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Rick's a normal teenager living with his aunt in the small town of Latonsville, Maryland. Things aren't all hunky dory, however, when Rick's girl Rachel goes missing after the two spend the night together, and take a turn for the worse once Rachel turns up dead, her fingernails ripped out and shoved into her eyes. Rick and his friends band together to figure out just what happened, but not before one of Rick's friends finds an Oxford dictionary of local murders and urban legends called the Book of Lore, which includes a story mirroring what happened to Rachel. Things start getting really bad when Rick's friends start dying just like in the Book of Lore, and it's up to Rick to find the killer before he's next next.
Director Chris LaMartina is one of those indie directors that you can count on your bloody hand that you know have got something good going on when it comes to filmmaking. Instead of going down the same tired road that so many folks have in the past, LaMartina for the most part has brought an original idea to film, which is more than welcome in this era of xeroxing ideas from the past successes of others. That said, while BOOK OF LORE is original, there are a few things that get in the way of it really standing out. Yes, it's an indie film (shot on a budget of about $8000), and yes, we're not dealing with Hollywood actors, and I tried to keep that in mind while watching.
The film starts off with a black-and-white montage that brings the audience up to speed on a dude calling himself The Devil's Left Hand (for those wondering, 'left hand' in German is 'mano sinestra', since people in ye olden times who were left handed were said to be in league with The Devil), who for 11 days straight in 1985 kidnapped and murdered 11 babies, leaving a taunting note at each scene written in the baby's blood. The guy was never caught, and we see from the montage that he was the one who wrote the Book of Lore. Once Rick and company find the Book of Lore, it brings up the whole idea that perhaps The Devil's Left Hand has returned to once again carry on with Ol' Scratch's work, starting with Rachel. The question is, who is it?
One of the things I liked about the film was its use of those grainy montages. No sound save for character voiceovers recounting what happened with the action onscreen. The pace is a leisurely stroll, though in some ways it works against the film (more on that later). But in this world of MTV-style films that caters to the ADD majority, it's nice to see that the old style of development is still around. As well, we are treated to some 'boo!' scares in the film, but the suspense is still up there, even with some of the cheapness. Another great thing is LaMartina's use of the location to his advantage. While it's not actually said that it's Halloween in the film, it's obvious that the film takes place around October, with shots of Jack-O-Lanterns, fallen leaves and the like. The film has that cold feeling to it as well, even though no one's breath is seen. This also isn't a gore film, even though we do get some effects (fingernails in eyes, lopped off fingers, people ripped in half). This is one that relies on suspense and atmosphere to get it's jollies, and it works.
Acting wise, Aj Hyde (Rick) is for the most part sincere with his stuff. Some of his lines do feel a bit forced at times (like some of the other characters), but he does a good job of presenting his character as a distraught boyfriend longing for his girlfriend, and has the facial expressions to back it up. Evan (D. Patrick Bauer) is the comic relief sidekick of the film, and some of his stuff had me crack a smile while watching the film. Jason (Dan Vidor) comes off like he's half-asleep when we're introduced to him, but it worked in his favour in the long run as the role of an unconfident yet eccentric momma's boy to his religious nutcase of a mother. Sheriff Barlow (Derrick Lampkins) is your jackoff cop who won't beat R. Lee Ermey's psychotic Sheriff Hoyt in terms of being an asshole, but who can? Grant (Sean Quinn) is the musclehead of the film who you really want to bite it in the worst way possible. Kristin (Lauren Meley) didn't do much for me as Rachel's sister, but the effort was there.
Where the film lacked the most was in editing. Clocking in at almost 2 hours, BOOK OF LORE needed cutting like a junkie needs their fix. Some of the exposition could've been put in the montage at the start or dropped entirely and replaced with areas that needed development (like more of Rick's interaction with Rachel and his reaction to her death). The sound, while effective, needed some time in the booth for the proper mix, as at times the boo scares were delivered by whomps of the bass alone, or was an outright distraction. Again, it's an indie film, but there's always room for improvement.
Lastly, while the concept is original, we do get some cookie-cutter characters as detailed above, and the idea of having religious nutcases is kind of old. In fact, the film seems to have a disdain for religion in general, though LaMartina does include a way showing religious doctrine in the film helping to provide clues to the plight that Rick and company are in, as well as an explanation to the 11 baby murders. The ending of the film also echoes the ending from SE7EN (you'll see), which isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just one of those things you notice. Altogether, the film shows the potential that LaMartina has as a director and writer. Given some time with experienced guys who've been in his shoes, LaMartina has the stuff to go further.
Video: It's your typical low-budget film, so the video isn't exactly high-def. Grain shows up during dark scenes, and you do get some interlacing errors at times. Still, the film is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen. No subtitles or other languages included.
Audio: Audio: Again, low budget. The only track here is your 2.0 LPCM. You don't get any fancy movement of sound or redirection (though there's that mixing problem), but it does its job.
We get two trailers for the film, one is your typical theatrical trailer, the other is done in a 'Grindhouse' style. The theatrical trailer includes a lot of the religious tones from the film, as well as a jump at the end that you don't see much these days. Again, like the movie, the trailer does have an audio mixing issue, as the bass is a little overbearing (though not as much as the next trailer).
The 'Grindhouse' trailer is done in a cheesy B-Movie style with a voiceover that's obviously been digitally altered to have a deeper tone, intercut with shots of gore from the film with your typical grainy, scratched film filter. Goofy and ultimately gives the film a completely different tone (though those folks who saw this trailer instead of the other one would be seriously disappointed with the film, since it is not a cheesefest). Also, the screener I was sent froze my player midway through this one. Whether this is intentional (probably not), it would certainly scare someone who doesn't want their entertainment system screwed up.
BOOK OF LORE isn't going to beat EVIL DEAD or BAD TASTE for best indie film ever, but it's certainly not the worst flick by a budding filmmaker ever. There's a real gem here, and while the polish that was applied wasn't enough, and LaMartina's opinions on religion at times are painfully obvious to the point of detraction, there is definitely something here worth looking into if you're a film student looking to see how some stuff is done.