Stranger With My Face Film Festival Review: THE FORSAKEN

Coming out of stunning countryside of Spain, the infamous “Stranger With My Face” film festival presented the dark drama with haunting elements entitled “The Forsaken”.  In the similar tense and dark vein of films where criminal plan is botched up like Bryan Singers’ “The Usual Suspects”, Padraig Reynolds’ “Rites of Passage” and/or the J-horror film “Pray” by Yuichi Sato, director Yolanda Torres and writer Joan Alvarez offer a tale of a kidnapping gone wrong.  Through simplistic scare tactics, impactful practical FX, character tensions and the utilization of brilliant locations, “The Forsaken” builds a haunted house thriller to entertain and offer a painful self-reflection.

Opening with sweeping and lush shots of the farm house and countryside, you are captivated by the sheer beauty and at the same time misdirected to the malice that has possessed the property for generations.  “The Forsaken” opens with a five person criminal crew kidnapping of a young, rich girl.  Taking refuge in the remote farm house int he middle of nowhere, the crew must figure out what is the next step after the botched job and waiting on further instructions.  Getting themselves together, each member has their own sorted past that through much of the movie is held back and lost in the growing mayhem of the house awakening with growing voices, sounds and simple visual FX.  With the crew already dealing with failure on the job and possible betrayal, they begin to question each other as well as themselves making the whole susceptible to the entities that feed off of the guilt they carry and the past they hid.  One by one the spirits begin to manipulate and dispose of them, leaving bloody and ominous signs, using misdirection and possessing some of the gang members to deadly actions.  As the numbers are reduced, the remaining members of the crew and the young girl must discover the secrets of a box and why the house is punishing those who come onto the property in order to survive the night.

“The Forsaken” does many things right.  Both Alvarez and Torres understand how to control the pace of this haunted house film, studying what the masters do to create frights and bring life to a location.  They rely on the visual presentation, score and impactful practical FX to carry this film.  Each of the crew and even the young girl are not very detailed or deep characters.  They have personal demons.  They have their job as a part of the crew.  They have very typical damaged personalities that you see from so many criminal crews in films and television like this.  You have the crafty leader, the smart one, the muscle, the seedy one and the young one who messes up along with the Catholic school girl victim.  If anything, the most substance goes behind the two stronger female characters and not so much with the insidious male cast.

This, however, is why I did not really care who was next on the entities death list.  No depth, identity or real back story.  These characters live in the moments and overall it needed to expand more.  Just like any sort of psychological horror, it needs more to study and understand to stand on the same level as the rest of the film.  In fact, Torres and Alvarez make you want to know how this crew will be punished because the consequence has more substance than the characters.  That is also the fun of this film, the consequences from this classic house and of course what is outside that keeps them there.  This key part of the puzzle is cultivated by the use of fog, lighting, sound and stunning design.  Classic, old school horror master tricks!

Another tool utilized brilliantly is cinematographer Juan Antonia Fernandez who does a tremendous job of carving beautiful camera angles, smart framed shots showing not only the deliberate and dramatic reactions of the cast but at times creating a feeling of being trapped and desperate.  One particular shot I loved in the film, takes place as the young girl gets free from her bonds and is ready to escape.  As she runs towards the door, the crew realize their leader may have sold them out and is gone.  As the young girl moves towards the open door, she stops and is almost statue like.  The crew can only watch her run out the door due to fear but we also realize she is frozen with fear from the sensation she has from outside.  The young girl utters the words that she cannot leave the house.  It’s a powerful, timed, and captivating sequence with a beautiful long shot.  That in partner with the cultivated and effective score by Maya Sprouse really invokes so many feelings as Sprouse uses samples from the house as well as voices, breathing, beats and more just solidifies one of the many brilliant shots int he film and an effective soundtrack.

“The Forsaken”, which was shot in Barcelona, Spain definitely has an international feel in the colors, casting, and location.  The color and light help set a growing desperation and dread pairing wonderfully with the simple visual FX and sounds you expect with a haunted house.  If anything, the cast sells the over the top reaction pretty well to go along with the house being a character.  One aspect of the film that really needs to be highlighted is the use of practical FX spread out during the film.  I am not sure if it was plotted as particular release points similar to what humor does during really tense scenes or if it was just a limited budget but the makeup/FX crew who brought the several deaths to life (think really sharp objects and actions) really took those moments and ran with them.  Just when you think things could not get worse in that moment, out walks one of the crew who has gone through hell and the visual makeup and FX that punctuate it.

For me, this film could have been flushed out more.  I feel the cast could have been more developed on many levels including what their guilt is deep inside and the secrets they carry.  Whether adding some of the additional footage that was probably cut during post or developing the moments leading up to their deaths, it was lacking for me.  A lot was put on the development of the haunted house which is not a bad thing since the house is amazing and captivating.  “The Forsaken” is a simple and methodical build to the final frames where you learn what is going on around the crew and perhaps why the entities on the grounds are doing what they are doing.  We all bare guilt, we all have secrets, we all reflect the sins of our past… “The Forsaken” takes that connection and builds it to a scary truth that you cannot run or hide from but must face the wrongs you have committed.

Jay Kay
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