It doesn’t take much to spoil a good movie. Sometimes just a single irritating performance or a showy, hyperactive director can take engaging content and make it a chore to traverse through…
It doesn’t take much to spoil a good movie. Sometimes just a single irritating performance or a showy, hyperactive director can take engaging content and make it a chore to traverse through. And just like how a strong ending can save what has come before, a weak beginning can negatively taint everything that comes after. Such is the case with Shawn Burkett’s BLUDGEON, which takes an interesting concept and overwhelms it with a tedious (and shabby) back-story that starts to get exhausting before the actual (and far more interesting) main plot shuffles into place. It feels particularly tragic, as what comes later is both intriguing and well-acted; and absolutely had the potential to carry a full length film.
I don’t use the word shabby lightly. The opening scenes are marred by a series of title cards featuring some abominable spelling and grammar, which is absolutely inexcusable in a production where – you would hope – dozens of people would have had the opportunity to proofread. That the first impression is so overwhelmingly sullied by an easily remedied error seemingly represents a lack of care in the production as a whole, and it takes a long time to recover from that betrayal of trust in the director.
I’m not just nit-picking here. This is an actual title card from the film.
A missing apostrophe. Random capitalization. A MISSING WORD. Even the red on black lettering feels like something rushed and half-finished. There’s simply no excuse for such a thing making its way into your final film. Sadly, I could pull up at least two more screenshots with equally egregious errors. Even the closing credits features the incorrect version of “their” in its SPECIAL THANKS. I don’t mean to belabor the point, but – as the saying goes – the devil is in the details.
How tragic, then, that the meat of BLUDGEON is so engaging. As that screenshot suggests, it revolves around a series of unsolved murders in Southern Ohio that (supposedly) occurred throughout the 1980s, before ending abruptly in 1992. Twenty years later, similarly styled murders begin to happen once again, and some suspect that the Butcher of Brookhaven has returned. But despite that rather generic serial killer set-up, the eventual reveal is quite surprising, and what follows is even more so.
Much credit must be given to the two lead actresses who give restrained, realistic performances in difficult roles. Haley Madison as pizza delivery girl Quinn is excellent in a part that requires a wide range of complicated – and intense – emotions. But it’s Erin R. Ryan as Joannah who is the breakthrough here. She brings an intensity and honesty to a role that could easily have seemed histrionic or exaggerated. It’s only a shame that the scenes the two share are not more extensive. With a running time of 67 minutes, and a fifteen minute pre-credit sequence, there simply isn’t enough time devoted to their relationship. Dumping some of the mythology and focusing on the MISERY-like relationship at the center would have benefited the movie greatly.
And despite those difficulties that mark the opening, Burkett shows himself to be an extremely capable director. It’s a very clean and well edited production, with impressive lighting and sound. Despite the title, there’s a minimum amount of explicit violence or gore – and what is shown isn’t lingered upon. Much of it is digital (Burkett was assisted by fellow Ohio director Dustin Mills), but it does the trick of showing the brutality without feeling particularly exploitative. The ingredients are here to create something special, making the series of ludicrous, forgettable re-creations which kick things off feel particularly unnecessary.
With a name like BLUDGEON you would be forgiven for expecting a brutal 70s throwback, but Shawn Burkett’s script plays out like a psychological exercise and a sadly brief examination of what makes killers kill. While stumbling needlessly at the beginning, it eventually rights itself and much of the final minutes are of a quality rarely seen in microbudget films. With less time spent on the history of the murders, and an extra set of eyes on that introductory text, this had the potential to be one of the better low-budget horror films of 2013. In its current form it’s an occasionally gripping – but obviously flawed – genre piece.
Three Nightmares out of Five – Shows Potential
One Nightmare – No-Budget Perfection, Two Nightmares – Shocking Success, Three Nightmares – Shows Potential, Four Nightmares – Not Much Fun, Five Nightmares – Please Kill Me
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