Starring Jeremy Gardner, Brea Grant, Justin Benson, Henry Zebrowski
Written by Jeremy Gardner
Directed by Jeremy Gardner, Christian Stella
The first film written and directed by Jeremy Gardner was 2012’s The Battery, a story about two friends who are forced to fight reanimated corpses as they travel the back roads of New England. Over the past several years, there has been a never-ending horde of zombie movies, but The Battery stands out as one of the best for many reasons. The film focuses more on the complicated relationship between the two friends than it does on fighting zombies. Gardner is incredibly skilled at writing clever stories that use humor and compassion to get up close and personal with the characters and explore the human condition. That’s what makes The Battery such a phenomenal film. Christian Stella was a producer and the visionary cinematographer and did the visual effects and mixed the score for The Battery. The pair has proven that they have a flair for making remarkable independent films.
Gardner has written a new film, Something Else, which he and Stella directed, and the film is having its world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival on April 26t. Something Else has a production dream team that includes Justin Benson, who also stars in the film, and Aaron Moorhead, the duo responsible for favorite indie films Spring (2014) and The Endless (2017), as well as David Lawson, Jr., who produced Trash Fire (2016), 68 Kill (2017), and The Endless (2017). The only thing I knew about Something Else before I saw it was that it was being called a “monster movie.” I’m a fan of Gardner’s previous work but had no idea what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect to be taken on the rollercoaster ride of emotions this film took me on.
Gardner stars as Hank, who moves into a large, old family home in Florida with his girlfriend Abby, played by the consummate Brea Grant. It’s Abby’s birthday and they celebrate with wine and music and Hank gives her a kitten. They are deeply in love, but Abby longs for a different life and one day she is gone. Hank finds a note from her telling him that she had to leave and she’s sorry. Grant and Gardner have a beautiful chemistry and the love they share is totally believable. After Abby leaves, Hank is terrorized every night by a creature that scratches at the front door and bangs and growls while trying to get in. The thing that makes Gardner’s work so appealing is that the characters he creates are always relatable. You feel like you know them and when Hank goes through the full range of emotions from grief to anger to depression, the viewer feels it, too.
Hank repeatedly calls Abby’s phone and leaves messages begging her to call him. He tells her the cat is missing and he thinks the monster ate it. Flashbacks with breathtaking cinematography tell their tender love story and make it effortless to feel Hank’s pain, while he sits on the couch he’s used to barricade the front door with a shotgun every night waiting for the monster to show up. The monster seems metaphorical, but it also appears to be very real. Abby’s brother Shane (Justin Benson), a police officer, comes to the house to check on Hank after a motorist reported that Hank shot at them while they were driving down the road. Hank shows Shane the scratches on the front door, but Shane shrugs it off and tells him it was probably a bear. Hank and Abby have been together for ten years, and even though they aren’t married, Shane considers Hank family and is worried that Hank has become mentally unstable since Abby left. Hank and Abby own a bar where Hank goes to hang out and drink with his friend Wade (Henry Zebrowski). Throughout the film, Wade has some hilarious lines that balance out the melancholy tone of the story. From a band that plays at the bar to the vinyl Hank listens to at home, music is used a lot in Something Else and perfectly sets the mood of the film.
One night the monster tries to get in by reaching through a hole in the front door while Hank is sleeping on the couch. He shoots at it and thinks he shot the monster because there is a pool of blood on the front porch. The next day Wade sees the blood and has a hysterically funny explanation of why he thinks the cat is the monster and why it’s attacking Hank every night. Shane continues to lecture Hank about the fact that things like ghosts and aliens don’t exist, so it’s impossible that there is a creature. No one believes that a monster is coming to Hank’s house and trying to kill him. Hank is alone and sinking into a deep, dark depression while dreaming about Abby when he sleeps. One night Hank comes home from the bar and finds the front door open and the furniture overturned. The monster is in the house and he chases it outside where he has a horrifying face to face encounter, and this is the first time we see what it looks like. It’s only a quick glimpse, but the creature effects are effective and horrendous.
Much to Hank’s surprise, Abby comes home and finds the house in a state of disarray and sees the front door covered in scratches. She tells Hank that she went to Miami for a reunion and reminisced about her old life. Hank tells Abby about the monster and she tells him if it comes back that night he should kill it. They sit on the front porch and wait for the monster and talk about why she was gone for a month. Abby doesn’t like living in the middle of nowhere and misses the culture, food, and feeling of adventure, as well as her family, that she had in Miami. She tells Hank the only reason she has stayed is because she loves him so much. She tells him that because he is a hunter, she thinks he is going to spend his life looking for something else, something that doesn’t exist. It’s her birthday and she reminds Hank how happy they were ten years ago on her birthday and that she doesn’t think his monster is coming tonight.
Abby’s brother Shane and Wade and his wife, and some other friends, come over for Abby’s birthday. In a fabulously entertaining sequence, they all do karaoke. It lightens the mood of the film after the intense conversation Abby and Hank had about their relationship. Shane asks if the monster has come back and then starts ranting about people believing in aliens, which leads him into a tirade about why Abby and Hank aren’t married. Hank delivers a spectacular monologue about how he’s sorry he’s kept Abby from the things that make her happy and he tells her they can sell the bar and move to Miami. Then, in a touching, nostalgic scene, he sings “Stay (I Missed You)” to Abby. Hank’s song is interrupted in the most unexpected, mind-blowing, frenzied twist, causing me to have an extremely visceral reaction that drew forth a scream.
Something Else is a sublime and emotional experience and I think it’s extraordinary that Gardner created a film that takes the viewer on such an enthralling and startling journey. Brea Grant, Justin Benson, Henry Zebrowski, and Jeremy Gardner are all sensational. I was so moved by this film and could relate to so many things that happened, not including the monster, that I cried through the entire end credits. That’s what makes Gardner such a uniquely divine filmmaker, he creates empathetic characters who experience life in outrageous ways, but the viewer can relate to them. I cannot recommend this film enough. You will laugh, you will cry, and you will be scared. Something Else is a hell of a love story and a nightmarish monster movie and an overall fantastical experience.
Something Else is one hell of a love story, a nightmarish monster movie, and an overall fantastical experience.