Karma (2014)

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Alright, so this is kind of a unique situation. I was contacted via Instagram by Tristan Clay (TristanClay on Instagram), regarding a short film that he was releasing on October 31st of this year. He asked me if I would consider reviewing it, and being a former film student, and maker of zero-dollar budget short films, I took him up on the opportunity. So, this is my review of his short film called KARMA, described in the YouTube synopsis as follows :

Bullying happens all around the world. Many people witness it or even are the victims. No one does or can do anything…until now.

Ok, so before I get started, I’m going to preface this by saying I have made some short films in my day, I spent time at Galiano Island Film & Television school, spent two years at Capilano University studying film, and watching this really took me back to those days, even earlier when I took media classes in high school, and watching this really took me back there. So I hope, Tristan, you’ll read this as constructive and supportive, because that’s certainly what my intention is in writing this review.

So, lets dive right in.

The first thing I want to say is that I loved the soundtrack for this, it’s primarily one song produced by Samitoss Beats, and it’s an effective, atmospheric and catchy. It really does add to the movie, and is pretty effective in setting the tone for the rest of it. I will say that it might be slightly overused in parts of the film, but this really comes from my personal preference for movies that build effective suspense without music, or with quite minimal music. Anyways, in the case of this film, the score is great and I definitely enjoyed it.

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The other thing that is great here, is that the movie is pretty ambitious in terms of the effects. I have to give credit for the film maker making attempts at practical effects, as opposed to throwing in as many stock After-Effects ..effects.. as he could. That is definitely something we see in a lot of short films, especially as the technology becomes more and more available, and it becomes easier to add in SPOOKY EFFECTS. I definitely got the sense that there was a choice made to keep it practical, that and/or resources were limited on the editing front. Either way, keep on working toward practical effects. They really just make all the difference, see movies like The Exorcist or The Thing or more recently, Hatchet. It’s just so much more entertaining.

That being said, it does fall into the trap that many early short-films fall into, especially when it comes to horror, and that is being overly ambitious with the effects. There are some scenes that are quite disturbing, and would be more effective if shot a little bit differently, an example is right in the beginning of the film when a character is having his teeth pulled. That’s a very ambitious effect, and really hard to pull of realistically when you’re working with very limited resourced, where in the movie the camera’s focus is on the character being de-toothed, it might have been an easier effect to have a tray on the ground that teeth are being steadily thrown into. Throw in some sound design, and a good shadow, and you’ve got an effective and disturbing scene, while shooting inside the parameters of your realistic restrictions.

I’m certainly not saying you did a lousy job, it’s just important to think about the restrictions you have with the tools you have to shoot with, and how to work around those. Look at low-budget films like The Blair Witch Project. Anyways, moving on.

Like I said, there are some definitely effective and disturbing scenes in the movie, I’ll admit the final scene did make me go express my disturbed-ness outloud at my computer.

There is also some great camera work in through out this, whoever operated the ‘shaky cam’ did a great job, and it worked pretty effectively throughout. I do look forward to future work and seeing how the camera technique improves, and I’m sure it will. As I mentioned with the effects, there is definite promise here, and that’s really great to see.

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I do have a bit of a gripe with the story, and with the performances. Not because anyone in the film is necessarily a bad actor, more because the dialogue in the film is a little bit over-written and comes out awkwardly as a result. I do understand that the film has an anti-bullying bent to it, and this is a serious issue that needs to be talked about. I can really see what the movie was going for. However, I take issue with the first line of bullying we hear being “look at this fag” – – yes, this is something that gets said to people all the time, and no it’s never acceptable. I’m not suggesting that it doesn’t happen, but it’s a bit of a flat way to build a character and it really gets under my skin. There are a lot of ways to set someone up as a scumbag, and plenty of other horrible things to say, but throwing away words like that, or racial slurs, just feels cheap and unearned.

The reason I’m saying this, is because I think it’s important to develop your writing style, and it’s hard to do that when no one tells you where there can be improvement.

The last thing I want is for this to seem like an attack, because its not. There is a lot of promise in this, and I’m very excited and interested to watch Clay grow as a film maker. I will certainly be posting the film here on the site once it’s officially released, and would love to be invited to review short films from this film maker, or any other. In short, my thought is that the movie could have been more effective if it had been kept a little bit simpler. Keep on watching and loving horror movies, keep on making films and writing to your passions.

I for one look forward to seeing what comes next, and appreciate being invited to review this early.

One final note for Clay and for all other indie horror folks who are looking for a good blood recipe : Chocolate syrup, and red food colouring. Try it out, I’ve had a lot of success with it.

 

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