So, as a one off aside to my (now on hiatus) normal reviews, I was called upon to review a short film by one of the people on the Instagram horror community: independent filmmaker Gelsomina De Lucia, AKA @wanderingchildxo on Instagram. Alex is her first film that was made with no support from University or Professional companies. It was made completely independently….in her back garden. First off, I would like to state a disclaimer for this review: yes, I did take part in the making of this film as my voice is featured in the final product, and yes, Gelsomina is a good friend of mine. However, like IHE to Hunt Down The Freeman, I will not let my personal inclusion into the project scupper an honest review of said project.
Alex is a very, very low budget short movie about an apocalypse scenario: a story about two female characters – Our titular Alex and her friend/partner-in-survival Peaches – trying to survive against an apocalypse of beast-like creatures that exist in the outside world, with allusions to an infection that spreads between monsters and man. However, what makes this movie stand out from the usual cataclysmic scenario, is that Alex is much more than a simple apocalypse story. The film uses it’s setting to draw upon a more inward struggle between the two main characters and the stress and strain of daily life that in turn puts stress and strain upon their relationship. Whilst horror plays a huge part of the film’s themes, with intense sequences consisting of Alex hiding from the monsters outside, the majority of the film focuses on the dramatic relationship between Alex and Peaches in this new hellhole that has been pushed upon them. The horror elements in Alex bounce off the protagonists in a way to provide context for their relationship, much like in Shaun Of The Dead or A Snake Of June, and it’s quite effective in practice, adding a new dimension to the characters.
What’s interesting to note about this film is that, unlike a traditional no budget film, many of the scenes of movie play out in silence, avoiding expositional dialogue and allowing the awkward and uncomfortable physical interactions between the two main characters play out centre stage, unlike the usual exposition that would come from a film that contains an apocalypse narrative. Alex is a film that draws the story inward to these two characters instead of focusing on how the world came to be the way it is. Whilst silence in horror is mainly used for atmospheric reasons, the silence in Alex is used as a representation of the emotions of the main characters, and it paints a realistic picture of a relationship strained to its uncomfortable borders without the use of melodrama and theatrics. I feel that Alex is a film that sets out to transcend the traditional cataclysm storyline, and bring it back down to the human level similar to films such as The Road, and in my opinion, the ideas and story behind the film does that quite efficiently in a very short space of time.
Of course, in order to pull off an emotional story, one must have the acting performances to deliver that emotional impact, and although Alex was created on such a small budget, the acting prowess is nonetheless powerful. The actresses themselves are emotive, showing anger, frustration, and silent tension throughout the film that explodes halfway through. Whilst it isn’t a film where the actresses push themselves physically, it is clear that they understand the emotional drain of their characters, thus culminating in some very tense interactions between the two characters, especially during the film’s second act where the emotional tension absolutely breaks, and it’s a powerful scene to witness.
In terms of technicality, the look of the film is absolutely striking. The use of bold colors against a grey backdrop allows a gut-punch of aesthetics whenever colour is shown on-screen, such as blood, or the harsh contrast of natural color whenever the film is set outside versus the grey backdrop of the interior shots. The cinematography is professionally crisp-clear in quality and very inventive, what with the use of natural lighting that frames the earlier scenes. The editing, however, is where the true horror rears its ugly face. The sound design is fantastically effective as the beasts are only represented through sounds such as growling and scratching, not visuals, thus leaving the image of the monsters to the viewer’s imagination. However, with the pervasive nature of the sounds of growling and scratching, it truly represents the monsters as a viable threat, creating uncomfortable tension and moments of horror in scenes where Alex hides from the beasts. The way the film is edited as well also adds to the effectiveness of the horror. Alex is not a film that’s edited in a traditional way, instead the editing is more creative than just showing scene after scene in a linear way. Multiple hard cuts and peculiar timings build tension throughout the film’s more tense scenes, however, in contrast, the film’s slower scenes which focus on the relationship between the two main characters allow the tension to play out uncomfortably, mirroring the relationship that these two characters have.
The one thing that does strike me about this film, however, is the incredibly low budget that the film was made on. Alex is a film that does what it can with its limitations, but nonetheless the limitations do ‘limit’ the film. There’s clearly an interesting idea and intention that lies within the story, but budget limitations give the film an inexperienced look, and whilst this is not the film-maker’s fault as they worked very well with the limitations that were presented to them (much like Lars Von Trier and the amateurish Dogville) it would be interesting to see how this film would have fared with a higher budget that included such things as professional quality special effects, lighting, and high budget set design to bring an audience more into this apocalyptic world overrun by beasts. As such, we only see the main characters in quite a clean backdrop with only allusions as to the state of the world outside, and whilst the outside world is not the focus of the story, seeing the ruined state of the outside world effected by the coming of the beasts would give an audience even more clarity as to Alex and Peaches daily struggles. Like I say, this isn’t a major detriment to the film, as the film has many positive qualities already that stand out, but it does limit the possibilities of what can be shown on screen, and whilst watching it I pondered about the possibilities of this story being played out with a larger budget behind it, one that can truly show the apocalyptic world this film is set in.
However, despite budget limitations, Alex is still a very good short film at heart. It shows a lot of promise in the director as she displays a particular style that contrasts to many horror short films freely available on the internet. Her style throws away the conventional and introduces creativity that one doesn’t usually see in traditional horror shorts, and there’s more in this film than can be found in more famous horror shorts such as Papa Wrestling or My Sweet Satan. The film comes out officially on the 19th April (a full moon, might I add), so keep an eye on @wanderingchildxo’s Instagram page, but I definitely recommend watching this and supporting the creator because this film shows a lot of promise in her creativity that I hope flows well into her later works.