Sunday, May 29, 2011

'Divine Intervention' is a well-done first outing

Divine Intervention (2007)
Starring: Ingrid Fenn, Alyssa Jayne Hale, Kyle Erha,Patrick Pitu, Vic Clay, Kevin Cirone, Salvatore Marchese, Jonathan La Mantia
Director: Rufus Chaffee
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Holly (Fenn) and Sarah (Hale) travel to a small town for a night of partying, but they soon find themselves in the caught up in a struggle of nerves between the town bad-boy (Erha) and a third-rate thug (Cirone). Things go from bad to worse when a crazed meth-head (Clay) goes on a murder-spree motivated by a theology based on the Bible and lessons learned from the reality TV show "Survivor", and a belief he is harvesting souls for the Army of God.

"Divine Intervention" is a low-budget thriller that occupies a space somewhere between "Scream" and any one of a dozen exploitation flicks from 1960s and 1970s where innocent young people find themselves menaced by evil and crazed druggies in the isolated countryside. For most of its running time, it's a better film than both contemporary and old-time examples of this type of movie, because it moves forward at a steady pace, is free of padding--there is not a single scene of characters wandering through the woods or driving aimlessly down the road--and features actors who are familiar enough with their craft and their lines to actually portray characters instead of just run lines and keep to their blocking.

Another aspect that sets this film apart from others like it is the professionalism with which it has been produced. Real money was spent on cameras, lights, and sound equipment-no camcorder microphones here, nor any badly done day-for-night shots. The film has also clearly been carefully editing and taken through the entire post-production process, aspects many low-budget filmmakers don't pay anywhere near enough attention to. (There are still a couple of rough spots here and there--like ambient noise changing between a close-up and an over-the-shoulder shot during an conversation between two characters, and an obvious lack of discharge from a gun that gets fired into the camera--but these flaws can be found in movies made with ten times the financial and technical resources that Chaffee and crew had at their disposal, so they are not at all damning. Particularly not when one considers the state of post-production on most other low-budget films.)

"Divine Intervention" is also blessed with a superb casting. The lead actors are all decent, and the Beautiful People look of the majority of the cast makes the ragged meth-head look of Vic Clay's "Father Reynolds" character that much stronger. (In fact, Clay has a number of great moments in the film, moments which would have fallen flat if he had been a lesser actor. Look in particularly for the scene where he is trying to impart one of his Bible/"Survivor"-based lessons to his brain-fried homicidal minion.)

The film's dialogue is also well-crafted for most of its running-time. A number of characters have unique voices, something that screen-writers achieve all too rarely. In fact, the whole idea of incorporating "Survivor" into the fabric of Father Reynolds' psychosis was a great idea, as it lends both humor and creepiness to the character... and it's references that virtually everyone seeing the movie will understand and laugh at. I know this, because I've never seen a complete episode of "Survivor", I can't think of a single friend who was a fan of the show, yet "Survivor" was a large enough part of pop culture for a while there that I picked up enough about it to understand every reference that Father Reynolds' makes.

Unfortunately, for all the good things about "Divine Intervention", the film starts to fall apart as it enters its third act. Characters start behaving illogically and downright stupidly for the purpose of nonsensical melodrama, there are some VERY lame fight scenes, and the quality of the acting and the dialogue also seems to deteriorate a bit. It also doesn't help the ending that there are a couple of useless characters that bog it down--the slutty mother of another minor character and the obligatory tough-talking black guy. (The presence of the slutty mother makes no sense at all, other than perhaps Chaffee felt that every "sinner" had to be disposed of in the film. He would have been better off leaving her out of the climax, though, particularly since the way we never see her face toward the end makes me think the actress who played her earlier in the film wasn't even present.)

I think with one more draft of the script before filming started--to get rid of some of the useless characters and subplots, and to tighten up the film's ending to a large degree--Rufus Chafee could have had himself a fantastic first outing as a feature film director. Instead, because of the way the film falls apart in the third act, he's ended up withing something that's at the low end of average.

I hope that Chaffee tries his hand at another feature. Based on the high level of quality here, I suspect he's a creator who learns from his mistakes, and I think a second movie will be much, much better.

I hardly ever say this, but I think Rufus Chaffee is a talent to watch for in the future.