By Handsome Dan (New Haven, CT)
Derelict Films claims to be an “Art House meets Grind House” maker of low-budget independent films and their first film, Play Hooky, has won some awards, critical acclaim and viewer disdain. This is quite a dilemma for them, I’m sure, but there’s no harm in being loved and hated, as you can read in the reviews and critiques; it’s better than being ignored. The Art House people seem to love it for good reasons, and the Grind House people seem to hate it for the same good reasons. It’s shot on a $99 HD Flip Cam, on purpose for the video and audio realism that only a Flip Cam can render (not a Go Pro nor a top DSLR nor a Red) but the camera was put into the hands of an SVA educated, artistic DP with film making experience and cinematic savvy, which is evident in his camera moves, composition and form – just enough to please the Art House crowd.
The story is a typical, basic slasher/Grind House story: a bunch of high-school kids, and an older high school dropout with a car, cut class to party, get trapped in an abandoned insane asylum where some lunatic lurks in the shadows and ultimately sets out to kill them one at a time as they flee in terror. It’s a formula that can never be beat, but rather than rest on the usual gore, guts and genitals, Play Hooky rests on realism, revelation and reversals – just enough to anger the Grind House crowd. It’s well acted and nicely directed and edited, but there’s no buckets of blood and big bouncing breasts, only the booty on the poster, which irritates the Grind House crowd.
For the Art House crowd, the high school kids fit the typical archetype; the naughty, teasing, red-headed Catholic School girl with the alcoholic mother with her frumpy goody-two-shoes, retainer -sucking Toady sidekick, the tough trade-school chic that likes girls and motorcycles, the geeky, snide, smart-mouthed nerd with the camera in his hat, and his smarmy, older, gas pump-jockey cousin with a car. But, in Play Hooky, each kid wears the archetype like a false facade that crumbles like thin glass under pressure, just enough to aggravate the Grind House crowd. In the film, the kids really don’t know each other, and they are all hanging out for the first time, which is a new twist that should please both Art House and Grind House camps; or maybe not.
I found it obvious that the filmmakers wanted to typically put you in the car with the kids for the film – yes, it is so cliché, but then the filmmakers deconstruct the genre, put it back together and say “come on for the ride, but you’ll find it a little strange.” I either read on-line or heard in the filmmaker’s Commentaries a reference to the deconstruction of the classic western Unforgiven, so, Art House be pleased. I also heard mention of Last House on The Left and The Shining. One of the characters even mentions Danny and Mrs. Torrance, hence, Grind House be pleased. The violence is very real, short but real, as in a true gunfight, which, in reality, they say a gunfight only lasts maybe three seconds or so – sorry Grind Housers.
The final big-action is a great twist. I was very pleased with it. I never saw it coming and should please both Grind House and Art House fans. Then they threw in a very well edited montage before the credits, which, if you do go for the ride, breaks the Found Film reality to pieces. Then, after the credits, the filmmakers bring you back to a very real, well-acted prison interview which works so well that you feel sympathy for the bad guy (and what horror fan doesn’t feel bad for Jason Voorhees?) and leaves the film open for a sequel.
Play Hooky sits the fence, dead on the fulcrum point between Art House and Grind House. As with Red State/Blue State politics, you’ll like it or hate it; it all depends on what side you’re on.