THE WRONG FLOOR
Firstly, I just want to say thank you to brothers Marc and Carl Hamill (Marc who Co-Wrote and Directed the film and Carl who was a script editor), for allowing me early access to an online screener of their Action/Crime film, “The Wrong Floor”. The Wrong Floor is a micro- budget throwback to those cheesy B movies of the 70’s and 80’s. Action films that blend Sci-fi elements were all the rage back then, you know the ones about experimental drugs and shady corporate enterprises etc etc. In the fictional town of Haven Port City, Danny Green (played by Carl himself) is a young man investigating the disappearance of his Father, who was once a groundbreaking scientist. Danny takes a security job at the research facility his father worked at, in the hopes of finding some answers. He discovers the manufacturing of a green drug called “Haze”, the problem is so does everyone else. Gangsters, Toxic hobos, Secret agents, Desperado chavs, Street thugs, Mad scientists and A news reporter are just a few factions that cross paths in this mash-up of genres. The film also stars Heather Percival, M.J Simpson, Ron Hamill, Shane Buckley, David Hardware, Tom Robinson and Chris Postlethwaite. This is the first full length feature from Marc Hamill.
Alright, let’s get straight into it. The hand sketched poster art for The Wrong Floor looks fantastic. There are some truly talented people out there and it’s great to see work like this on display, so kudos to graphic artist Thomas Hodge. There’s a guy called Devon Whitehead doing this style of poster art in the US so if you like it check it out. I like that the exploitation nod here is quite concealed. The brothers approach to that device still shines through but all the while still being presented quite modernly. It feels like a throwback to films like “Savage Streets” and even the early “Class Of Nuke Em High”. The Wrong Floor’s main plot point involving a mysterious and mind bending drug is clearly inspired by the more recent Grindhouse, indie flick “Hobo With A Shotgun”. Things begin on a positive note, with the combination of retro style credits and a super 80’s/90’s video game esq song to accompany them. The credits were presented in bright pink, much the same as the early films of John Hughes. A couple of the main locations are conferred through early establishing shots as we’re introduced to Danny almost immediately.
The estimated budget for The Wrong Floor was just $4,500, keeping in mind this is an 87 minute film and not a short.. so it’s not a great sum of money by any stretch of the imagination. I’m pleased to be able to say that the production value looks surprisingly high. I estimated the film’s budget at $10,000- $20,000, so the boys really got good bang for their buck. Most of the shots are nicely framed and all the camera movements are pretty smooth. I liked the odd zoom and clever focus shots that were placed throughout, as well as all the lighting. It was a smart decision to set most, if not all of this film during the day especially because on such a small amount of money you can’t afford to pay experienced gaffers and grips. The Wrong Floor is all about its music, 80’s synth music to be precise. Ninety percent of the score is made up of retro style, 80’s synth tracks pumping through the speakers and I loved it. Nicolas Winding Refn uses it perfectly in his films “Drive” and “Only God Forgives” more recently the style can be heard in films like “The Guest” and “Turbo Kid”. This soundtrack is every bit as impressive as the aforementioned films.
With a cast of over 150 people, some of who play multiple roles it can be difficult to keep track of who you’re watching and in what role. So here’s what I will say, Carl Hamill reminded me of a slimmer and younger Nick Frost (think Hot Fuzz). That Danny Butterman, kind of likable goof and because of that his character was the most interesting. His performance wasn’t perfect but he was relatively consistent in all of his scenes, the same cannot be said for some of the other cast members. My two favorite scenes in the film involved Mr Marcais (Ron Hamill), whose a gambler/crime boss of sorts. There’s one sequence that takes place in Spain, at Marcais’s palace overlooking the sea and another that involved a cool explosion of squibs using some nice effects. Firstly I’m impressed they shot the scene on location in Costa Blanca (which for a micro-budget movie is already impressive). Secondly, the cinematography and shot choices during that part highlight the films aesthetic professionalism. Marcais was a bastard character but entertaining all the same and Ron did a decent job in the role.
There’s a few basic things within the technical aspects that aren’t perfect but given that it’s a micro-budget film and a first full length feature some of it can be forgiven. The audio is crystal clear but there’s a huge amount of ADR (additional dialogue recording), in fact nearly the entire film. I’m going to assume most of the locations that were used weren’t audio friendly. You get varying results with natural audio depending on what sort of equipment you use. If you’re interested in low-budget film making you learn to read between the lines and look for reasons why filmmakers choose certain options. A lot of cameras don’t have high quality audio built on board and therefore if you don’t use boom mics and good quality gear so much of it can end up unusable. I’m going to assume that’s what happened with The Wrong Floor. On a positive note, at least you can hear everything properly even if it was all re-recorded in post. Some of the sound effects are a little punchy and don’t necessarily compliment the specific actions. There’s a bunch of scenes that feel cut off early and some continuity issues in transitioning scenes but those are common errors when you have limited time and resources.
The Wrong Floor has a lot of stale dialogue and most of the interactions feel unnatural and that’s the biggest problem. The first act introduces way to many characters before you’ve even got your bearings on whose who and what’s going on in relation to the criminal activity, the corrupt corporation and your one or two key characters. While your busy figuring out how it all relates you get another handful of players come along, some who arrive for a scene or two and others who end up becoming main characters, it’s all a bit of a mess. Simply put, there’s just too many characters. After chatting a bit with Marc I got some insight into his vision for the film and what he hoped to carry out versus what he did carry out. This film is the epitome of a collaboration. A lot of people put in plenty of time and effort to see it come to life, so I understand to a degree why there’s so much going on unfortunately I think it’s going to hurt the film and leave people a little confused though. Everything is pretty scattered for the first thirty minutes, relatively plain and uneventful then there’s a sudden shift in tone but without the urgency needed. The entire film is slow to progress and when some much-needed action should be induced it’s not. Instead they opted to introduce another set of characters, over complicating what should-be a simple formula.
You don’t feel any of the concern or panic surrounding what may or may not have happened to Danny’s dad. He doesn’t seem to be in much distress or at least no time is spent trying to convey it and considering all the things he doesn’t know about the situation, you’d expect more of a reaction. A majority of the secondary characters have little to no arc and in turn the acting comes off as pretty ordinary. Keep in mind a lot of the cast have no experience and on low-budget films you don’t usually have the money to afford professionals so you work with what you’ve got. A lot of these actors/actresses don’t have much to work with but what they do present us with falls well short of the mark. Heather Percival plays Heather herself (haha), an employee of the research facility and someone Danny begins something of a relationship with. This girl had a tough time. Her performance was disappointing, she had promise as the next most relatable character in the film but couldn’t manage to sell me on her fear, concern or desperation and when those things fail and that’s all you’ve got, Where to from there? Same went for M.J Simpson playing Dr Logan, the leading scientist at the facility. I couldn’t seem him commanding anyone’s attention. His requests and orders toward others was delivered without any vigor. Most of the other minor characters suffer from similar shortcomings.
The Wrong Floor is a tricky one to critique. It’s one of those B movies bound to divide audiences. First and foremost, to get any enjoyment out of a film like this you have to understand the filmmakers intent. It’s aimed at a very specific demographic and although I enjoy a good Exploitation/throwback, I’m cautious about them. The Hamill Bros film get’s plenty of key factors right. The poster art, the films core story (if you strip it back) and most of the technical aspects are all surprisingly well executed especially taking into account the experience levels and minuscule budget. There’s a couple of cool sequences involving Marcais and you have to take your hat off to these boys for traveling to Spain to shoot what was a very brief scene when they could have avoided it and settled on a ham-fisted end edit. The highlight of the film for me though was the nostalgic 80’s/90’s synth score, I could listen to that stuff all day, totally dug it! A good number of the nitpicky, technical things I can probably let slide. Sadly the stiffly delivered dialogue, mediocre performances and inclusion of way too many characters are three of the key things that I just can’t ignore. There’s failure almost right across the board when delivering realistic and appropriate reactions to anything and everything in the film. Obviously the script has to wear some of the blame because after all, the cast can only work with what they’ve got and in this case it’s not much. Even with all the criticisms I still take my hat off to these boys and their DIY approach. Not everyone is cut out for guerrilla film making and although the result is far from perfect I’m sure they learnt a lot and can hopefully apply that in their next venture. Fans of the genre should still take a look, maybe you’ll find something I couldn’t.
My rating for “The Wrong Floor” is 4.5/10