Judge Michael Nazarewycz wonders if the apocalypse expects tongue.
"You know they're lying to us, don't you?"
The current interpretation of the phrase "independent film" doesn't really mean what it used to, at least in the mainstream. These days, "independent" seems less about breaking away and more about boutique; less about independence from major studios and more about independence from multiplexes. And even that is changing.
This is why I embrace true independent films—films that are made for the love of filmmaking first, not for a tabloid celeb to get a little industry cred, or for a megalomaniacal producer to rack up the trophy score, or for an action star to do "something meaningful." They might be harder to get ahold of, and you wind up getting a lot more bad than good, but when you find a good one, it's incredibly satisfying.
Apocalypse Kiss is incredibly satisfying.
Facts of the Case
In a dystopian future run by Horn Industries, lawman Jerry Hipple (Tom Detrick, Booley) is the best there is at what he does, but even he has one case he just can't close, one criminal he just can't catch: serial murderer The Red Harvest Killer. The killer, aka Adrian (D.C. Douglas, Sports Crash), grows angry when a pair of sexy drifters, Katia (Carmela Hayslett, Death Follows) and Gladys (Tammy Jean, Game over), leave a few bodies in their wake and steal the Killer's media thunder. This trio of paths ultimately intersect, but in the end…will it matter?
I didn't see Apocalypse Kiss coming. I didn't think an indie sci-fi flick could be as good as this is. And what makes it this good is it doesn't allow itself to be pigeon-holed into that genre. The sci-fi aspect is the least critical piece of the film; it's the setting, the backdrop. Yes, it takes place in the future, where money is called "credits," Jarvis-like AI help run homes, and other such things. Yes, the country is run by a shadowy Big Brother corporation. None of it matters. It's all periphery.
Apocalypse Kiss is, at its heart, a crime drama and a damn good one. It has a tenacious hero haunted by his past, a larger-than-life and ready-for-his-close-up villain, and a pair of punk lesbian femme fatales who don't look for trouble but know what to do when it finds them. It's a dystopian noir tale set in the future that could just as easily have been set during the Great Depression.
Of those four main characters—the cop, the villain, and the dames—D.C. Douglas as The Red Harvest Killer is the best by a mile. His Adrian is equal parts charismatic, natty, pragmatic, and psychotic, with a temper that can turn on a dime and a willingness to direct that temper at anyone who crosses him. It's an electrifying performance. Everyone else delivers at various levels, but a supporting performance of note is turned in by Tom Atkins (Lethal Weapon) as Hipple's boss. Simply put, he's an excellent Hollywood veteran and it shows.
But the real star of Apocalypse Kiss is behind the camera: writer/director/composer/editor/production designer/set decorator/VFX coordinator/camera operator Christian Grillo (Deer Crossing). While he is worthy of accolades for everything you see and hear on camera, the most impressive thing about him is the self-control he exercises throughout the film. There is so much temptation lurking about the film could have been a supreme mess.
There is nudity (male and female) and sex in the first five minutes, but the film never devolves into a carnal cesspool, nor are the lesbians exploited. There are murders, but not too many, nor are they too gory. The plot never gets too twisted or too clever by half—it's a slow-speed chase story, a game of cat and kittens and mouse that is tantric in execution. I could go on, but I'll end this thought by saying the film never falls for a story device that other films are fixated on or distracted by. It knows its story and it sticks to it.
With so many hats, Grillo first reminded me of a young Robert Rodriguez (especially with that writer/director/editor combination), but by the end, Grillo puts together a film that could have come from the mind and eye (and songbook) of a young John Carpenter. The story and music are right, the pace is right, the atmosphere is right, and the confidence is right. I look forward to Grillo's next film.
The 1.78:1 Anamorphic video presentation is excellent. Images are clear and colors splash, but most importantly, cinematographer Scott E. Kaufman's (Deer Crossing) contrasts between shadows and light—those key noir visuals—are sharp. The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track is even better, thanks to excellent balance between the onscreen sound (either dialogue, sound effects/ambient noise, or both) and the film's fantastic score and soundtrack.
Not only are there more extras than you get with most indie discs, the extras you get are excellent. They begin with a full audio commentary track featuring producer John Kent, actor Leo Wylder, actress/co-editor Carmela Hayslett, and multi-hyphenate Christian Grillo. Everything from anecdotes to filmmaking insight are offered (including a funny story about the crowd's reaction to Wylder's full frontal nudity early in the film).
Following this are a pair of excellent features. One is the hearty 38-minute "The Making of Apocalypse Kiss." There is a wealth of insight offered about the technical execution of the film and the involvement of the cast and crew via onscreen interviews (all of which is so much more interesting coming from an indie production). What makes the feature so great is its quality. This isn't just a bunch of bits stitched together to offer the fans a little red meat; considerable thought and effort went into the entire presentation, right down to the extra's score, and it all shows. The other feature is a 14-minute piece titled "Make Your Own Damn Space Station." Like the Making Of, the quality here is excellent, but this gets deeper into the filmmaking weeds, including information on location scouting, FX, set construction, and cost efficiencies (critical for an indie film). It also offers aspiring filmmakers onscreen tips called "Troma Edu-tainment Lessons," named as homage to Troma Studios, whose founder, Lloyd Kaufman, appears in this film as the President of the United States. There are also two faux commercials that appear in the film: "Horn Industries Commercial" (1 min) and "One Credit Samurai" (40 sec).
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Dystopia and the Big Brother quotient are such benign backdrops in the film that they aren't necessary. In fact, there are times the film reminded me of these things and I found myself distracted trying to determine how that setting played into the story. And even if you keep those attributes in play, the last 10 minutes of the film are entirely unnecessary and do nothing to either advance or resolve anything in the previous 90 minutes. The ending almost feels like a first draft idea that was left in after the direction of the story had changed.
Apocalypse Kiss is required viewing for anyone looking for movies that epitomize independent filmmaking, and not only because it exists in the true independent filmmaking space (read: not behind a boutique label under a studio umbrella). It shows—on the screen—that creativity, artistic skills, and a commitment to quality can result in something very special. Find this DVD.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Midnight Releasing
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