 5