You have to know your biases, and here’s one of mine.
When it comes to horror movies, I have become one pretentious bitch.
Oh yeah--I love the whole indie horror schtick. Give me some long shots of sad protagonists gazing in gloomy apprehension at a bleak landscape, ladle up another helping of enigmatic and blatantly confusing endings, strip down the color palette, toss in some natural light and clumsy metaphors, and, baby, I’m ready to light a cigarette.
I have a few good theories about why this style of filmmaking is dominating the indie horror market right now, and the list covers everything from Tarantino’s fall, Scorsese selling out (yeah, we all remember the Aviator--we’ll always remember), and just the cyclical nature of moviemaking fads and styles. But it’s at a point that even I have to admit--things are getting a little bit leaden. How much more contemplative staring can we cram into movies that are supposed to have fear, tension, and dread at their center?
With Izzy Lee on the scene, we may never have to answer that question.
Lee has been producing some gorgeously photographed shorts for years now, but her two most recent “For a Good Time Call…” and “Rites of Vengeance” best show off her potential. Both shorts celebrate the monstrous feminine, boast an incredible economy of storytelling, and, best of all, use a fierce kinetic energy to get the job done.
“For a Good Time, Call…” is an eerie, dreamy morality tale that takes a tattered premise and elevates it through its relentlessly uncanny atmosphere. It all begins with Alex, an unapologetic bro hiding a camera in his sparsely decorated bedroom before initiating rough sex with unsuspecting Alice. After he uploads the video and Alice confronts him, he shrugs off any responsibility and treats himself to a lonely toke in his car. Waking up hours later, he sees an alluring woman walking toward an abandoned rest stop. Ever eager to keep his creep status current, he followers her with some unexpected results.
To spoil the best scene in this trippy short would be a disservice to you, but it’s a good pay off. Lynchian in its surrealistic quality and confrontationally filmed, the familiar story of a wronged woman’s revenge is beautifully updated with the aid of some venereally visceral visuals and just the right amount of dream logic. This short is at its best when Lee allows the lush camera work to tell the story. While the dialogue, though spare, is at times artificial (“You’re a bad person,” Alice exclaims after she finds out her ex is a sexual predator, a moment of such grand understatement, it borders on the comical), the haunting, blurry, hypnotic trek through the woods to the rest stop that serves as the short’s climax more than compensates. The power of a truly good horror short rests in its ability to sucker punch the viewer right where it hurts and then scamper off before it can apologize. The final third of “For a Good Time, Call…” lands more than a few hits once it leaves dialogue behind and fully embraces its nightmare aesthetic.
For an even more dramatic example of the power of Lee’s silent work, “Rites of Vengeance” uses music, stylized violence, and razor sharp timing to tell a story of realistic horror. When three nuns discover their priest has been engaging in some unforgivable behavior, they decide to handle the matter themselves. Like “For a Good Time, Call…” the premise is a simple revenge story, but the throbbing , omnipresent music, the precision of every actor’s facial expression and movement, and the chilling, mordant, albeit strangely hopeful ending all work together to create a unique experience.
In the future, I hope we see more of Izzy Lee. Specifically, I hope we see her helm a violent, heartless, nasty neo-silent film in the vein of South Korea’s crazy-as-your-drunk-uncle Moebius. I’m a big advocate of playing to your strengths, and when your strength is vicious visuals and an eye for the uncanny, forget trying to be as talky as Tarantino or as still and solemn as every other indie auteur. Point your camera and let the monsters out.
Since the potentially awkward fight that is the centerpiece of her horror comedy short “A Favor,” Lee has been growing as a director who knows how to show the viewer action. This sounds like a silly compliment on the surface--isn’t that what directors do, after all? In theory--but how many times have you sat through an hour and fifteen minutes of mumbling, shuffling people for a thirty-second glimpse of a scuffle that ends in a little smeared blood and a lot of personal regret?
Exactly. Horror movies shouldn’t feel like your Saturday night, and Lee’s control of timing, the choreography of action, and reliance on visual storytelling make her a welcome addition to a genre teetering on the edge of boredom.