It’s a warm welcome back for Len Kabasinski, friend of the site and low budget filmmaker extraordinaire. He’s been entertaining us since “Swamp Zombies”, and we recently did a great interview with him. Full disclosure: I got this DVD by taking part in the crowdfunding campaign for Len’s latest movie, should you demand rigorous lack of bias from your low-budget reviewers.
After working in every genre under the sun, he’s turned to the grindhouse and the sleazy 70s revenge flick. Rachel (Jessica “Wife of Len” Kabasinski, making only her second significant appearance) is a soldier, coming home for a holiday. She meets a group of people who appear to be her family and friends, despite coming across a bit like they’re vague acquaintances; then goes home to her girlfriend Reagan (Lisa Neeld), although you could be forgiven for thinking they’re just roommates or sisters until she brings Rachel a glass of wine in the nude. Why didn’t you pick her up from the bus station? What sort of crappy girlfriend are you? There are hints that under Rachel’s calm exterior, dark things lurk, as she’s woken up in the middle of the night by uneasy dreams of her military past.
The revenge element comes from Rachel’s niece Jamie (Khila Freeman). She has a boyfriend who looks nice and clean cut but is actually a cocaine fiend (check out the lines he snorts, they’re huge), and one evening he decides a good idea would be to film a sex tape. Jamie is sadly easily convinced, and when the boyfriend can’t afford his next fix, he gives the sex tape to his dealer James (Mark Kosebucki), who sells it to amateur pornographer Billy (Jawn Gross), who puts it up on a site I neglected to write down, but is something like “xxxtremeteen.com”.
Now, I was thinking about this. My neighbours could be porn stars, but I’d never know not only because I’m not into porn, but because there’s millions of sites out there with millions of videos. Is there enough of a market for sex tapes featuring completely ordinary people? Is this a thing that the jaded pornography consumer likes? Anyway, everyone immediately finds out that Jamie was in a porno, which causes her to kill herself.
Rachel discovers this in a scene where she finds Jamie’s phone and the distraught messages on it. I felt for the poor girl’s pain, even if it was being projected on the screen in text-speak, and I bloody hate text speak. Anyway, it’s like a switch flips in Rachel’s head and she becomes the titular angel of reckoning, going undercover as a stripper, and working her way up the food chain, through low-level dealers to pornographers finally to Beverly (Donna Hamblin), the kingpin of the town. Lots of scenes where “Angel” (as she calls herself) is gyrating around in very little, as well as making friends with the much older Bobbi (Debbie Dutch), who shows her the stripping ropes.
The porn “studio” scene is a weird one, as underage girls are drugged and coerced into group sex with ugly guys – again, is there really a market for this stuff? It feels like a scene from the 70s, honestly, as today there seem to be no end of willing participants who don’t need to be lied to about the work they’re getting into. Although, it made me feel unclean, so grindhouse job done!
I’d like to lead off with a huge positive. Kabasinski is always willing to learn, and you can see that he has done. “Angel” is cleanly shot, lit well, the sound is fine and the effects are excellent. He’s a director who is, I think, ready for a decent budget and some proper actors – I’d love to see him with SyFy Channel money and stars. “Kabasinski keeps growing as a filmmaker”, if anyone would like a pull quote.
The “er…” comes in the shape of the acting talent assembled, but I’m not going to criticise someone who had zero money for actors. Kabasinski herself is fine, as is Frederick Williams as Detective Trufont, who’s trying to track down the person killing all the town’s lowlifes (with an honourable mention to his partner, Dave Johnson as Detective Campbell, who does a lot with his little screen time). Jasmine St Claire, who appeared in a couple of Len’s movies way back when, is decent too in her few scenes, but everyone else is presumably a complete amateur and it shows. No biggie, if you’re reading reviews on this site you’ll have seen worse, and as long as you know what to expect it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. It makes it a bit difficult to figure out the motivation of some scenes, is all.
Now, I think there’s a negative, but I always thought the 70s grindhouse movies had the same negative, so it might just be Kabasinski aping that style. The editing is pretty bad, I think, with the first action scene taking way too long to come along, and some scenes just going on for ever. One example – at a wake, we see a woman pull up in her car, walk across the lawn, go into the house and put a bowl of food on a table, before wandering into the background. This entire thing could have been done in 1 second – we see a woman putting a bowl of food on a table at what’s obviously a wake – but instead goes on for 30.
The running time is another one – the thing with grindhouse movies is they often came in at like 75 minutes, barely ever longer than 90. “Angel of Reckoning” is over 100 minutes, which I think is perhaps a bit too long – rather than have Rachel come back just to come back, it could have been for the funeral of her niece, cutting out that entire introductory section? But I’m not an armchair quarterback, so no-one cares about what I think the movie should have been, sorry.
This movie does have one of my favourite things in it, though – the scene where actors are watching one of the director’s older movies – in this case, “Skull Forest”. The cinema seems packed, too! So, kudos, and “Angel of Reckoning” wins an “ISCFC Self-Reference Award”!
While Len gets the mood exactly right, and his technical abilities have come on in leaps and bounds, I can’t call this one a complete success. But, even a non-success from a guy like Len is better than 95% of the studio product currently out there, so I’d definitely recommend supporting independent filmmaking and giving this a try.
Rating: thumbs in the middle
PS – Len has the rights back to his older movies, and is offering them on his site at http://www.killerwolffilms.com/ for a low price. Read our old reviews and see if anything takes your fancy, but I’m sure you’ll find something decent among them.