Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Lo (2009)

Sometimes when you have a bad week like I just had, you need to settle down with a weird, insane, and incredibly entertaining film. Lo, directed by Travis Betz, as you might guess, is that very film this time around. I don't know how to say all that much about this film except it is a very odd ride, unexpected with a sad and poignant payoff. Movies like this intrigue me all the way through. It is because they are unique and tell a story that is incredibly unmarketable, but also simply amazing.

Lo is one of those rare films that comes along every once in a while, with a small budget, no names in the cast- an independent film that says something on a deeper level than you expect. While it doesn't start off swinging, the movie hits hard by the end, with each set-piece of the story telling the story in a very unique way. One thing that I found really cool was the way that the whole thing was set up like a stage play, a musical, a dance number, and a very poignant and ultimately ill-fated love story.

The story is pretty decent, but it takes a while to really get going. And although there is a real feeling to the story, its pacing and characters do leave something to be desired at times. It's probably mostly the acting, which is all over the place. It's one of the failings of the movie, and there's no other way to put that out there. When I started watching the movie, I was very put off, even wondering at the time if I should continue watching it. While it does get much better, the first twenty minutes or so are rough, and I would completely understand if people decided to not take a chance with it after that.

But in taking the chance you find a wonderful personal little story, with acting that is pretty decent towards the end and a plot that holds up under scrutiny, perhaps because of its simplicity. I like the demons and the main character (sort of, although his silly faces are completely idiotic at times). The whole story about a man using a crazy evil book thing to summon a demon to find his girlfriend who was dragged down to hell is something mixed between Evil Dead II and Joss Whedon's supernatural television shows.  The humor is all pervasive, although completely inappropriate for the tone at times. It works every once in a while, but most of the time it's very awkward, barely forcing a smile at all, much less a guffaw.

The make-up is one of the highlights of Lo, really showing off what inexpensive made-up demons can actually look like. I had a very Joss Whedon vibe from the costumes and demons, specifically from Jeez. He could have literally just stepped out of Angel and I wouldn't have even batted an eye. The film looks good all around, but the lack of a budget does show, with the sets being minimal at best and the filming being more closely akin to a stage play than an actual film.

The characters here, mostly a collection of demons and damned souls, are interesting but ultimately paper-thin. You see the plot, the whole plot, by the ending, which gives the demons and what Lo the demon is doing some context, making the whole thing make more sense in general. Lo really is the highlight of the film, his character and his acting are both the most believable and the most entertaining. Like the title implies, the titular character is essential for any sort of enjoyment of this movie. Jeremiah Berkitt, who plays Lo, gives off a fantastic performance in general as the crippled demon. The other actors do competent jobs, but none of them really stand out like he does. The other characters, a waiter, two damned souls, Jeez the Nazi demon thing, and the main character Justin are all a bunch of cliches and Whedon-esque pieces of this movie. And the girlfriend character is something else. Most of the "humor" of the movie stems from her, even if she has the hardest time with comedic timing.

This leads me to talk about the setting in general. Not the black room where Justin has locked himself to do the ritual, but the flashback scenes. These are done so uniquely, put on as stage plays with supporting characters just off in the wings waiting for their cues to come on. This is the bread-and-butter of the movie, and easily the most entertaining part of it as well. The tragedy and comedy faces, the breaking of the fourth wall, and the focus on stage techniques to pull of some great moments actually works in the film's advantage. So, for a threadbare production, it actually comes off quite well. I do admit that I wish it had been a theatrical production to see rather than a movie. It feels more of that ilk and would probably work much better as that. But the movie stands well on its own merits. All-in-all I can't complain all that much.

I don't know what else to say. While I enjoyed the movie quite a bit while watching it, the flaws have shown themselves since then. I see them pretty significantly, but that doesn't take my enjoyment of watching the film away. I liked it all right, but I have no idea if I could ever recommend this to anybody who didn't like small budget indie productions that are not in any way a big form movie. I guess it could be considered horror-comedy maybe? Although that doesn't quite work either. I don't know if I could rightly call this horror. It feels more like a supernatural and tragic romantic comedy. I guess? Man, that's a ton of qualifiers...

Anyway, for most this is not the movie for you. While I liked it, it gives off a bad impression from the get-go. The acting is rough at times. The comedy sometimes feels forced. And it's about a love story, which is always a reason to avoid a movie. (I jest... but seriously, I dislike most romance movies.) There's a ton working against this movie, but I actually really liked it. While it's not perfect, it succeeds at both entertaining and doing something different. I liked the story for what it was and the presentation for what it did. There are probably a ton of better movies out there, but this one I liked well enough. If you're looking for something incredibly odd and out of the ordinary, maybe you can try this one, just don't say I didn't warn you about Justin's ridiculous faces or the first twenty minutes of this film being very hard to get through.


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