Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Movie Appraisal: The Other Side of the Tracks (The Haunting of Amelia) (2008)

OH MY GOD. Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow. Okay, I started watching this movie on a freaking whim. I saw that it had been filmed partially in my own hometown and I just wanted to watch it and see if I recognized anything. I mean, I wasn't expecting to even freaking enjoy it. I mean, I figured that this was just a simple independent film that seemed like it didn't have a terrible story to it. So, I watched it. And now, after I've finished it, I'm sitting here with my jaw hanging wide open and not understanding the world anymore.

So, first of all, I bow my head and clap my hands to A. D. Calvo, the director, and the cast of characters of this movie, especially Brendan Fehr, Chad Lindberg, and Tania Raymonde, the main cast of characters. They were brilliant, absolutely brilliant and I didn't even really see it until the end of the movie. ARGH, this movie was so freaking good! I can't even stop and breathe for a second. Hell, I should be studying instead of writing about this, but I can't. This movie was just too good.

So, I'll get to a point-by-point review. It'snot every day that I get to watch a new film that is absolutely stunning. I think the last film of that caliber that I saw was Sauna: Wash Your Sins, but that film was also very different than this one.

At the heart of it, it's clearly an independent film. It feels like a film that could never even get into theaters despite being higher quality than anything mainstream right now. I mean, damn, this movie is going to stay with me for a long time. it gave me so much to think about, so much to wonder about. I just loved the entire feeling of the movie. I also didn't understand until the very end of the movie why many websites listed this as "fantasy," but now I do. It's fantasy in the classic sense, not the Lord of the Rings elves and dwarves sense. The movie is psychological and does have some scary elements to it, but it is never horrific. Warning, I am going to spoil the Hell out of this movie, so avoid reading past this point if you don't want them.

The story is essentially a cross between a romance/friendship movie and a psychological horror movie with fantasy elements revealed in the end. The acting is simply fantastic, but only after viewing the whole movie. Don't look at the first half of the movie and think that that is all there is. This movie drew me in and I loved it. I haven't felt this positive about a movie in a very long time.

The movie is comedic at times, partially due to Stephnie Weir from MadTV fame and Sam Robards being in this movie. They are absolutely fantastic and amusing. The dialogue can be incredibly awkward at times, and heavy-handed at other times, but in the end it is so full of misdirections and twists and turns out to be so much more genius after viewing the entire movie. Ink is a good comparison to this movie. Both are independent films that are utterly beautiful with amazing acting and stellar direction. Seriously, I am in awe here that I had never heard of this movie before. I will be looking out for more movies from A. D. Calvo. Mark my words, the man is fantastic.

There are energetic performances all over the place. The actors really seemed like they had a good time. There is a train motif that runs throughout the movie in the same way that lot of psychological horror movies usually have a hospital setting. This is so new and different and beautiful. Why can't all movies feel like this? It has a similar feeling to what Carnival of Souls should have felt like if it were ever to be done well.

Rusty Miller (Chad Lindberg) has a ragingly awesome car just to let you all know. His character and the character of Josh (Brendan Fehr) really are amazing together. This is the story between two old friends having a reunion and reconnection just as much as it is a love story. But  at first there is such a disconnect in the two main character's emotional and energetic performances. Josh shows the feelings of depression and obsession whereas Rusty is just so energetic, so willing to move and shake and roll with the punches. man, he's so cool.

A few questions should be raised here, even if they are ultimately not the main themes of the story in the end. There is the question of lasting love and does love last beyond life and death? Can a person forget about life after their lover dies? Can they refuse to ever move on by what happened? Will they just live in the past forever? I don't know. I guess I do know a little. I know statistics of how many people keep living after their forever love has died. So many just die from something like heartache... or heartbreak... maybe there's something in that. We need that love most of the time. We need that companionship. How can we be human without love? I don't even want to think about losing the person I love to a horrible accident. I couldn't even imagine it even if it does happen all the time. I have no idea how I would keep together and maybe that's part of the terror, the soul-quenching horror, maybe it's an ordinary fear, but it is one that hits me quite hard.

Josh, the depressive, perks up when Amelia (Tania Raymonde) shows up. He certainly turns on the charm with her moreso than he has with Rusty and the other characters, but I'll get back to that later. The chemistry between them is incredibly well done.She just gets the job at the pizza place that Josh works at without any kind of interview at all. That was kind of easy... actually... wow, that was the easiest interview ever. She comes onto Josh so heavy. Jeeheez, woman, I can see that you're interested in our boy Josh here. But she never overdoes it, not when the ending is known. I can understate that they have a ton of charisma with one another. I have to give them that.

Rusty, on the other hand, does not have any skills with women. Rusty is not Mr. Charming, but also that is a plot point I will get to later and a brilliant one at that. Man. And Josh acts towards the girl he likes and telling people about her about like I do, which I find funny. The dude's excited. Be happy, Joshy boy. I see hints all over the place that Amelia doesn't exist, possibly, but it's all freaking misdirection. Watch the magician's other hand, not the one that he flourishes so nicely. A. D. Calvo, you are a magician of a director.

So, from the beginning of the movie we've seen that Rusty and Amelia know each other and have something between them. She tells Josh to beware of Rusty, but the dude is the best character ever! Why would I beware that weird and awesome dude?

One thing I do have to admit, maybe it's just that I knew it would come, but there's a kissing frame before Josh and Amelia kiss. It's so freaking obvious they're going to kiss. LIPS ARE COLD HINT. We have to remember that. Ghost?

"Sometimes we need to let go, otherwise we remain haunted." The themes of this movie are all hitting me over the head here. Even if they are, they are kind of good morals: moving on, letting go... it works.

So, another thing is that there are parallel stories too and the smaller one makes no sense until the end unless you have the biggest notice of Chekhov's gun that there ever was. There are hints all over the place, but I didn't catch it. So, the subplot is about the owner of the pizza place, her daughter, and her daughter's lesbian lover who takes care of her mother's brother who is in a coma. Whew! Get all that? Anyway, they have some ideas about life and death and even love and they come out of nowhere at first and I was all like, surprise lesbians for no reason? And then the ending presented the reason and I was all like, that was brilliant.

I'm raving and ranting here by the way. This was a good movie.

Amelia's make-up and the music within the film are both absolutely fantastic, just pointing it out. I mean, they did a fantastic job and it was kind of cool to see. There is the only scare chord after "sex" scene. But there is also a blending between reality and dreams by this point even if Amelia's bracelet proves that it's all true. Pay attention to that freaking bracelet too. It appears all over the place.

OH DAYAMN a hickey! Josh has a hickey, that must mean that Amelia is real, right? The friendship scenes between Josh and Rusty are all kinds of sweet, really opening Josh up to the world and making him feel something and anything. It's certainly letting his character evolve and change throughout the story.

There are themes of leaving home, of the loss of stagnation, and of the evolution of a person. These are not as apparently head-hittingly obvious as they appear. They're actually quite subtle, less Blue Velvet and more Ink.

The sounds are fantastic as he runs from the very dead girl that was one Josh's Emily. He has a dream of his dream girl swathed in light. Amelia is another name for Emily. I'm going quickly because the movie moves like this. These are the things presented. Put the puzzle together, my readers.

Wake up and move on is what everybody keeps telling him, but Josh finally loses it. He can't leave, he doesn't have the power or the energy to leave and it's all because of the girl he once loved, and still loves despite the ten years between them. Choices and decisions for Josh and he makes the right one. He decides to go with Rusty and then... there's Amelia again, in his house, asking for him to go with her one last time. Oh, man it's really poignant, and then he's gone. not quite suicide, but close.

Rusty and Amelia were spirits sent to help Josh find his way, either to life or to death for he was the brother and the uncle in the coma. His girlfriend and his best friend were killed in the train accident and he survived in a coma. They came to help him in the ways they thought best. He could have woken up or simply kept going on as he was if he had gone with Rusty, but Amelia showed him to let go, that he still had her even in death.

And the last scene, between Emily and Rusty is fantastic, showing that Emily is ready to move on and be with Josh while Rusty still has work to do, still has to be that spirit guide with his awesome car. The Connecticut licence plate with "HEAVEN" on it made me feel ridiculously happy and I'm not even religious. I just loved those details and little touches. It was powerful and it worked really well.

Now, are there complaints? Yeah. The lesbians were not amazing actresses and it showed as they compared to the rest of the characters. I think it would have been more effective without the flashback scene too, but I see why it exists. I still didn't like it though and I thought it was a little hamfisted to a subtle movie like this. So, if I had one scene I would have taken out, it would be that simply because all of that was already established, or close to established, and I didn't see the need to reveal something we already kind of knew. The music also was a little too loud from time to time, but besides those, I thought this film was incredible.

Watch it. If you read my blog to hear about all the great psychological or horror movies out there, this is one of the most beautiful of them. I won't forget this one and I think everybody should be forced to see it. I compare this to Black Swan and all I see is the quality here and the lack of it there. This film makes me giddy whereas Black Swan makes me angry at the mainstream movies and their lack of focus, quality, or form. I can't believe a film like that could do well... oh, wait, yes I do... because people are stupid and can't see quality even after it stands up and kicks them in the face.

Anyway, seriously,this is a fantastic film. See it if you get that chance. I loved it and hopefully you will too.


  1. enjoyed your review. i love this film too!

  2. Yeah, it's a great film. I enjoyed it so much! Thank you for reading and letting me know you enjoyed my review! I always love comments.

    1. If you enjoyed this film and the twists it has, then I recommend (although it's an older film) the movie "The Game" if you haven't already. I love films that keep me guessing.

  3. This film is great, and I may be missing the hints, but was Amelia Emily?

    1. Yes, they are the same character. Emily (as Amelia) comes to Josh to help him to move on. That's why he's a little confused as to why she looks so much like Emily.

  4. Finally! A good review and synopsis, thank you!

  5. You've got the best review of the movie ever. Thank you so much.

    1. You're welcome!

      And thank YOU for the compliment!

  6. i have actually watched some parts of it in star movies just a while ago... maybe around 5 am... and when i've decided to search for a summary of the movie..BAM! i found this and it was great! now i really wanna download this movie and watch it... tnx ^__^ btw, is it that scary? just asking :)

    1. Nah, it's not horror at all really. More psychological and a bit odd-feeling than anything else. There might be a solitary scary scene that goes on for all of three seconds near the middle of the movie or so, but even that is extremely tame.

  7. The location was a plainly disused railway track where no effort had been made to prepare it into a credible setting. Just a coating of engine on the tracks, half an hours weeding and spade work to remove the windblown dirt from the sleepers so it didnt look like what it was, a disused sawmills narrow gauge.
    The writing was not the best, the direction undid the actors best efforts and it was boring.
    I got the feeling this was filmed in a single day and the attractive lesbians added later as an attempted distraction from what a really poor bit of direction, production management and editing had taken place.
    The main character wore baggy clothes to try disguising how out of shape he is, so we are expected to believe that the gorgeous Emily is smitten by a permanently miserable back woods short order chef who is his own best customer?

    If you lot are giving this rave ratings then I suggest you take smelling salts with you when you watch fresher year film students efforts.

    1. Well, Anon, I would say that you and I clearly disagree about the quality of this movie and probably about movies in general. We also have very different feelings on what courtesy and niceties are, but...

      Where you see no credible set in a disused railroad track, I see a perfect set. It worked for me, being one of the highlights of the viewing experience in my opinion. I thought it was a credible set, actually being on location rather than in a studio. Obviously, some don't like that, but I found it authentic and kind of gorgeous. It gave the film a brilliant and real feeling in the end. Plus, as far as I remember, at least some of those railroad tracks are actually used in real life. As I said before, I live pretty close to some of the filming locations, so I think I'd have a pretty good idea about that. So, as far as disused, they actually are probably still in use. And it still worked to me at least, and to others obviously as well.

      I doubt it was filmed in a single day since there were many locations shot. Also, if I'm not mistaken, I believe A. D. Calvo usually shoots over a decent sized period, although I'm just using the evidence I know about from some of his other movie shoots I've heard about. I never had that same feeling of it being rushed. To me it seemed like a very passionate project. Some of the actors were better than others and the lesbians did feel gratuitous, which I mentioned in the review, but I liked the movie for the most part in terms of both writing and acting. The writing does have some good and some bad moments, but in general it was pretty decent with the story being slightly better than the dialogue in general. The characters really worked, especially the three leads. Watching it more than once, which I have done, I felt like the acting was purposefully stilted at times, and it worked against our expectations, really becoming something well done and different. While the quality is not always there, I think some slack can be cut here for a relatively unknown independent filmmaker and a passion project that probably isn't getting anybody rich. Then again, I guess that's not exactly your thing, is it?

      I personally liked the directing, editing, pacing, and production. I don't see the problems you seem to. Then again, I wrote out a long review saying why I liked it. And I'd write up more with more specifics saying why I continue to enjoy this movie even years after I first saw it if I were asked to do so. I don't know your specifics, and random hating doesn't really appeal to me.

      And as for your only question, why not? Women who are perceived to be attractive end up with unattractive men all the time and vice-versa. Watch a sitcom sometimes. Or just look around at the mall the next time you go. Just because you don't see him as attractive doesn't mean he doesn't have more underneath the surface. People don't just fall in love because of what another person looks like. Then again your visual estimations of the film as well as your comments in your question has backed you into a very shallow corner. You seem judgmental and overly harsh over very little things, tacking the visuals as the most important aspect of the film. Oh no, the lead actor isn't your perception of Hollywood attractive! That must ruin the entirety of the experience for you! Well, I get the feeling you have no idea how attraction can even work or why it does. Why would I even expect more?


    2. Yes, we are to expect that Emily is smitten with him, and why not? It was what was told to us, it was told believably. She was shown to be a weird dead succubus thing for a while, so why not? Even after we knew what was going on, I still believed it. The acting was good enough to show that love. I never saw the fat or ugly nature of him that you seem to, and I never cared one iota about anything like that. He was just a dude, just like any other dude. What's the problem? Because all I see is you bitching about very small visuals pieces of a good movie.

      Insulting my review is one thing, but don't insult everybody who enjoys this film as well here in my comments. It's fine if you disagree with all of us, I'm all for healthy debate, but insulting us undermines your arguments more than paperthin comments and justifications did. The movie struck a chord with me, and did the same to many others. We can enjoy what we enjoy. If you don't, fine, just don't be a jerk about it please, you know, since you were.

  8. you also forgot to tell that the sister is a medium ect. and she said she gets is from her mom. the mom had better "gift" than her before she died. the mom continues to visit Josh and also keeps trying to get Josh to " move on"! and to come to" her side" to visit! then she tells him she is leaving going on vacation he should come with her to move on! She is also happy to hear about rusty coming back and the NEW GIRL he had meet! good movie.. was not what I was expecting buy still a good movie!! watched it twice just to make sure I didn't miss anything!! :-)

    1. I did the same thing when I first watched it. I've probably seen it at least four or five times. I've enjoyed it every time. It's really worth the watch.

  9. Hey Dude, nice review, I like the way you write and your ideas. Just saw this movie in Brazil, nobody knows about it here, I was having a hard time by searching some theories about this plot... so pleased I found your blog, good job man, thank you!

  10. it was confusing to me as I wasn't sure if stuff was really happening or he was dreaming it or what but when you get way to the end you kinda piece everything the other two were already dead and Josh was in a coma and they mentioned a reunion...but a ten year reunion? Was he really in a coma for ten years...I still find it confusing. I need to watch it again to see if it makes any sense...reading this review kinda put the pieces of the puzzle together for me...