THE SUFFOCATING SURREALISM OF LIVE-IN FEAR
by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [July 3, 2014]
[HollywoodInvestigator.com] Live-In Fear opens with two young couples driving up to a condo community in the Utah mountains. In the dead of winter, they arrive to find no other residents there, just the co-mangers (a creepy, older couple) and an elderly grounds keeper.
(Where is everyone? -- doesn't anyone come up to ski in the Rockies?)
After the grounds keeper warns the young folk to leave, offering no explanation, things get weird. At first it's hard to discern any logic behind the events or how events fit together.
Seth (David Lautman) apparently killed his mom. He has her body parts in a suitcase, in his car's trunk. His friends don't know this. Seth also sees mom's ghost here and there, and on TV. He buries her limbs and torso in the snow -- but they're plainly those of a solid white mannequin.
Huh? Is this Seth's dream or hallucination -- or just some really bad "special effect"?
The alcoholic Eric (Chris Dornan) wanders in the snow, drinking. He vomits black bile and apparently dies. Becca (Sarah Greyson) also vomits (not black bile). Mallory (Arielle Brachfeld) enjoys cutting her wrist and arm with a razor. It's her thing. Then Eric (apparently alive again) chops off Mallory's hand. Later a demon (or something similar) possesses Mallory.
How do these pieces fit? The film's website describes Live-In Fear as a film about four friends who "find their fears and anxieties manifesting into reality through supernatural means, champing at the bit to drive them insane and kill them."
"The relevance of the title comes from my suspicion that a lot of people live with constant fear," said writer/director Brandon Scullion to the Hollywood Investigator, "which dictates the choices they make. Fear that is as close to a person as a live-in girlfriend or live-in boyfriend. That's where the hyphen comes from. It's a play on that. Live-In Fear is a cautionary tale. Don't be like these people."
Because of its seemingly random events, Live-In Fear is confusing, at times even frustrating. The film eschews logic and plot for mood and atmosphere. Much as in Oliver Stone's Seizure, a vaguely surreal sense of impending doom permeates the initial pedestrian events, which eventually descend into bizarro horror.
Shots are nicely composed. Hyper-stylized angles and camera moves evoke the first two Evil Dead films, as does the entity's possession of Mallory. "You're spot on with the Evil Dead influence," said Scullion. "Sam Raimi is a true innovator. He taught me that in film there are no rules. Anything goes as long as it is honest and true. I would also say there are bits of The Shining and The Thing in there, and a touch of The Ring." Scullion also cites his "great love for video games" as another inspiration.
The Shining's influence is manifest in Ferry (Myles Cranford), the elderly black grounds keeper, the only wise and noble voice in the film. His warning evokes both Friday the 13th's elderly bum ("You're doomed! Doomed!") and Spike Lee's Magical Negro. The isolated wintry setting echoes The Shining and The Thing, but also The Killing of Jacob Marr.
"The only challenging aspect of shooting in the snow was the cold," said Scullion. "During the day it could get humid because of the sun reflecting off the snow. But at night we were standing out in the dark, freezing our asses off. I asked myself what in hell we were doing there. My next movie has no snow whatsoever!"
The location was The Aspens in Brian Head, Utah. "My grandparents own the condo we shot in. It's pretty surreal seeing the place I played around in as a kid with my cousins, now covered in blood and gore."
Live-In Fear's pastel, soft-focus visuals lend events a dreamy quality, further supporting the film's surrealism. "If you're picking up a soft-focus vibe, I can't claim it was intentional," said Scullion. "We shot with a Canon 7D. One of its drawbacks is relatively less detail when compared to something like a GH2 or a Red. It probably also has to do with the color correction, where we tried to add some of the detail back into the blacks, and desaturate the picture a bit."
In some scenes I was unable to detect ambient background noise, which lent the actors' voices a disembodied quality. I wondered if the dialog was recorded in a studio and dubbed in? "The sound was recorded many different ways," said Scullion. "Some was done with a Zoom recorder, some was on-board camera audio, some was ADR." Once again, this lack of ambient noise contributes to the film's surreal mood.
The soundtrack also boasts stylistic, nondiegetic sound effects, such as swooshing noises when the camera pans or tilts quickly. These self-conscious noise effects reinforce the self-conscious camera angles. "The noise effects are essential in disorienting not only the characters, but the audience," said Scullion. "I'm a big fan of the loud-quiet-loud-quiet dynamic. The sound was the trickiest part of this film. My sound designer David and I spent a year focusing on it. It's one of those things that will never be perfect."
Live-In Fear also features an odd religious cult. Odd, in that their robes, and an inverted cross on a wall, appear Satanic. Yet their rhetoric sounds like Old Testament fundamentalism. "Religion and spirituality can and should be a good thing," Scullion explained. "However, when it is perverted by a man or woman on a pedestal, warping and twisting words from any religious text into hate speech and oppression with ulterior motives, it becomes a dark thing and needs to be destroyed. I wanted to emphasize those dark aspects, that I am critical of, in my film."
Despite its brief hour and twenty minutes, Live-In Fear feels slow and ponderous, eschewing Evil Dead's frenzied pace and giddy humor. Instead Live-In Fear, like Seizure, is a suffocating descent into a gory and nihilistic inversion of values (to borrow a phrase from Nietzsche).
Scullion says the budget was around $5,000. "It certainly wasn't $50,000. I'm not sure how that infamous 50k figure wound up on IMDB. Most of the budget was raised through Indiegogo." He found his cast through L.A. Casting and personal referrals. "As far as how much the talent did or didn't make, I think it's best left to speculation."
Live-In Fear was edited on Final Cut Pro.
As for the corpse that looks like a mannequin. "The dead body is pure low-budget goodness. Not everything is poetry, ya know?" So it was a bad special effect. Yet once again, that the corpse is obviously a mannequin supports the film's surrealism. Sometimes shortcomings coalesce into advantages.
Not everyone will find Live-In Fear enjoyable or entertaining -- its humorless darkness will leave a bad taste in some mouths. Yet its imagery and events will linger in the mind. Credit the film for striving beyond the current glut of zombie apocalypse, psycho/slasher, and found footage fare.
Scullion is currently seeking distribution for Live-In Dead. Details may be found on the film's website.