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Saturday, February 1, 2014

War Comes Home in "Semper Fidelis" -- Spine Chillers Series


 "SEMPER FIDELIS"
Length - 13:46
Company: Tres Hombres
Website: Official

A family is gathered to remember Marine Davy when fellow service man Lance Corporal Kevin Dunlop comes to pay his respects.  But that's not all that's on Dunlap's mind this day . . .

THE QUEST


Spine Chillers is a series of short horror films produced by Tres Hombres.  Their previous efforts have been largely uneven, but one of the Hombres, Christopher Dinnan, wrote and directed my favorite of the series so far ("Frontier Style" -- check out the review here), so I was interested to see what was on hand for this latest episode.


THE WAR COMES HOME

"Semper Fidelis" is a thoughtful picture.  You can tell that from the opening shots.  The camera has a much more fluid feel to it this time around, doubly appreciated by this reviewer after the quite frankly dull "Are You On Your Way?"

The cast includes several Spine Chillers regulars, such as Carol Ilku (Aunt Irene), Paul Harris (Lt. Colonel Justin Ebright) and even Robert J. Gordinier (Uncle Terry) , who played the put upon pest control employee at the center of "Roadkill", the Paul Harris helmed second episode, which I also enjoyed.

In case you couldn't tell, there's a lot of people in this film.  At best, it would function as an ensemble piece, but with the short run time there's frankly not a whole lot for most of them to do but stand around and look sad.  Liz Ilku, who plays Grandma, does her best to deliver some wordy lines, and she looks the part, even appearing "out of it" since her character is suffering from dementia, but when she opens her mouth the lines don't pay off and instead distract the audience.

Steven Hailo does admirably as Corporal Kevin Dunlop.  He does a good job of masking his emotions, but still conveying just enough with his eyes to deliver the story.  I enjoyed the barely concealed rage that he exhibits for much of the second half of the picture.

IT'S NOT DELIVERY, IT'S . . .

The plot is too similar to the Spine Chillers' "surprise" ending of its first episode, "Sorry I Couldn't Make It", and poor Carol Ilku is once again given the unfortunate job of having to try to pull off the same type of reveal, which once again isn't properly foreshadowed to be believable.  You could argue that Dunlop's approach to the house, with its quirky jump cuts, is sort of hinting at this, but I didn't pick that up when I watched the film. 

For instance, why did Dunlop have to use the bathroom?  Why would he bother?  It's an unnecessary scene considering the finale.

And my final beef with this film: what was up with Adam Lopez, who played bad boyfriend Nick?  Talk about a character seriously out of place.  We never got to know Anne Marie (played by Jordan Burgess) well enough to say if she was similar, but with his tattooed tear drop and street clothes, and then freaking out over lost drug paraphenalia, JESUS CHRIST he stuck out. 

His character was extremely one note and cardboard.  It pretty much telegraphed his role in the film, which was stereotypical.  It is to Lopez's credit that this role comes off as well as it does.

CONCLUSION

It took serious guts to put this many amateur actors in a room together and try to pull out halfway decent performances.  Hailo did well, Burgess and Lopez did what they could with what they were given, but it's not enough to elevate this film.

It held my interest, and I wondered how far Dinnan would go with it.  It's an admirable theme he's presenting here, but its delivery fell short due to subpar acting.

Check out "Semper Fidelis" on YouTube and visit the Tres Hombres' official Spine Chillers website here, as well as my reviews for "Sorry I Couldn't Make It", "Roadkill", "Frontier Style" and "Are You On Your Way?".

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2.5 / 5.  The finale sinks the story, but the first half is actually fairly gripping.  The drama between Nick and Dunlop is edgy at times.  The other characters are far too undeveloped for me to make any emotional connection with them.  On top of that, the story is about a man upholding a friend's last wish, but aside from Dunlop's short but inspired dialogue outside with Nick, it's never given any screen time whatsoever.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  Dinnan was on the ball here, with good camera movement.  Somehow, he manages to keep an extremely domestic picture (confined to a house and its front lawn) visually interesting. 
Editing: 3 / 5.  Grandma's ranting should have been cut to be a minor part of the film.  Far too much screen time is spent hovering in the living room while she speaks.  Other than that, the film moves at a good click.
Sound/Music: 2.5 / 5.  I much enjoyed the new Spine Chillers introduction.  The music accompanies this much, much better.  Apart from that, nothing else stuck with me over the course of the film.
Acting: 2.5 / 5.  Some of the acting was distractingly bad, but Hailo, Lopez and Burgess save the film.  Gordinier, who I liked in "Roadkill", is flat even though he almost conjures up some tears in his opening monologue. 

Final Grade: 2.8 / 5.



Thanks for reading! I'm a screenwriter and script consultant. Most recently, I've worked with LMC Productions and Mad Antz Films in Australia. I helped mold Goodybag Productions' award winning screenplay "The Teacher" and Michael Maguire's feature length script "The Wolfpack", which is still in development.

Check out my blog and let's get in touch!