Saturday, July 15, 2017

Review: The Acid Sorcerer

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

The Acid Sorcerer
Written, produced, directed and edited by Dakota Bailey
R.A. Productions
50 minutes, 2017

They say (whoever they are) that when you find something you’re good at, stick with it. With this being Dakota Bailey’s third feature, he’s doing just that. He has found a pretty unique (at this point) niche of reality that can scare the viewer, but not because of the supernatural but more because of a vision of life. If the past year has shown anything, Americans are capable of doing just about anything, even if it’s against their own self-interest. Bailey’s view is that to the extreme, at what most would probably consider the lower rungs of the social contract ladder.

Bailey has his formula, with title card introductions for characters or “stories” (all of which intermingle in a porous way) about drug dealers, prostitutes, hired killers, serial killers, and essentially the kind of people that fascinate when reading about on the paper or seeing on the big (or small) screen, but not necessarily someone whom you would want to share breathing space.

Mostly filmed in black and white, there is the occasional smattering of psychedelic color tones thrown in to represent alternative realities due to illicit substances. The atmosphere is stabbed by the soundtrack by metal band Ramesses. As this all unfolds, we are introduced to the characters one by one, and shudder.

Dakota Bailey as Smoke
There is no real past tense in this film, there is only whatever is happening in the moment, and the people act accordingly and usually impulsively. Also, there is no real need for character exposition to know that you cross the other side of the street when you see them. Bailey touches that instinctual, repulsed side of the average viewer: you don’t need to learn, just intuitively know.

There is also an unexpected, philosophical touch to the film, as it acknowledges its own inner darkness, as well as those as the characters. It’s a chilling and nihilistic view of a nearly claustrophobic group of people whose lives are revolving around the seven deadlies, and it’s hard to see past that, even when one character, a drug user named Crawdad (Darien Fawkes, who is also AD on the film), mentions a glimmer of hope at one point. Religion tries to open some light, but that door quickly slams shut.

The weird thing – and what makes Bailey a force on the rise – is that despite (or perhaps because of) the despicableness of those who infest the film, the viewer kinda wants to know what happens to them. For some of them, that feeling goes beyond the time length of the actual story. I promise, I won’t give away much.

While there isn’t any central character because the story is so episodic and scene driven, our introduction is with Smoke (played by Bailey). Not only is he a drug using… okay, I’m gonna stop there for a sec… let me suffice it to say that just about everyone in the story is a drug user. Okay, getting back, Smoke is a bit of a schizophrenic, or perhaps one via shooting up or through acid flashbacks. His “other” is the cloaked and appropriately named Leach, urging Smoke to be a serial killer, ridding anyone who is perceived in his way. Leach is the demon on his shoulder urging him on, without the aid of the angel on the other side. Of course, this is merely a reflection of his own drug-induced id taken shape… or is it something more sinister?

Nick Benning is Nikki
Other major characters include Crawdad and his pregnant meth-addicted girlfriend Vermina (Natasha Morgan), a cross-dressing sadistic snuff filmmaker Nikki (Nick Benning), a truly nasty drug dealer who likes to see his clients suffer named Eyevin (Brian Knapp), and an HIV-positive prostitute named Ecstasy (Selene Velveteen). Most are not going to fare very well in this lifestyle.

The film is literally littered with death, as we watch the characters interact with each other behind a wall of ego, masculinist posturing (in most cases), the urge of desire and need, and trying to figure out how to survive the present moment.

Part of what makes it all so compelling is that it feels like the dialog is ad libbed, as if it were actual people talking to (or at) each other. Mostly they’re lost in their own altered minds, awash in whatever substance is available, especially ego. Since most of the characters fumble through their lives in the realities that exist in their own heads, Bailey wisely has them verbalize their thoughts, to let us wussy straight-edgers know what is happening to them, such as (as this is not a direct quote), “Ha! Look at that guy! Can you believe it!?”

The film is visually dark, as are Bailey’s previous works, but thanks to it not being as grainy, it is a bit easier to see, especially since most of the action happens at night. Yeah, the acting is occasionally either stiff or over the top, but if you think about it, we all tend to do that; we’re just not used to seeing it on the screen.

This does for Denver, what Taxi Driver (1976) did for New York City: it focuses on the seedy, the dirty and the back alleys, where the denizens of the story would likely live, rather than the posh side of the city most people know from previous cinema. If you have walked down the central street in downtown Denver, with its book stores, its restaurants and watering holes and the sudden proliferation of weed shops, you would not recognize the city from these perspectives, both literally and figuratively.

There is a mention on IMDB about Bailey that states, “he does not think of himself as a director or an actor just a film fan who is making the kind of movies he wants to see and he never went to film school.” Yeah, you can tell. And I’m grateful for it because he has his own voice that I don’t see elsewhere, and would not want to see it “directed” through someone else’s vision of what cinema is supposed to be. The fact that none of the actors in this film are professionals but actually friends tells a lot. Sure, I’d like to see a larger female presence in this films (two out of eight here), but hopefully that will come over time.

If I could make any suggestions of help it would be twofold: first, to get some more practice in tone corrections to make the films a bit lighter and easier to see considering the many night scenes. The second would be in sound as sometimes the voices are a bit hard to hear over the ambient street noise. I fully acknowledge that it makes it more real (better than overdubbing the voices, that’s for certain), it’s just that a couple of times I had to back the film up to be able to make out what is being said. These are both minor bits, and it’s pretty obvious that on many levels, Bailey is a natural. And I’m not just saying that because I’m mentioned in the Thanks section at the end.

There is an interesting interview short on YouTube of some of the actors in the piece that’s also worth seeking out.

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