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Head Trauma (Lance Weiler, 2006)
Head Trauma was the seventh movie I watched on February 15, 2013. (I love days when I get to work from home!) Previous to it, the highest rating any of those movies has gotten was a star and a half; my choices today turned out to be phenomenally bad. I was quite thankful this ended up breaking the streak; it's a fine, if flawed, little no-budget thriller that reminded me a great deal of Lodge Kerrigan's cult hit Clean, Shaven. Save that Head Trauma has a plot. And actors who can actually act. You know, little niceties like that that can make all the difference between something well-meaning but insufferable and something watchable that just misses the mark. And even that may be putting it too mildly here; Head Trauma does not necessarily miss said mark as much as dance around it, spitting occasionally and poking it with sticks, thumbing its nose at what Hollywood has conditioned average American audiences to expect from a movie. To continue that comparison from above, Clean, Shaven took much the same approach to filmmaking, I think, but Head Trauma, in my estimation, surpassed its churlish older brother by every metric I can come up with. Simply put, this is one hell of a little movie that far too few people saw.
Plot: George Walker (Vince Mola, in his only screen performance) is a socially-awkward, possibly mentally challenged, and previously homeless guy who comes back to the town where he grew up in order to settle his grandmother's estate and move into her house, which is now condemned by the city. When he gets there and goes into the house to set up camp, he starts looking around, and disturbs Julian (A Dangerous Place's Jamil A. C. Morgan), who's in the house "hanging out". The two have an altercation that ends in George taking a header off the front porch. Julian hauls him home to be tended to by his grandmother Roberta (Meryl Lynn Brown, also in her only screen appearance to date), who knew George as a child, and the two of them spend some time catching up once George regains consciousness. Roberta orders Julian, in atonement for injuring George, to help him clean up the house, and the two of them form a tentative, unlikely bond. George also encounters Mary Sherman (Slice's Mary Monahan), an old crush from his high school years, and also needs to fend off the unwelcome attentions of Chester (Jim Sullivan, in another of the film's "only screen appearance" actors), who wants nothing more than for the city to come demolish the place, since it's lowering the neighborhood's property values-oh, and who just happens to be Mary's ex. On top of all of the human drama, George becomes convinced the house is haunted-he begins seeing things in the basement, which is currently flooded (and where Julian won't set foot, though whether that's because of the ghost or not wanting the spoil his trainers is left up to the viewer to decide).
Previous to the past half-decade, watching films on a repeat basis was a standard portion of my repertoire; I've seen probably a half-dozen films more than fifty times, and I know I have seen at least two over one hundred times (Scanners and Begotten). But in the past half-decade, I have watched only two films twice all the way through (I regularly skim films again while writing reviews, but I will only watch key scenes to fact-check). One of them is The Wicker Man. The other is Head Trauma. I originally rated it three stars, entered it in the document to be reviewed, and promptly lost it in the shuffle. I came upon it while trolling through the nether regions of said document, where the things to be reviewed are in chronological order, and realized how much this movie had continued to haunt me long after I had finished watching it; I sat down with it again almost a year to the day later. It validated everything I remembered about it and then some. Much of that has to do with Vince Mola's performance, which is entirely believable, if a little cringeworthy at times. (The cringeworthiness is a big part of the believability, which is somewhat unfortunate.) And while-without being spoily-the ultimate resolution to the mystery/horror end of the deal is stock, it is handled with care and sympathy not often found in big-budget mysteries, much less shoestring indie films.
I hadn't made this connection before, but Lance Weiler was half of the directorial team who made The Last Broadcast, the genesis of the found-footage film (in that it was the direct inspiration for The Blair Witch Project). That Weiler (his co-director on TLB, Stefan Avalos, is now working as a camera guy on the horrifying TV series Toddlers and Tiaras, which is scarier than anything in any horror movie ever made) has turned out two movies this damn good and never done any other features is a crime against humanity. Here, especially, he took a cast of (mostly) non-actors and turned them into people who, when on a screen, can rival the best of Hollywood's B-list...and he made it seem effortless. The things about the movie that impressed me the second time around were much different than those that did the first; it was the relationship between George and Julian, so devoid of the stock Hollywood emotional shortcuts-for that matter, George's relationships with everyone in the film, really. The one time Weiler does use a stock emotional shortcut, it makes perfect sense. (It's the opening shot of the final sequence-without bring too spoily, I hope, it's the shot where George is sitting on the curb, clutching an important article of clothing, warring with himself over the most important decision he has ever made.) And-despite the fact that it hasn't been Weiler's stock in trade throughout the movie, he gets Mola to pull it off. That's talent, right there. Head Trauma is a movie far too few people have seen (373 votes on IMDB as of this writing), and it is one that has, or should have, enough broad appeal that it can be recommended to almost anyone-horror fans will find it a bit quiet, but should still like it; mystery fans will eat it up; romance fans are sure to empathize with either George or Mary; human-drama kids will love the way George and Julian's friendship blossoms. It's a movie that's got everything, and yet has, inexplicably, been seen by almost no one. If you get a chance (the movie is usually streamable on Netflix Instant), see it, and sooner rather than later. ****
Boring low budget film that failed to hold my attention.
Every now and then I like when a film engages me on a mental level, intellectually pushing my mind to solve a mad mystery before the time-released answer is revealed. "Head Trauma" is one such movie in a lot of ways, bombarding the viewer's senses with enigmatic and unsettling images, without offering immediate explanation, and letting the story unhurriedly unfold segment by segment over the duration of the film. Initially, these sequences seem crude and sluggish, only occasionally being broken up by a quick scene of a startling spook or a violent flashback. While this might grate on the nerves of some, the majority of these pieces have an ultimate purpose, and the intriguing story aspect far outweighs the confusion that follows in the wake of most of them.
For the rest of my review, please check out my movie review blog: http://filmsallthetime.blogspot.com
This is a competently made but s-l-o-w moving movie with a plot that is about as unoriginal as possible. The scare factor is nonexistent and instead of suspense there is only mind-numbing boredom
In the classic Cat People, Jacques Tourneur played on our fears by capitalizing on ambiguity, terrorizing audiences with a deadly predator that remains sight unseen. In the legendary Jaws, Steven Spielberg played on our fears by capitalizing on our overactive imaginations, frightening audiences with a deadly predator that remains mostly sight unseen. With the psychological thriller Head Trauma, director Lance Weiler's plays on our fears by giving us a mind-bending Rosharch Test in which the protagonist - and the audience by proxy - spirals into a terrifying dreamstate where reality, like ink-blots, evolves out of what we think is seen.
After a 20 year absence, a drifter with a troubled past (Mola), returns home to settle his grandmother's estate, only to find that her house is scheduled for demolition. As he tries to save his legacy from the wrecking ball with the help of some friends (Mangan, Monahan), a series of disturbing nightmares threatens to unravel a deeply repressed secret involving a mysterious young woman (Brandee Sanders).
Like Tourneur and Speilberg in the early stage of their careers, Weiler has a limited bag of tricks due to a restrictive budget, but resourcefully uses it well. Having honed his skills well on the cunning shocker The Last Broadcast, he shuffles the base aesthetics and a tricked-out soundtrack into a scary-as-hell narrative that seems almost epic, if only because he is playing with our own skewered perception. The fine cast fires on all cylinders, making the tale all the scarier because they look so terrifyingly, well, normal. Weiler learned well: An audience certainly does not need an airbrushed Sarah Michelle Gellar crawling around in leather pants to signify ultimate terror.
Bottom line: Get some Head.
I think she's buried in my basement
George has been away for a long time and decides to return to his grandmother's small town where he used to spend his summers. His grandmother passed away five years ago and her house has remained dormant during that entire time. The house is scheduled for destruction but he hopes to renovate the house so that it will no longer be considered condemned. The neighbors across the street, as well as ghosts, seem to be trying to prevent him from accomplishing his goal. Is there really a crazy neighbor and ghosts or is it all in George's head?
"Get off the bike path!"
Lance Weiler, director of The Last Broadcast, delivers Head Trauma. The storyline for this picture was well thought out and well delivered. The script was solid and the scenes were compelling. The cats delivered wonderful performances and included Vince Mola, Jamil Mangan (the upcoming A Dangerous Place), and Mary Monahan (Windows).
"It's going to go down, George."
Head Trauma is currently airing on The Movie Channel (TMC). I had never heard of this picture, but was excited to see this film based on its plot. After seeing this picture, I can say the end was clever and well written; but overall, I think it could have been a little better. This reminded me of a better version of Dark Water. This movie is worth seeing but not worth owning.
"It's both of us or the water stays."
One of the worst movies I've ever seen. You keep waiting for a point. There isn't one. And the acting is AWFUL. I think high school video class students could do better. Seriously. Just don't watch it.
At first glance, I had a few personal misgivings about the film. First, it was shot in what appears to be 30i, which definately put up a red flag with budget and the limits of the film. Second, the actors were noticably lacking any experience at all, which can pull any viewer straight out of the narrative. However, once the atmosphere was established and the filmmakers flexed a little low-budget muscle, I bought into the the story. It's very well directed, and Weiler coaxes the cast into as good of a performance as they were going to give. The mostly natural lighting and gray skies give it some visual texture, and the filmmakers were smart in that they didn't try reaching too far. The strength in the story lies in what you can't see. The film gets better as it weaves along, until the viewer is convinced that George is completely insane (with some memorable, well-executed scenes). I won't give away anything, but Head Trauma ends strong and is worth the hour and a half, and also proves inspiring from a filmmaking standpoint, seeing how far these filmmakers can stretch almost no money.
Admirable low budget horror film which I came across randomly on cable TV the other day. Though the acting is definitely less than stellar in many places it's often balanced by a surprisingly effective atmosphere of creepy dread conjured by the director on the obviously small budget. Vince Mola was good enough as the lead and looked convincingly enough like a scruffy, weird, drifter type that the movie pulls you in right at the beginning. Although not terribly original, the fact that this is watchable means the director is deserving of credit.
One of the scariest DTVs to come out in a long time.