Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Movie Review: NerdQuest (2014)



This is going to mark another first here at Mahan’s Media, as this will be the first time that I’ll be reviewing a film… that I’ve already seen. Yeah, every other time I’ve reviewed a film on here? First and, usually, only time I’ve seen it. There are occasional exceptions, like when I’m re-watching recent films in catch-up for a recent releases like with The Hunger Games or, God help me, Divergent, and that will sometimes cause that film’s placement on the lists to shift a few spots. Otherwise, I usually go through these reviews under the impression that I will probably only watch these films once and not be able to take time out of my schedule to see it again. But like I said, this will be different and give me a chance to possibly re-evaluate the film beyond what I saw in it initially. So, without further ado, let’s get started with today’s feature. This is NerdQuest.

The plot: John (Mathew ‘Film Brain’ Buck), an avid LARPer, invites his friends Gavin (Harry ‘Happy Harry’ Partridge), Dom (Stuart ‘Ashens’ Ashen) and David (Rick Bush) to go to local LARPing group LordQuest for his birthday. While initially unimpressed with the far lower turnout, things start to turn gruesome as more and more of the players start turning up dead and it’s up to John and his friends to survive.

After my Freak Out review, this is going to make me sound like a broken record, but the fact remains the same: The majority of the cast here are friends in real life and they definitely act like it in this film. The change up this time around is that their ribbing is peppered with that British flavour of snark, so their banter isn’t nearly as friendly in areas. Let’s go through the cast then. Buck is a bit whiny honestly, and the fact that he’s given the bulk of the dramatic load with this one kind of makes that worse, but I’ll give him credit for one really potent burst of anger near the end. Bush gets a lot of mileage as the more oversexed and prickish of the group, and given his major film background (read: directing porn), that is hardly surprising. Partridge may be my favourite character, as he seems like the one who most actively questions what is going on, and basically acts as the reaction button for most scenes which he does superbly. Ashen definitely comes out the funniest, as the man has always had a very natural way with words (even if they aren’t his own) that he built up on his own videos and he comes across very lively as a result. Lawrence ‘MasakoX’ Simpson gets some nice banter with Partridge in one scene, but otherwise comes across uncomfortably close to Buck in terms of pure weenieness.

Even though the credits list Mike Jeavons as solo writer and director, he’s made it no secret that this is more of a collaborative process than the credits would let on. Particularly, Welshy helped a lot with the writing and direction and Bush did some direction as well along with helping with the camerawork and lighting. Knowing this on my second time through, it makes sense than Welshy had his hand in the scripting because there is a definite Scream vibe coming from this film. Not necessarily in terms of the genre subversion, as this is a far more goofy rendition of a satirical slasher film; more in terms of how the cloaked killer is written. There’s also something about the finger-wagging he does in a couple of scenes that feels pretty close to Ghostface. As for the bulk of the writing itself, the want to subvert the slasher genre comes across loud and clear. Too loud and too clear at times, to the point where clich├ęs are verbally brought up as something to avoid. Don’t get me wrong, the characters are written pretty well, especially with Patridge’s character (yeah, forgive me if I don’t mention these people by character; their online personas are too well-fitted in my brain to shift them now), but sometimes the genre-poking gets a little annoying.

And speaking of annoying, one of the biggest problems that occurred with principle production was the weather conditions during the outdoor shoots. Now, ignoring the low-hanging fruit that is a joke about UK weather, you can definitely tell that the rain was an issue during the production. From continuity issues with the amount of daylight in certain shots to the rain flat-out hitting the mic in a few scenes, it gets a little distracting. Then again, the Twilight/later Harry Potter filter the camera has been put through is distracting enough, which makes the majority of scenes taking place in a forest a little disconcerting. Okay, snarks aside, this film actually does look decent for what is essentially a homebrew production, something definitely helped by the soundtrack. The score is split up between public domain audio courtesy of Kevin McLeod, who is essentially god in terms of providing audio for these kinds of productions, and original work by prolific composer Michael ‘Skitch’ Schiciano. I’m not entirely sure who it is to thank for one particular moment, considering the work it would take to fact-check it with the McLeod library, but whoever it was that made what is essentially a sinister version of Pop Goes The Weasel that is heard in a certain scene: You are amazing.

Welshy’s writing is worth bringing up alongside MikeJ because his words when it comes to the approach with the script are kind of important in the grand scheme of things. He mentioned in the film’s retrospective Q&A as well as the commentary (both included on the DVD) that he modelled his plot development after that of the works of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, particularly the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (or duology, given The World’s End wasn’t out yet). Looking back on it, you can definitely tell that they put some work into that same brand of foreshadowing where they will flat-out tell you the plot and you still won’t get it. I won’t spoil how, but there’s a point early on that spells out who is behind all this. And since we’re already inching close to spoiler territory, might as well nudge it a little further because probably this film’s biggest issue has to do with the big reveal of the killer behind everything. Without getting into heavy spoilers, yes it’s one of the LARPers who has officially taken the idea of battling far too seriously. Now, this strikes me as a bit odd because you know what this plot reminds me of? A LARPing session that goes wrong and someone ends up taking their pastime to levels that were never intended; the last thing I should be reminded of is Maze And Monsters, a film that was expressly made to demonize Dungeons & Dragons. I know full well that nobody involved in this intended for anything remotely close to that, but that doesn’t shake the connotations of obsession with role-playing leading to murder that this film shares with that unintentionally hilarious early role for Tom Hanks.

All in all, this movie is about 65 minutes long; it’s not as if this has a lot of time to faff around. Indeed it doesn’t, as the writing does feel relatively tight and the production qualities, while not ideal, do have an aesthetic feel that makes some of the drippier moments tolerable. Honestly, the big thing holding me back in liking it is that it keeps giving me flashbacks to Pardieu the Holy Man with how the plot unravels near the end. Even with that in mind though, honestly, it’s worth the buy just to see some very funny people bouncing off of each other on film; it’s entertaining enough to warrant its own existence. I’m re-evaluating it in light of this fresher eye that I experienced the film with this time, so I’m placing it above Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, as this doesn’t try so hard with the horror aspects so it doesn’t fail as much on that front as PA did. However, given the footwork that would’ve been needed to make its differing genres work together (even if they clashed at times), I’m ranking it below Happy New Year.

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