Firstly, I’d just like to thank Co-Writers/Directors, Nick Lawrence and Rachel Tucker, for allowing me access to an online screener of “Shades”, their entirely POV (point of view) shot thriller. Shades is a low-budget, independent film about three young tourists on vacation in LA. Gavin (played by CJ Natoli) purchases a pair of sunglasses with a built-in camera, in order to record the trio’s adventure, however, the group inadvertently get mixed up in a drug deal gone wrong. The film also stars Stephen Goodman, Leland Montgomery, Lindsey Newell, Jeff Sinclair and Rachel Tucker. The found footage avenue continues to spark debate among critics and well… movie goers in general. To be fair, Shades isn’t really a found footage film, the situation is playing out in real-time instead of being presented as previously recorded footage. Though a majority of people won’t spot the differences between a POV film and a found footage one, rest assured they’re there. What was initially stamped a gimmick, especially after “The Blair Witch Project” in 99′, has since become one of the most popular stylistic approaches. I’m not like the public, who are often overly critical of these types of films, instead, I acknowledge that self funded filmmakers are doing it tough and for the most part, they have to choose a cost-effective way of production (unless of course you’re holding out for financial backing). In the end, I think it’s clearly the lack of funding for indie films that drives this type of format.
For some, the format may have already become tiresome long ago but don’t let the low-budget exterior, turn you off of what’s a pretty fresh and entertaining script from Lawrence and Tucker. In the words of Taylor Swift, “Haters gonna hate.. hate hate hate.. hate” (well.. you get the point). Despite what you’ve been led to believe this sub-genre is all about, it takes balls and in this case the female equivalent as well, to choose this approach for a Crime/Thriller. Let’s be honest, most of what you see in this trend are paranormal based films. The consensus is, if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. I don’t know that I fully agree with that, like anything, all it takes is one to stand out and make you reassess your opinion on the whole concept. Shades has its three clearly defined acts. First, the introduction to Gavin, Seth (Goodman) and Michael (Montgomery), our trio of tourists from Oklahoma, who are headed for the sunny beaches of Los Angeles. The second act consists of a random encounter with the lovely Viv (played by Rachel Tucker herself) and Chris (Jeff Sinclair), an older gentlemen who asks the guys for a favor. The final act sees Michael’s soon to be wife, Heather (Newell) arrive to surprise the guys, all the while they’re dealing with a situation that has now reached boiling point.
The audio levels are nice and crisp and most of the camera work is well conceived, given the meager budget and shooting technique of course. The film only runs 71 minutes, which helps to keep everything rolling along nicely. I knew the basic premise but a couple of specifics in the writing toward the end, kept me very intrigued. The strongest aspect in Nick and Rachel’s film is the natural chemistry and dynamic between the cast. Prior to watching the film, I made the conscious decision to not go searching for information on these filmmakers or their friends (assuming their friends). Chemistry’s a funny thing on independent projects, because often you’ll find the cast aren’t necessarily fantastic actors/actresses but if they’re friends, or people you know and trust, things tend to click better than they rightfully should. This cast all seemed to work well together and gave off the vibe that they’re all friends in real life (which I’m sure is the case). On top of that, they seemed to be playing themselves, no one was trying extra hard and everyone remained pretty likable (a hard thing to do). Some of the minor, secondary characters didn’t offer up a lot but leads in Goodman, Montgomery and Natoli were all good. Lindsey Newell was the surprise packet for me, only in the sense that I hadn’t seen her before (even though she’s done plenty of shorts). All the urgency of the situation emerges through her interactions with the boys, who in turn probably needed to meet her halfway from a realism point of view.
On the technical front there’s not a lot wrong here. The only thing I’d suggest was perhaps a better attempt to limit unnecessary movement. The sunglasses are firmly planted on Gavin’s nose for the biggest chunk of the movie, just so happens he’s the guy with the most amount of energy. Even when the guys are just walking around, site seeing and chatting, things do become a bit pointlessly shaky. I’m about to contradict myself when it comes to wanting a stabilized display, by saying I wish the film had a little more action and a lot more suspense. It’s set all during the day time and the only real stretch of action has little build up and is over before you can blink. The decision to limit the conflict meant less chance of turning viewers off but by the same token, you still want to keep people engaged for the entire duration. I think in the end it works both equally for and against the film.
Goodman’s attempt at being stern, wavered slightly during a scene where the boys contemplate heading back home before things escalate. Even during the final act, the trio don’t seem that shocked by what they’ve gotten themselves into. Surely if you were to get yourself in a situation like that, it would be your worst nightmare, you’d try to call someone or something. They don’t ever really convey a true sense of fear, nor an understanding of the severity of the situation or react as you might think they would. On the whole, the group makes sound decisions which is a nice change of pace. My only criticism was that they return to what looks like the same spot on the beach where they were when they first met Chris… maybe go somewhere else guys, especially if you’re trying not to be found. I might have been taking notes and just missed it but I never saw what happened to Heather either, so just a minor continuity issue there (I think).
Shades is just Lawrence’s second outing, not to mention Rachel’s first. These two have written an entertaining and rather fresh script centering on the whole “wrong place, wrong time” plight. The audio is surprisingly loud for a found footage (or POV film), the camera work is above average and the story has some fun particulars. The best aspect was this natural and likeable cast. They deliver some very solid performances, holding them in good stead for future work. I can’t help but think the film might have benefited from some more action, as well as the writers opting to continue this chase into the night, so as to better build suspense. There’s a handful of small gripes I had with the writing and a couple of things I probably missed while trying to take it all in but most of what I saw, I liked. Shades is definitely a welcome change from what is usually stock standard, paranormal POV stuff that continue to line our shelves month after month. As far as the re-watch ability factor goes, the jury’s still out on that but one thing I can say, is keep an eye out for these young filmmakers in the future. Speaking of POV films, my review of the first entirely POV action film, “Hardcore Henry” is on its way soon!
My review for “Shades” is 6.5/10