Head Trauma (DVD)
Directed by Lance Weiler
Distributed by Heretic Films
I can’t even imagine the pressure to follow up a critically acclaimed first film, especially when it’s one that made its presence known despite another film that was remarkably similar getting the lion’s share of the press. But Lance Weiler’s The Last Broadcast did just that. Despite its flaws it’s still a damn good movie, especially when you consider it was a freshman effort, and the pressure to follow it up might just be the reason it’s taken this long for a second film to finally get done.
The good news is that Head Trauma is a very solid, very haunting film that will likely stick with you for a while after the credits roll, and it’s180 degrees from Broadcast in terms of both story and tone.
The story opens abruptly as a man named George Walker (Mola) returns to his childhood home after having been away for nearly 20 years. His grandmother was living there but passed away five years previous, and now for reasons that aren’t clear until the very end, George has decided to come back home, fix it up, and make a life for himself. Unfortunately the years of neglect have not been good to his childhood dwelling, and it has become infested with junkies, drug dealers, and all manner of miscreants. He’s a got a lot of work to do to get it back to a livable condition.
His first night there he’s startled by a neighbor, Julian (Mangan), and a scuffle ensues that ends with George being accidentally thrown from his porch and blacking out. He seems okay, but as the days go by and he cleans more and more out of the house, as well as reunites with some faces from the past both pleasant and otherwise, he begins to be haunted by a mysterious hooded figure, at first in dreams but later in his waking life as well. He becomes more and more convinced that someone is trying to kill him, but despite his confidences in a long-lost love and an increasingly concerned neighbor, no one is seeing anything out of the ordinary but George. Of course that leads George to begin to suspect his own sanity, and nothing good can ever come of that.
Weiler has crafted a creepy, disturbing thriller that goes against nearly all the norms set forth by our genre today; though there are the occasional musically-queued jump scares and smash cuts, none of them feels contrived or out of place; indeed they seem to be serving the story as a whole and only add to the growing sense of dread. Solid performances by every single lead boosts the film’s value in terms of longevity and re-watchability and mark a decided departure from most indie fare.
The ending was the only element I had any serious issues with, but I’m sure that all comes to expectations more than anything else. Throughout the film you’re forced to draw your own conclusions and theories as to what’s really happening, so inevitably when it’s finally made clear, there could be some disappointment. To me it just felt like it ended too clean, too nice almost, when put against what had come before it.
Heretic does another great job with this disc, providing just enough cool stuff to give us a peek behind the making of the film without overloading us with information that, in the end, is useless to the viewing experience.
Lance’s commentary track is really the only iffy feature as it’s just him by himself, and while he’s full of interesting stories to tell about making the film and especially the house they shot it in, it can get a little monotonous listening to anyone talk for an hour and a half. A partner would’ve been nice to have along for the ride.
There are a bunch of smaller featurettes, none lasting longer than ten minutes, to serve as a expansion of the film. Most interesting of them all was the simply titled “Shooting in the House,” in which the cast and crew recount stories of what it was like to be in the monolithic structure morning, noon, and night. Apparently the house they ended up settling on after months of searching really was a home for squatters and lowlifes, and the attic especially seemed like a very bad place to have to spend any time alone in.
Though I would call that one the highlight of the bunch, in truth they’re all worth watching mainly because, as previously stated, none of them lasts long enough to wear out its welcome. The only one that drags a bit is the feature with Steve Bissette (creator of Swamp Thing among many, many other titles) discussing the art he did for the film, and that’s only because it’s a series of still images put to a phone conversation with the man, so there’s a factor of repetition.
Also included is an 8-page booklet with text by The Grudge/Grudge 2 writer Stephen Susco discussing why Head Trauma is such a damn fine little film.
So it’s safe to say that Weiler didn’t suffer the dreaded “sophomore slump” and indeed has proven that he’s a filmmaker who can do a lot with very little, both in terms of production and storytelling. Make sure when you watch Head Trauma you do so alone, in the dark, and with your surround sound at a good volume. I bet you’re going to feel uncomfortable for all the right reasons if you do.
4 out of 5
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