Dwellers (2021) - Movie Review

Dwellers (2021) - Movie Review
7 10

PLOT: A documentary crew is making a movie about the homeless when strange stories about random disappearances and hidden creatures take the group in a dangerous direction.

LOWDOWN: My knowledge of the heavy metal scene is embarrassingly small. The only time I had long hair was in high school, and I was more likely rockin' out to Saint Dominic's Preview by Van Morrison than anything with drop D tuning and heavy distortion. That being said, I sure as sh*t knew who Megadeth was. Dwellers is the first movie made by the newly founded production company Ellefson Films, by, you guessed it, Megadeth bassist David Ellefson. Though heavy metal and the horror genre fit together like rye whisky and sweet vermouth, how does the movie Dwellers hold up as the company's first entry into the genre? Mix up that rye and vermouth (don't forget about the bitters) and join me as we dig in and find out.

Set in the "real world," we tag along with Drew (Drew Fortier), who David Ellefson (playing himself) hired to complete a documentary about the homeless for his new production company. Since documentaries are big sellers, especially now, Drew was paid upfront to knock one out with the hopes of a quick turnaround. A smart move that I'd be doing myself If I had any money or sense, but alas, I do not. Drew slacked off and has nothing to show when the time comes to present a rough cut. Confronted at a production meeting, he gets his ass chewed out by Ellefson and is threatened with a lawsuit if he doesn't turn in a movie asap. Drew quickly puts together a film crew using his buddies James (James L. Edwards) and Doug (Douglas Esper). He needs to run-and-gun it with the hopes he can get enough footage to cobble together a rough cut and get Ellefson off of his back.

Of course, things don't go as planned when they learn about the rash of missing homeless and the campfire tales of monstrous underground dwellers. Drew and company end up in the sewers chasing a story that gets crazier by the minute only for things to go from bad to f*cked. C.H.U.D. meets The Blair Witch Project is the best description of how tonally and stylistically Dwellers presents itself. Found footage is a tricky thing to pull off. You either use it as a prop to give the story a more "grounded" feel, allowing you to color grade shots and keep the camera rolling when no reasonable human would. Or you can take the opposite route, and go ultra-realistic, which makes keeping things in constant focus damn near impossible and audio leveling non-existent. Dwellers goes realistic without compromising much of the story's quality or spatial understanding either. 

The interviews give us the right amount of exposition and setup, along with some humor that I didn't see coming. Though Dwellers is serious first and foremost, I got to hand it to Drew for laying on that midwestern sass that had me grinning more than once. James is the smart one who is perpetually annoyed and constantly bitching about the choices Drew makes. The banter between them had me chuckling more than a few times, and I'm always down for a character rooted in pragmatism with an added dose of cynicism. Thank you, James. I'm on your side, buddy. Eventually, we get into the sewers, and The Blair Witch influence comes into play. I won't say anything here is scary (at this age, that's only taxes and car trouble), but there is a sense of dread that works well enough to keep things moving.

This doesn't quite hit feature film length, so pace-wise, things don't overstay their welcome. We get the setup, the adventure, and the trap all in rapid-fire time. I like that things stayed brisk as once we get into the sewers, everything has the same stonewall look, which could have dragged if we stayed down there any longer. Now, what doesn't quite work here is all tied back to the budget. Dwellers got made on a shoestring budget, and Drew and Ellefson are smart enough not to try and give us a grand monster flick when you don't have the cash. But there are a couple of gore scenes that would have benefited from some better FX, and a final confrontation could have been more effective if more money was available. It is what it is, and I never want to criticize for lack of cash, but it would have helped polish a few areas up. I appreciate that they worked with very little, but It also hinders things a bit.

GORE: There is a bit of blood here and there when it comes to battle damage characters, but Dwellers isn't focused on the red-stuff.

BOTTOM LINE: Drew Fortier's passion for the genre is ever-present, and I'll raise a drink to that type of love as it was integral to my youth as well. It's clear that Dwellers is a labor of love and working within some stringent limitations makes me appreciate the end result more. Drew, Doug, and James have good chemistry, with a few funny moments giving me the notion that these guys are friends in real life. With a sh*t load of cameos, It may be safe to say this is the heavy metal edition of The Blair Witch Project. David Ellefson surprised me with his acting ability and owned his one scene as a grumpier version of himself. As a low-budget start, Dwellers shows me that these guys can make an entertaining flick. Ellefson Films will hopefully grow, and I'm excited to see where things go.

Dwellers will be available on Digital, Blu-ray & On Demand October 12th, 2021.

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