Near Death  - Brian
Director: Joe Castro
Starring: Perrine Moore Ali Willingham Scott Lunsford Brannon Gould
I will admit that Joe Castro has grown on me. I’m not ready to watch his films without the generous persuasion of a cattle prod (as is often the case working for Goshzilla), but the man has some chops. As a filmmaker, his talents reside mostly in cheap yet convincing special effects and less in the pacing, storytelling, character development, etc. It’s really no surprise if you’ve done your research; the man grew up on a farm which included a slaughter house that I'm sure he got to know very well. Inspired by both his environment and monster films, he went on to distinguish himself by winning a National Special Effects Award at the age of 15 before moving on to professional film making. Why am I telling you this? Simple. The following review is about Near Death
, a film that, I’m sorry to say, has some of the most underwhelming special effects I’ve ever seen in a Castro project.
Some of you might be wondering if I’m retarded for expecting something decent plot-wise. Let me clarify. In a horror film where everyone is going to die, the director usually does a pretty good job of making you hate the cast so you won’t miss them. Joe Castro decided that he’d start off that way, but then have the three main characters survive. Maybe he thought this was a clever twist but as a result, you end up with three people who you desperately wish would die and, instead, they come out on top...somewhat. It’s like showing up to prom and finding the quarterback, who shoves you into lockers, snogging your girlfriend because he can. I don’t give a crap about any of these characters and one of them, in particular, is so over-the-top abrasive that she comes off more as the bad guy than the actual villains themselves.
Okay, okay, so the character development was shoddy, we can get over this, you’re not watching Citizen Kane for Christ’s sake. What about the Special Effects? Surely those were interesting and imaginative as Joe’s pedigree suggests.
Sadly, no. I’m not sure why, but Joe opted more in favor of computerized gore as opposed to fake appendages and blood effects. To me, computerized special effects are just about as convincing as Sinbad
special effects. The only difference is that they are in some way worse for attempting to replicate reality and, in the process, creating some kind of horrific doppelganger of life. What you get is lots of fake, stock explosions superimposed over faces and body parts to somehow signify the explosive conclusion of a ghoul and lens flares aplenty. As far as gore is concerned, there’s a scene where a bunch of people get eaten by ghouls and you can clearly see that they are eating and spitting up Cherry Jell-O.
Would I say this is the worst Joe Castro film ever? Of the four I’ve seen in my miserable life, no. In Joe’s own way, he has managed to surprise me by having most of the principal cast undeservedly survive their ordeal. The film has a very “low-budget porno” feel to it as is common practice in Joe’s films; however, it also contains the trademark “bait and switch.” That is, it lures you in with promises of skin, but then fails to deliver on that, perhaps out of spite.
I don’t want readers to think I hate this film, because I don’t. Hate is such a strong word. I certainly didn’t like the film, I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it, but the time I spent viewing it was not a total waste in my opinion, and that’s certainly something. There were some interesting choices made and, overall, Joe did a much better job with the narrative than he has in any of the previous films I’ve seen. Attempts at a mystery narrative are peppered throughout the film, but it’s nothing you couldn’t have seen coming. I should note that my biggest gripe was the special effects, which just were not up to snuff with what I've come to expect from Mr. Castro. However, griping aside, this is certainly a movie that can be enjoyed for a time...perhaps more by those capable of shutting their brains off.
Just to prove I was serious about heralding Castro's special effects, here is his myspace page, where you can see lots of production photos containing both gore and costume work.
Shot on Video