Firstly, I’d just like to say thanks to first time Writer and Director, Cade Saint for reaching out to adamthemoviegod.com to have his film “Grim Reapers” reviewed. Most of the time it’s me chasing up directors and their films, so it’s nice to have a change of pace. Grim Reapers is a Horror/Thriller film set in Alabama, made on an estimated budget of $25,000. Teenager Jay (played by Andrew Wilson Williams), and his two friends CJ and Ashley (played by Andrews brother, Ryan Patrick Williams and young actress Kelsey McDonald), are terrorized by dark, hooded figures while searching for Jay’s missing father at his remote house in the woods. The film also stars Henry Friedman and Cade Saint. Its been a while since I’ve watched a film in the genre with such a heavy element of drama added to the mix. It’s quite a challenge to successfully make a low-budget independent film at the best of times, made even more difficult when you have an inexperienced cast/crew and only a small amount of funding. Other than a quick look at the trailer, I went into Grim Reapers blind, the first time I’ve done that in a while. So how did it all pan out? Have a read and find out.
Audio is one of the most important components, if not the most, when it comes to filming, especially on low-budget projects. In Grim Reapers it’s quite loud and very clear too. On a couple of occasions it borders on peeking out, depending on the urgency of whatever the particular scene is. A majority of the film takes place in the secluded home near the woods, so from a cinematography and camera point of view, it can be difficult to keep things feeling fresh when you’re stuck in one location. Saying that, there were a couple of really nice, slow sequences with some subtle focusing. Kyle (Friedman) Jay’s younger brother, is walking down the passage way of the house, during which the camera calmly follows behind. There’s a sequence inside the barn, Jay hears a noise and decides to climb up a ladder and peak through a trapdoor. All of the editing and camera work throughout that sequence, combined with the condensation seeping off the actors breath made for a very moody progression.
I thought Kelsey’s performance was quite good and she looked almost as cute as Kyle’s little dog (haha). Her character Ashley wasn’t ever properly introduced with any kind of formula but it didn’t hurt the film, as her character was nice and she’s believable in the role. She’s part of what’s probably the best sequence in the film. Ashley navigates the house with a lantern after the power goes out. It was cleverly lit, we got shades of green, blue, and red depending on how she was holding the lantern and it was by far the most atmospheric scene in the film. Unfortunately it was somewhat undone though, as the scene that follows, shakes all over the place while Jay goes frantically searching for her after hearing a scream. There’s very little action in Grim Reapers but during a couple of moments we do get some well-conceived practical effects. Side note, keep your eyes out for the “jump scare” of a different kind.
I’ll begin by talking about some of the technical aspects that could have used some improvement. With the exception of a couple of those sequences I spoke about earlier, the rest of the film was both darkly presented and rapidly cut/edited together. If the overuse of shadows while shooting in a dimly lit house wasn’t hard enough to watch, the scenes occupying a natural and harsh light were. None of the lighting conveyed a clear-cut tone for the film. I went back and forth from thinking there might have been a science fiction encounter element about this, through to asking the inevitable question about psychological manifestations from Jay’s view. That uncertain approach can sometimes work but you have to engage the viewer right from the outset and this one doesn’t. Grim Reapers opening act gives us nothing to go on. It asks the question but doesn’t involve us in any real investigation, there’s no embarking on an adventure or even the allure of multiple sub plots. Although the score was nicely arranged, that style of music was emotionally manipulative and I didn’t think it fit the movie. Being an independent film, you can’t afford to waste time with so many establishing shots, something Grim Reapers is guilty of. A lot of the camera work frames the cast to close and when your shooting a lot of handheld footage it becomes a problem. Throughout most of film, the camera can be seen moving up and down, leading me to believe a tripod wasn’t used as much as it should have been.
As previously stated, there was an effective sequence involving Ashley, unfortunately what followed was a frantic Jay searching for her as we, the audience, try to deal with a sudden nauseating feeling the camera work is giving us. The dynamic of brothers Jay and Kyle is the linchpin the film’s potential for success rests on, sadly I wasn’t sold on the chemistry between Williams and Friedman. From the moment young Henry as “Kyle”, communicates with his silky terrier, to outwardly expresses his regret for having spoken poorly to his brother, it lost me. The fact there was a need to essentially narrate his frame of mind, like the audience wouldn’t read between the lines was a bit insulting. There’s a way to show motivation and predisposition but it’s not like that. We don’t need to go through the thought process in its entirely to come to a logical conclusion. Henry has next to no experience and unfortunately it shows. It’s somewhat forgivable because he only really has the shell of a character to work with. In the second half of the film he doesn’t even get any screen time, nor is he referred to again for the better part of 30 minutes. Maybe nothing interesting was happening to him during that time but it couldn’t have been as uneventful as what our group of three were doing, or not doing as so happens.
Segueing me perfectly into the protagonist Jay. He’s very suddenly introduced into the film, with no clear-cut reason to be at his fathers isolated house. He spends the next half of the film moping around or arguing with Kyle, there’s no urgency or frustration occupying his thinking. There’s no authentic vibe between the brothers, or if there is, there’s not enough time spent establishing it. Once the real life brother Ryan, who plays CJ finally shows up, Andrew starts to find his feet and project a little something. Still, he’s bogged down with CJ and Ashley who don’t necessarily believe anything has really happened to Jay’s dad, after all there’s no evidence of foul play. The situation doesn’t alarm CJ in the slightest, as he basically tells Jay he thinks death has come for their whole family. Don’t panic though because it won’t take CJ he’s “too cute”, as he often reminds us. You’d definitely never say something like that to a supposed “friend” given the situation. Unless Saint is trying to make us hate the kid, there’s no point to dialogue like that and that’s just one of many fluff lines. The three sit around for what feels like an eternity, procrastinating how to go about finding Jay’s dad. The idea they settle on is so mind boggling and idiotic that I couldn’t fathom it. Combine it with the moment Jay tries to pull CJ in line, after another one of his immature comments saying “My dad could be out there dead or bleeding and you’re saying stuff like that”. Dead or bleeding? Firstly, it’s not a great line to include anyway but secondly, shouldn’t it be the other way around? Instead of insinuating bleeding is worse than death, now I know that wasn’t the intention but it’s how it ends up coming across.
The fathers sudden disappearance makes the news, yet none of the authorities come out to investigate, nor do they speak to Jay who was the last person to see him alive. Jay and Kyle’s mother could have fit into the film somehow, and probably should have. I would’ve forgiven the fact no police or investigators got involved if Jay had of investigated himself at some point, but alas. The group spend so much time questioning what may, or may not have happened without researching a thing. I was hoping Cade would have included some practical clues along the way, something, anything to make it feel realistic. Jay even briefly talks about ghosts or demons but how on earth would he know what actually happened? His dad could have helped someone in trouble and got himself in trouble in the process. He might have met another woman and ran off, anything’s possible, isn’t it? Yet somehow he jumps to those conclusions, it doesn’t make much sense. The two key factors that can make or break a film like this are suspense and character development. Unfortunately only one sequence carried some suspense and the rest fell by the wayside. The film’s biggest hindrance is the total lack of substance in resembling character arc or plot development. With such a focus on drama, whether that be intentionally or unintentionally, a film trying to be carried by three young actors with limited experience is always going to be up against it.
Grim Reapers is the type of film I dread having to critique, the only saving grace is you live and learn and hopefully grow with time. A first time filmmakers execution of clear audio shows some good signs. A couple of well put together sequences, a nice young female actress and some practical effects just aren’t close to enough for this viewer. It’s marketed as a Horror but I found it completely void of tension and most, if not all the plot details were very unclear. In all honesty, the core idea barely has enough story to warrant a film. This sub standard of acting is to be expected when the writing isn’t great but I still have hope for this young cast in the future. I wasn’t overly entertained and I left with nothing more than I had before going in. I’m sure there’s an audience for Grim Reapers it’s just not me.
My rating for “Grim Reapers” is 3/10