We watch a lot of low-budget garbage here at the ISCFC. We’ve seen every trick in the book – water treatment plants doubling as everything from a military nerve centre to the deck of a ship; every CGI monster looking identical; the apocalypse happening while a normal busy city street can be seen 20 yards away. So when you find a film like “Serena And The Ratts” which has a budget which probably couldn’t buy you a day’s catering on your average Hollywood effort, and has you still thinking about it the next day, then that’s something pretty unique.
We are huge Evalena Marie fans too. She was amazing in the SyFy Channel original movie “Dark Haul”, and once again is the best thing about the movie. She’s Serena, an assassin working for “Boss” (Jonathan Thomson, also great), brought in and trained “Nikita”-style. A group called the Ratts (Rebels Against Time Travel) is attempting to assassinate all the scientists involved in this apparently newly invented science; at the same time one of those scientists has hired a hitman to go back in time and kill Hitler. YES! Anyway, Serena and her partner Leonard are tasked with stopping the killer, and it’s the conversation they have that is an early indicator of the movie’s quality. They discuss killing Hitler and whether his death would make things better; or if social forces are more important than individuals, the Nazis would still rise and their new boss could be even better.
Giving us the backstory in a non-linear fashion, as well as not really giving us any clues to which bit we’re watching, encourages you to actually pay attention, by no means a given in the world of the micro-budget. Learning more about Serena’s (and Boss’s) story subtly makes you view things you learned before in a new light – no roadmap with this movie – but as if to make sure your brain doesn’t give up from the complexity, there’s a sweet training montage about halfway through too. I do love a montage! There is the idea that time travel alters things we haven’t seen, too, as if the movie is a take 2, or take 10, of some previous movie, where the person with the machine can make sure events play out in a certain way. I think the movie uses the time travel conceit on the very fabric of the movie itself, is the point I’m clumsily trying to get across.
I think it’s fantastic that the filmmakers used their low budget as a plus and didn’t try to just fill it with very cheap special effects. The movie takes place in shabby apartments and weirdly fake-looking offices and dirty back streets and disused factories; not only did they find good places to film, but the camerawork is superb, with a great overall visual, some interesting angles and good use of (presumably budget-saving) extreme closeups.
I’m still trying to puzzle some of the movie out, which is in itself a good thing. But, if I had to offer any criticism at all, is that they’ve tried to do too much. It’s the best possible reason to come up short, I suppose – but there’s a lot of nuance in the script, and when you’re relying on non-professional actors to dish out meaty monologues, there’s going to be problems. Plus, there’s a fight near the end where the result we get seems unlikely, based on the skill levels of the people involved. You can tell I liked it, I’m trying to avoid spoilers!
I think it succeeds a huge amount more than it fails, though. It’s an extraordinarily ambitious film with a really confident director and a star who is so good and able to elevate where others perhaps can’t, that she could be knocking it out of the park on much bigger projects. What’s wrong with you, Hollywood casting people?
Rating: thumbs up
GIVE THESE PEOPLE YOUR MONEY – 2012 was when it was released and did the festival circuit, but it’s only been available to buy for a few months. Read about the production here and support genuinely inventive low-budget filmmaking and give these people some of your cash here.