Every once and a while, my path crosses with a film that is not connected (but I review) even remotely close to the horror genre. For those who know me, I am person who loves to give opportunity and the benefit of the doubt. So, when I saw LOST HOLIDAY posted in the Facebook group, I took a shot on it. While LOST HOLIDAY is not a horror film by any means, it is a nightmare. Even after watching the film three times, it was very hard to get behind this Slamdance selection. LOST HOLIDAY focuses on a pair of millennials who return to their stomping grounds over the holidays but stumble (could be from the excessive drugs or drinking) upon the mysterious disappearance of a Washington D.C. socialite, her Russian drug dealer, a baby, and a shady record label.
The debut feature by the Matthews Brothers (Michael and Thomas), LOST HOLIDAY is pure beautiful looking chaos. Written, directed, and produced by them, the film also has Thomas as a co-lead and this generation’s Drop Dead Fred in ‘Henry.’ He is joined by his partner in irresponsibility ‘Margaret’ played by Kate Lyn Shell (You’re Next). Both Henry and Margaret are twenty-somethings having a hard time dealing with their places in the world. Also known as the Winter Mystery Break, which would have been a better title for this drug-induced YA trippy story. Described as a mystery, the mystery elements are slowly built throughout the running time but is more of mortality tale that focuses on growing up and expectations of our lives as an adult and those regrets we deal with. In the vein of films like Garden State, Beautiful Girls, Napoleon Dynamite, and, for me, hints of Wes Anderson, LOST HOLIDAY has a charm to it. This charm along with other factors makes me understand why it was selected for such a prestige film festival like Slamdance.
Why certain aspects of LOST HOLIDAY annoyed the crap out of me, it also grew on me as I took in each viewing and was able to focus on different aspects of the film. I came to connect to certain parts which are important. LOST HOLIDAY is quirky and overdramatic from almost the first moments. The film has an honesty that is fully presented in the storytelling process of flashbacks (dealing with Margaret’s lost love Mark and times hanging with friends) and in real time with the offbeat ensemble of characters and the duo romping through the world like Godzilla. The dialogue has elements of humor and is unexpected and spontaneous which both helps and is a hindrance especially for the two leads. Without a doubt, a piece of millennial filmmaking that shows a generation of filmmakers channelling their defiance of life and not wanting to take responsibility until they realize they fucked up and it may be too late. This film basically lives in a drug-induced joy ride during the 77-minute run time that gets slapped in the face once in a while. Those jolts hooked me a bit when the film actually took itself seriously. An example of this is the redefined relationship between Mark (William Jackson Harper) and Margaret that is bittersweet and has a reality that I think many can connect to.
However, I have to believe that this overall story was not the reason why LOST HOLIDAY got into Slamdance. Here are some lessons for indie filmmakers who want to shoot for the top tier festivals. First, find producers and a name (Emily Mortimer) who have credit that will get you through those doors. Even if Mortimer is poorly used, this film has this. Two, don’t try to create the next great indie feature, make it fit the overall formula which balances technical and story. Make your film have a spark and have quality sound and a professional look. LOST HOLIDAY has the visual and audio appeal for a bare-bones indie to make the programmers feel that it can represent them well come fest time. Sound, lighting, and cinematography matter! LOST HOLIDAY’s sound design and edit did not push me away. Finally, the sound worked in each scene for me and featured some very creative score from several contributors including Smashing Pumpkin’s member James Iha. While the score is all over the place, it feels fun and almost as if a carnival has come to town. It raises the film for me.
The cinematography from Donavan Sell reflects his eclectic body of work. More than a DP, Sell’s experience as working on sets as a key grip, camera operator, electrician, gaffer, and more no doubt was a valuable asset for the Matthews Brothers during the production. LOST HOLIDAY’scinematography is simple. The film features some key shots that really build the scene like the bridge walk with Margaret and Henry. Also, the conversations inside the car and the straight forward action scene with the Russian (Tone Tank) chasing the duo after breaking into his car. The cinematography, like the lighting design, really was wonderful and stand out. Nothing is really too daring, it does what it is supposed to in frame. The use of holiday-themed lights as well as placing enough light to balance the shadows during the night shoots builds a mood and tone. However, my issue with the cinematography and the edit focuses on the film relying on b-roll filler that only serves, for the most part, to get it to the near 80-minute mark. Perhaps once in a while, we can see filler shots to develop the location or to help flush out the story, but it is gluttony throughout. The editor allows it to be a staple of the film that goes along with sections of the narrative that could have been trimmed down such as the party scenes in the final act. Way too much excess. One of the few times the edit works is the final bus scene.
In the end, LOST HOLIDAY is sporadic, irresponsible, and poetic. While I was not an overall fan of the film, I have respect for these first-time filmmakers and what their vision is. The film has a sense of sadness and whimsy that comes forward in the reality of growing up which is one of the clear narrative aspects. So much of the drama focused on denial and not even really the mystery (no matter what it says on IMDB), the film suffers from no true identity and the characters felt thin and annoying. What the Matthews Brothers do well and what I believe got this film into Slamdance, is that they took the time, lessons, and common sense to work with what they had available to them in resources and selecting the crew. If anything, LOST HOLIDAY is a poster child for just pick up a camera and make a movie. If you are a fan of the films I listed above, check out LOST HOLIDAY when it hits a VOD or at a festival near you. If not, let this tale of we will do what we want, when we want, with no care of those around us float off in the ocean of indie festival features like so many before and after.