SWEET MALICEProduced by Lisa Robiechaud, Andrew Sawyer, and Andrew Shanley
Directed by Andrew Sawyer
Written by Andrew Sawyer, Andrew Shanley, and Thomas Pimentel
An ancient tome, withered and worn with age, thuds to the ground. The cover opens and unseen spectral flip the pages stopping on the table of contents. It's a image we've all seen before. One that's almost iconic in horror cinema to the point of cliche, but, it's also one I find especially endearing since it embodies everything I've come to think of as "horror." It's the documented evil that's been around long before our grandfather's grandfathers, and will be around long after our grandchildren's grandchildren, taunting us with pain and suffering. It's the prophecies warning us of depravity to come. It's the document of the devilish deeds men are capable of. It's also the image that opens Andy Sawyer's shortfilm collection SWEET MALICE.
Horror is a strange cinema. You can break down the subgenres into 50 different categories, but they all can be summed up into either the supernatural (ghosts, demons), the psychological (man vs. himself), or the physical (man vs. man/nature, ie. slashers, zombies, or various monsters). That book dropping can represent any one of the those, and then some. It's the perfect embodiment of "horror."
With his short films Andy is equally as all-encompassing with his vision. He blends the assorted sub-genres and plays up the various conventions. The shorts that work bring fresh spins to classic scenarios. Those that falter rarely do so not because they aren't unique, but because they're not developed enough. They're moments found in larger movies lacking the story to function on their own.
"Botzomin" is the earliest example of Sawyer's schizophrenic storytelling. The classic images are present. The ominous phone call. The long driving sequence...looooooong driving sequence (so long that at one point I forgot why the woman left the house in the first place and had to rewind just to remind myself). There's the masked killer and indifferent police. After such a strong opening visual, the story fails to live up to the tone. Sawyer has the groundwork for a decent slasher picture with an interesting looking killer in the Botzomin character, but the short lacks purpose, point, or punch.
At first "September House" seems as lazy as "Botzomin" as the camera follows a woman through her house as John Carpenter-like music plays. She falls to her death down a set of stairs, or does she? An identical woman arises from bed at the exact same moment. Was it a dream? The opening shot of a clock, another iconic horror image, takes meaning as it becomes clear that neither chronology or linear structure mean little. The audience only knows what it sees.
"Sin" opens with a lengthy confessional scene between a nun and her priest. The nun is then attacked by a would-be rapist. It's the first short film that truly contains a full story complete with a genre-blending twist that doesn't feel forced.
"Lycanthrope" follows next. If you know the meaning of the word, you'll know the subgenre this short dwells within. The story opens with two lovers in a tent. Quickly, we jump to a Crime Scene Investigations unit surveying the aftermath of a murder's rampage at the very same tent. Through evidence at the scene, the audience is treated to treated to flashbacks detailing the carnage. Easily the most stylistic of the shorts up to this point, "Lycanthrope" benefits from its directors growing confidence.
"Bad Blood" recounts a woman's torment at the hands of her ex-husband and how her pent up rage gives supernatural life to household objects. The short is a double-edged sword, on one hand the actress gives an earnest and heartfelt performance, on the other, it's her monlogue that comprised the entire movie.
"Infested" feels like a scene from a larger movie as a young lady is chased through her house by insects. Highlights include innovative camera work and motion fx. A more fleshed-out story would have helped with viewer involvement.
"The Tie that Binds" is a particular favorite and perhaps the best short on the compilation in terms of technical polish and storytelling. A young wiccan documents the events leading up to a particularly hard spell that she hopes will break a decades long curse. The short is told in two intercut styles - a conventional narrative detailing the spell and its aftermath and a close-up interview which makes the narrative all the more hardhitting and the ending all the more poignant.
"Sarah" is the most disturbing of the bunch as it delves into psychosis and family dysfunction after a mother finds her baby girl slaughtered in her bedroom. Classic suspense is used to drive home a twist ending that neither a cheat nor an easy way out, just brutal and shocking.
"Epiphany" is Dark Shadows melodrama if directed by Mario Bava. A lovelorn vampire and the object of his affection confront life, death, and everything in between. When compared to "Botzomin," Sawyer shows his growth as a filmmaker with a better command of shot coverage and more ambitious sense of storytelling. He isolates action to give each shot and spoken word a particular emphasis that's not always literal. The twist this time around deals with who actually has the epiphany in question.
"My Sweetness" is a slasher in the "stupid girl" variety. You know the movies, the ones where the girls don't take the hints and get out of the house when the have the chance. It's also a slasher in the "grrl power" variety where the young lady learns how to harness her inner Sigourney Weaver. A little long in the beginning, the short benefits from a fast and furious finale.
The Vhs screener contained behind-the-scenes footage and stills galleries for the "My Sweetness," "Sin," and "The Tie that Binds."
As with any compilation, the story quality with SWEET MALICE is uneven, but when it's good, it's really good. Sawyer immerses himself is the world of horror conventions to provide his own spin. Sometimes the shorts succeed, sometimes they don't, but they all posses merit in the sense that Sawyer is always trying to make the shorts smarter then the cliche's allow - something more technically polished indi-horror filmmakers never even try.
New Blood Productions