Review: Among Friends (directed by Danielle Harris)

Among Friends (directed by Danielle Harris)
7 10

PLOT: At a murder mystery dinner party, a group of chic Hollywood 20 somethings slowly start to realize they've been brought there to be sadistically confronted by one of their own. All motherfucking hell busts out from there.

REVIEW: The adorable, one of a kind generational scream queen Danielle Harris - who has been entertaining us in front of the camera for over two decades - finally jumps behind the lens to direct her first feature with AMONG FRIENDS. An unabashed B-movie through-and-through, I'll regard it as such, for I always believe a filmmaker's intention has to come into account when reviewing a film. And like most good B-movies, AMONG FRIENDS is the type best enjoyed with a large likeminded audience that is in on the joke. It's the kind of flick, unless you have an utterly twisted sense of humor, to watch with a few friends while you pass around a spliff and sixer. Nothing wrong with that!

For all intents and purposes, AMONG FRIENDS is a one-act horror show, confined to single, inescapable location. The flick kicks off with a throng of hip 20 somethings gearing up for a Hollywood party later that night. Drugs, drinks and quips get whipped around in no short order, naturally, as one needs to get nice and tuned-up before hitting the town. The beautiful ladies of the film all have a similar quality, a cool disassociated demeanor...cute but cutting (Jennifer Blanc, Brianne Davis, Kamala Jones, et. al). The men are a bit more varied; the neurotic introvert (AJ Bowen), the slick GAP model type (Chris Backus), the bad-boy 90210 cutout (Chris Meyer), etc. Yet as different as some of them are...they all have one thing in common. Odious secrets. Ones they'll have to pay the ultimate penance for!

As the party commences, we meet the hot hostess Bernadette (Alyssa Lobit, who wrote the script). All smiles at first, she a also flashes a sinister glint that we come to understand only moments later. You see, the dinner party takes an awfully dark turn when Bernie lets the rest on a little secret of her own. After learning of their dastardly deeds, Bernie's been surreptitiously surveilling her "so called friends" for months, even catching their despicable, duplicitous acts on hidden video camera. Turns out these people aren't as friendly as they appear. Of course, by the time Bernie lets this all be known, the party guests are bound to the dinner table, CHAINSAW MASSACRE style, drugged to the nines, without recourse. Let the torturous mutilation begin!

Intentional or not, massive props needs to be cast to Harris and crew for claustrophobic terror the film boasts for the duration. With nowhere to cut to outside the house (save for a scene or two), an imprisoned discomfort takes hold somewhere in the middle of the movie. The chief aim of a horror film is to scare people, right, which makes them feel uncomfortable. Well, AMONG FRIENDS may be light on scares, but skips right to the uncomfortable and creates its chaos out of confinement. We're stuck there, just as the characters are, and it's that futile immutability that really resonates. This is not to be confused with being trapped watching a bad movie you feel will never end, the shut-in horror of this one-act horror flick is precisely by design (at least on the page). How intentional the modulation of the discomfort is, that's unclear.

But like any cheaply made horror outing, AMONG FRIENDS has its highs and lows. My favorite part of the film hands down comes in the middle of a nightmarish hallucination sequence in which Michael Biehn, Xavier Gens and Danielle Harris herself make hilarious cameos. Remember, Harris and Jennifer Blanc were in Biehn's THE VICTIM, so it's neat to see a little creative payback (in turn, Biehn and Blanc were also in Gens' THE DIVIDE). I also quite enjoyed the performances of AJ Bowen and Alyssa Lobit, the former understated and nuanced, the latter pitched to a maniacal exorbitance you can't help but smile at. There's also a comical extended cameo from genre favorite Kane Hodder, who is sure to induce a few chuckles. It's the spirit embodied in those specific performances that for me make the movie memorable.

Detractors for a film of this ilk are of the typical variety. Cheaply made, Harris and her crew weren't exposed to the kinds of resources bigger films have in droves. Time being the key one, I'm sure. Therefore the flick is shot on video, limited to single locale, with affordable above and below the line talent. As mentioned prior, the location aspect ultimately proved beneficial in my eyes. The others however, not so much. It should be noted that the film may undergo the knife before it's released sometime in 2013. How much will be recut, edited, dropped, added, etc. is anyone's guess at this point. As it is, AMONG FRIENDS has a pretty brisk runtime that won't have viewers clocking their watch every few minutes. It's fast, fun and pretty fucking ferocious!



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