Dir. Brandon Espana (2020)
A director goes crazy while trying to win over one of his critics.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
The film starts with a short called The Replacements, about a man who takes a mysterious phone call from a payphone, during which he describes the people around him and the person on the phone picks out one of the people he describes, a person in a blue hoodie. He follows the person onto a trail into the woods while creepy, ethereal music plays in the background. I won’t spoil what happens, but I will say that, while the budget is clearly micro in nature and the production values match it, the feel of the film is very Carnival of Souls mixed with Night of the Living Dead. It’s got a nasty little twist at the end that you probably could’ve seen coming but is handled very well.
As for the short, the audio is really the only problem with the film, because the story, writing, acting, and score is fantastic for a film of this caliber. There’s clearly a lot of talent both in front of and behind the camera, and it really works. It’s one of the better shorts that I’ve seen if you don’t consider the budgetary constraints, because it’s a great story packed into a tight 6 minute frame. It’s surprisingly well done and a great start before the feature presentation.
The actual film, Stir Crazy, was filmed entirely during the pandemic from the (clearly disturbed) mind of director Brandon Espana. The film is about a director who is dealing with a critic who hates his work. We’ve all been there, right? Fucking douchebags. Anyway, the film utilizes an extremely low budget and a one-man cast to deliver some creepy video, some disorienting sound design, and off-putting (in a good way) cinematography. There are added video scrubs to make the movie a little more believable as an old VHS throwback, and it works really well for what’s happening. The critic, who is kidnapped and hooded and forced to watch the director’s work, is clearly as disturbed as we are by what he’s being forced to see. The director is wearing a way-creepier-than-it-should be mask, almost a Guy Fawke’s mask crossed with Alice Sweet Alice's see-through getup, and it works splendidly well. Espana, who is also the star of the film, uses a creepy distorted voice that adds to the audience’s feeling that they’ve been kidnapped along with the critic.
I’ll be honest… this is not a film that most people would appreciate, and I say that with some legitimate love. It plays more like an avant-garde art film more than an actual movie, but like… it’s creepy as fuck. I was fully prepared to have to struggle through this movie, but the blood-red hue over the video crossed with the gravelly voiced director just upped the creep factor to 11. It’s like an ethereal LSD trip with some seriously harsh vibes, a film that makes you feel, once its reached its conclusion, like you were being threatened as a viewer. If I got this shit in the mail on a crudely burned DVD, I’d be calling the cops fucking immediately. There are so many people who would take a video camera and try to make this film and it absolutely would not work. Espana is, apparently, not one of them, because he’s got some legitimate chops here. This felt like a snuff film crossed with the videotape from The Ring. Is that a bloody ribcage that’s been ripped from a body or is it just an air duct in someone’s basement? The taut and well-framed video makes the audience not entirely sure what they’re seeing, but they know it’s probably not good.
Who this movie is for: People who can appreciate TRUE ultra-low-budget films, Indie lovers, People who are not terrified of the color red
Bottom Line: Brandon Espana is a talented director, and Retro Video is a neat little production company that is putting legit stories on video. While the budget is exceptionally low (like, $500 low), the storytelling prowess is absolutely there, and this is a one-man show. There are some very creepy visuals, some excellent sound design, though the actual audio on the dialogue could be a little fine-tuned. There’s a lot to take in here with a tiny runtime, and while this isn’t a film that you want to screen for your family, it’s a really fantastic little gem. I’ve never dropped acid, but this film is making me want to either start or never, ever do it.