Written and directed by David James Gustafson, ghosts aren’t real, that’s why Drexler Faust and his crew fake them for their show. Wanting more fans, Drex and the gang head to the Chetco River Lodge to explore the paranormal activity on a site of massacred Native Americans, the only problem this time — the ghosts are real. Starring: Tyler Roy Roberts, Sam Olive, Weston Hedin, Derrick Woodrin, Ty Boice, Cameron Lee Price, Stevie Mae, Brianna Paige Dague, Lindsay Gustafson, Alex McIntire, Tyler Ryan, Apostolos Gliarmis, Bri Dague, Ella Anderson and Gabrielle Malate.
Horror is simultaneously possibly the genre that most strongly supports indie filmmaking and one of the trickiest to pull off effectively with a micro-budget so it’s a risk to take but one that Gustafson tackles head on and comes out the other side fairly unscathed. Opening on lead Roberts playing Drex, he immediately has a strong charisma, he has the right amount of confidence to be slightly cocky but not entitled or arrogant which is a tough line to walk and he always stays on the right side of it. He has a classic presenter type persona and sets things off with a good stride, leading into introducing the team and the themes of the film, it’s a great jumping off point before they head to the site where the majority of the story takes place.
It doesn’t take long for the film to reveal itself as an ensemble piece, Roberts may take the lead for the most part but everyone gets their moment and it feels sincerely like a group effort and nicely gives the audience a chance to be a member. The rest of the cast do well for the majority, there are moments where a few of them feel a little wooden or forced but for the most part these are infrequent and don’t affect their performance or the film as a whole. For instance, Mae’s character of Dr Bright and Hedin’s Sammy feel stiff at first but as the story goes on and they get more lines to get their teeth into the performances improve. There are also a couple of moments that call for Roberts to show some emotion and he waivers just slightly in his otherwise convincing performance but that can be forgiven since this isn’t an intense drama, it’s a comedy-horror so it’s not a real issue. Boice is a stand-out as Monty because the character is perfectly odd and almost reminiscent of Tim Curry’s Butler in Clue; he’s consistently strange but manages to never quite push it over the top.
However, there are a couple of characters that feel extraneous, deep south creep Rooster and medium Phantasma; while the former adds some uncomfortable attempts at humour, the latter simply never gets involved enough with the rest of the cast and feels too much of an ‘add-on’ to have any impact. The actual story is well done, it’s engaging, has a good pace and creates a good balance between horror and comedy. There’s a brief moment where its built up a great suspense with its horror in the latter moments but then dampens it slightly by switching to a comedic moment, it would have been smoother to keep that suspense going and dive into its darkness, heading into the finale. There’s also a couple of issues with stereotyping that hold back the script slightly, such as the old-fashioned ‘nerds wear glasses’ angle is no longer necessary, smoking to make a character appear mysterious or dangerous, and the way that it handles lesbianism as hyper-sexualised which results in some negative connotations, which is disappointing. Ignoring those issues, it does have a solid script, it just needed tightening up in certain respects to really reach its potential. In contrast, it was a surprising but very interesting choice to add some historical information of the horrific treatment of Native Americans in the earlier days of America’s conception, to add context to their paranormal investigation, rather than just your usual ‘burial site’ explanation.
One of the elements that the film really embraces is its effects, when you’re working with a small budget, it’s often that filmmakers try to overcompensate but thankfully Gustafson and his team avoid that entirely, instead keeping things minimal but perfectly effective. The editing strongly supports the effects work, with great quick cuts to capitalise on the impact of the violence. There are a couple of moments where shots feel like they’re lingering just slightly too long but for the most part, the direction has a great, intimate and closed-off from society style, dipping its toes almost into found footage but retaining a more consistent and smooth storytelling. Making it about a TV show made by friends gives it that more personal and home-made atmosphere to it which enhances the friendship and camaraderie between its cast and makes it more compelling. To add to its great effects, editing and direction, it’s supported by some solid music and location choices, the hotel has the perfect remote and isolated vibe with the classic surprising number of rooms and seemingly never-ending doors to explore.
Beyond the Shadows puts together a brilliant team and a great ensemble of actors, made for $9,000 it shows an extremely strong production value throughout including location choice and special effects. There are a couple of areas that needed tightening up or altering, but you’d find that on any film where the filmmakers are in their early days, this being only Gustafson’s second feature. It’s funny, engaging and a good time, it’s got a solid story that runs smoothly at a great pace and draws you in with its down to earth charm and strong personality. Gustafson hit a lot of the right notes with this film and it will be extremely interesting to see what he does next.
Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10
You can check the film out for FREE on YouTube below!
[…] High Note is a great concept that has the right pieces but can’t quite find the ultimate fit. There’s a strong ensemble at work and it’s shot well, with a good story but its dragging its heels slightly and missing out on a forward momentum. It moves mostly with the same tone and doesn’t add enough variety or up the stakes to prepare itself for its finale and more effectively fill out the runtime. It’s a valiant effort for a debut feature from David James Gustafson, who then followed up with Beyond the Shadows. […]