Reviewed by: Dave Murray
What's it about
Based on one of H.P. Lovecraft's more chilling tales of madness and cellar monsters, this is the story a disturbed young man named Thurber tells to a friend over drinks, about meeting an artist named Pickman, driven to the depths of insanity, and of the creature that lurks in his studio basement and models for his new and increasingly grotesque paintings.
Is it good movie?
For a student short film, hell yeah, it's a fine piece of work. As an adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story, it is one of the more literal translations to film that I have seen in a long time. At around 20 minutes in length, director Gary Fierro skillfully adapts the short story into an interesting and modern short film, but it's one that still drips with dark and ominous Victorian atmosphere, some seriously spooky scenes, and a deft use of minimalist horror tactics that show that there could be exceptional things from him down the road.
The opening scene here is kind of weak, with lots of exposition and some static shots. Jesse Murphy (Thurber) is pretty good, believable and a likable actor. Derek Meinecke (Eliot) was not as good, a little boring, and little more than just scenery for Murphy to play off of. Once we meet Pickman (Conor Timmis) however, things get more interesting. The story is told through flashbacks, when Thurber is relating to Eliot his disturbing visit to Pickman's studio. What he sees there is an artist who has become obsessed with his work, thin, dehydrated and clearly mad as a rabid fruit bat. The makeup job done on Timmis to make him look this bad is great, since he is a good looking guy, and here he looks like shit. His performance is also engaging, complimented by a nicely shot scene that makes great use of light, shadow and sound to create the perfect atmosphere using only limited sets. Timmis is disturbing, a little cheesy, and very disturbed. I loved the nicotine stained smile and the creepy laugh. What Pickman gives Thurber, and the audience, is a lecture on the darker natures of both art and the spirit, on evil that sleeps and will rise to inspire madness and murder once again at human hands. Yep, this is Lovecraft alright! Timmis' performance sold the film for me, and I can't wait to see some of his other work. He and Murphy had great chemistry.
The pay off scene happens, of course, in Pickman's cellar, and the scenes shot here are very good indeed. As a light source they used an old oil lantern, and the contrast between it's otherworldly orange light and the pitch black of the basement made for the most visually beautiful shots of the whole film. Some of the shots are framed looking out at the characters from behind the paintings, which was a nice voyeuristic touch. And the paintings themselves are seriously creepy and disturbing. They reminded me a lot of the work of Bob Eggleton, who does the American covers for the books by horror master Brian Lumley (who endeavored to continue Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos with awesome results), they were that good. What little is shown of the paintings is some great visceral stuff, and I also liked how you never really get a good look at Pickman's monstrous model. She is shown only through sound effects and by one rotted and creepy hand reaching into a final frame. Very spooky, and a great use of atmosphere and mystery. The ending was pretty nice as well, with Thurber showing Eliot a picture of the creature (which we never get to see). Add to all of this some great shots by a skilled director, and you've got a faithful Lovecraft adaptation that showcases some good acting, a lot of talent, and stylish shots using creative lighting to enhance limited locations and you have the makings of a fine short indeed.
Video / Audio
Video: Widescreen - 1.68:1. The flick had a great indie DV look, with only a few light flickers and mostly an excellent use of light.
Audio: English (Dolby 2.0). The sound was a little spotty, and the levels were either too high or too low, but for what it was it worked in the end.
There is an Audio Commentary by Fierro, Tacchi and Timmis that is interesting, again for the insight into making a quality student short on very little money. It also delves into the challenges of adapting Lovecraft to the screen (of which there are many!). There is a short Documentary (19:06) that is a breakdown of the scenes, has the guys talking about all of their crazy idea that got turned into a very sparse production, and the reasons they made it a short film instead of a feature. I'm glad for that, because it works much better as a short (most of Lovecraft's stuff does). There is also a brief, very quick paced look at how effects man Norman Bryn (Cloverfield) turned the good looking Timmis into a human monster of madness in the short doc Creating A Villain. Finally, there is an interactive copy of H.P. Lovecraft's Original Story, which is a fun and fine addition to this disc, the Trailer and a fun Slideshow that not only covers the production, but also has the guys visiting famous sites associated with the late master of horror.
Pickman's Model is a good creepy adaptation of Lovecraft's story, made from a faithful script by Justin Tacchi. These guys are obvious Lovecraft fans (and admitted Re-Animator fans), and their love for the works of a master come through in their student short film. Expect some great things from director Fierro and star Conor Timmis. While it got off to a rough start, a satisfying middle and ending, along with a pay off that was spooky as hell, made this short film worth the watch. Fans of Lovecraft will dig it immensely, and anyone interested in making short films when you don't have very much to start with but an awesome script will find it entertaining and informative. I know I dug the hell out of it.