All I Need (Review)

all i need image

ALL I NEED

THE SETUP

Firstly I’d just like to start by thanking Dylan K. Narang, Writer and Director of the brand new Horror/Thriller film “All I Need” for allowing me early access to an online screener. I saw it was currently circling film festivals around the United States and quickly received a reply from Dylan. All I Need weaves parallel story lines that involve a desperate man named Andrew (played by Markus Taylor from the underrated Zombie flick “Deadheads”), whose down on his luck and having trouble supporting his teenage daughter. At the same time a young woman (played by the beautiful Caitlin Stasey), is trying to escape a motel room her and several other girls have been imprisoned in by a mysterious killer. The film also stars Rachel Melvin (“Dumb and Dumber To” and “Zombeavers”), Leah McKendrick, Sorel Carradine and Holly Twyford. This is the first full length feature from Dylan Narang.

THE GOOD

The poster art is very 80’s. That hand drawn technique is all the rage at the moment and it looks great. On the surface All I Need appears to have a feel of something like “The Collector”. Depicting that brutish figure standing outside the door, weapon in hand you’d probably expect a bloodbath some of you might be disappointed to know that’s not the case here. The basis of the story is rather conventional but I don’t mind that, it’s not real clear if the path’s of Andrew and our unknown “final girl” (listed on IMDb as “Chloe”) will cross, and that’s probably due to some odd placement in the plot progression. You assume with a film like this it’s just a matter of time before there’s an encounter but that’s not always the case. The film gently fades in, identifying our mystery girl slowly coming too and quite clearly distressed. The setup and opening frames are reminiscent of the original “Saw”, it was nice to be thrust straight into the turmoil for once. The camera work is unbelievably personal, paying particular attention to every nuance the talented Caitlin Stasey presents us with. There are a multitude of different shot choices and most are effective. Some are taken from the floor, faintly through an overhanging bed sheet showing the killers work boots as he enters the room, others are aerial shots through a vent in the ceiling shaft. Given most of the story takes place in one location resembling a motel room, it’s a satisfying visage. The dialogue audio was nice and clear and the sound effects built adequately. Most of the score was fairly generic but the subtle uses of sharp violin were productive, played to great effect when the girls are weighing up how much time they think they have to escape before the mystery man comes back.

A photo from Production

A photo from Production

As I already touched on, the production value and interesting visuals are to be lauded given this is a one or two location, minimal character type of film. The motel set was well dressed and had the appropriate amount of attention to detail. A Dilapidated bathroom with squalid walls and patchwork, old and stained carpet and tattered bedding in which any number of girls probably slept in are just a few examples of that. A majority of Narang’s film is also set during the daytime making it an extremely easy watch. Although it takes the potential away for any real surprise element it gives a different and sharper aesthetic appeal. Andrew is introduced to the story quite abruptly, he’s seen running late for work and its inferred that he gets fired. With bills and child support payments mounting up, his wife on his back about taking responsibility for his life, he’s given the opportunity to solve all his problems but it will come at a cost. After an unmarked package is dropped at his apartment door, Andrew begins conversing on the phone with a mystery man who offers him a delivery job if he wants it. On the surface it all sounds easy but there’s more to the job than meets the eye. Taylor does a solid job of bringing a certain amount of empathy towards Andrew considering we don’t get any interactions between him and his daughter, nothing to solidify their bond. Unfortunately there’s a lengthy period in the opening act of the film where he’s not cited, leaving us to put two and two together regarding the delivery job. Did he have a face to face interaction with the man? Did he find out if there was a particular reason he was chosen? Why didn’t he question the situation?

Another still from the production

Another still from the production

Cailin Stasey is by far in a way the best thing about All I Need (not just saying that because I’m a fellow Aussie). I previously saw her in “Tomorrow When The War Began” and “Evidence”, I wasn’t a huge fan of either film but her performances kept me interested. She’s a gorgeous and talented young actress who delivers an honest and believable performance as our nameless heroin. One thing I’ve noticed in her performances is that she doesn’t overact, occasionally things are slightly underplayed such as her transformation between molds in this film but she can only do so much with the writing. It’s the little things she does that are great, a balance of frustrating whimper to muffled scream, the look of fear in her eyes and even the trepidation in taking action are all realistic reactions to have in a situation like this and she does them well. I’m glad she’s getting plenty of work in the genre because it definitely suits her, great stuff.

THE BAD

Other than its slow-burn pacing most of the issues with All I Need are centered around a few specific choices in the writing, as well as some stretches in the story. Even with a running time of only 85 minutes many of its sequences drag, failing to add anything extra to the scene or a desired effect. Right from the opening frames of Chloe struggling to get her restraints off, through to some of the extended gawking done by a couple of victims early on who aren’t even really looking at anything, it’s all quite slow. Even a choking scene in the finale which always acts as the payoff for everything you’ve seen up until that point, manages to overstay its welcome. The dilemma is knowing how much to prolong a scene in order to balance the build up and suspense all the while keeping the audience entertained. The opportunity to build suspense was there but it’s stifled because of the unnecessarily long takes. There’s a sequence where the killer is trying to get through a door while Chloe and another girl are trying to get up into the ceiling vent. Now there’s a TV cabinet blocking most of the door, so the madman is slowly trying to bridge a gap between it and the door so he can get through, all the while Chloe is doing her best to drag the other girl up into the ceiling. What started out as a “Shit, is he going to get her, quick hurry go” reaction, quickly turned to “Is this thing going to be on all week” and that’s just one of many lengthy sequences.

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Not only does the aforementioned scene lose its suspense, you’d think the killer would try to get in the shaft himself. I suppose you could argue that he’s too big and she’s got nowhere to go which is why he decides to attack Chloe from underneath instead. To top it off, the frames that follow foreshadow the blood dripping from Chloe’s shoulder seeping through the small holes in the vent and let the killer know he connected. She also takes a while to realize there’s a vent in the room in the first place but somehow manages to slide a fairly weighty cabinet across the room to block the door. The killer whose three times her size takes an eternity to push against the door from the opposite side to move it out-of-the-way. The climax surrounding Andrew’s character arc was an intriguing one. Although somewhat predictable, the little extra twist in the film’s final moments made for a nice touch in what was otherwise a fairly straight forward finish. Unfortunately the motive behind the entire situation holds no real weight. We learn so little about the “puppet-master” so if there’s nothing to go on other than a bit of convenient exposition it makes it hard to feel their plight. Stasey’s heroin is clearly the most interesting thing about the film yet she never feels like the anchor. We don’t learn a single thing about her other than she has a lot of determination but for all that she’s still a great protagonist to watch, I just wish we knew something, anything.

A great still shot of the Bathroom set.

A great still shot of the Bathroom set.

All I Need has a fair bit going for it but never enough to truly separate itself from middle standing. The contrasting camera work, bright lighting, minimal locations and accurate set design all make it a visual triumph. There’s some effective use of violin and the opposing story lines are inviting enough on their own but sadly they never come together with any pertinence. Caitlin Stasey’s performance was as good as they come and I thoroughly enjoyed watching her in a battle of wits with her captor. If it was only the plodding and  slow-burn nature holding this back that wouldn’t be a problem, but a combination of rather thin plot points, overly lengthy scenes and predictable plot revelations make All I Need a safe course. More relevant story development, shorter scenes and others replaced with key details plus a much more comprehensive story arc for our beautiful/engrossing lead girl would have made this much more memorable. Despite its shortcomings I’d still recommend checking this one out, it remains an entertaining 85 minutes and I look forward to seeing what Narang does next.

My rating for “All I Need” is 5.5/10

 

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