Judge Dave Packard enjoyed life on the other side so much, he's not coming back.
Fear the reapers.
As a film fan raised on homegrown, mainstream movies, I've been slow to dip my toe into the indie waters. I know, I know—there's lots of great stuff to be found out there. Couple that with the fact that I've recently found myself leaving the multiplexes increasingly frustrated by loads of flashy CGI spilled over weak stories, and I was more than ready to give The Other Side a spin.
The result? Let me put it this way: If The Other Side is indicative of what I've been missing from the indie scene, I'm ready to skip the toe-dipping and cannonball myself straight into the middle of the pool. Loads of fun throughout its lean 95 minutes, The Other Side is proof that you don't need an A-list cast, glitzy effects, and coffers overflowing with cash to make a fantastic film.
Facts of the Case
What is it about great evil that yields even greater loopholes? The Death Star still would be menacing galaxies today if it weren't for that two-meter-wide exhaust port that some imperial architect probably designed late on a Friday, his mind already preoccupied with finding the nearest cantina for happy hour.
Hell, as portrayed in The Other Side, has a similar problem with almost identical dimensions. Satan may have cornered the market on eternal torment, but his architect sucks. See, it's possible to escape Hell, and from the number of people who've done it—even multiple times—apparently Hades is an easier nut to crack than Alcatraz.
Life is all unicorns and rainbows for Sam North (Nathan Mobley). About to graduate from a prestigious Ivy League school, he's managed to weather a long-distance relationship with his fiancee, Hanna Thompson (Jaimie Alexander, with appearances in Kyle XY), who works at a bar and grill in rural Georgia. But earthly happiness is not to be as Sam, waiting for Hanna at their special, idyllic spot, suddenly finds himself in the dark, dank caves of Hell (dubbed "The Pit" by those unfortunate to have received a one-way ticket to the place) after a mysterious van plows broadside into him. Luckily for Sam, eternity lasts mere minutes when some fellow damned bring him along as they spring the joint.
As one might expect, Hell is none too happy at losing its charges, and a trio of reapers (two words: demonic Terminators) are dispatched to send the escapees back to Hell by hunting them down and killing them. Sam finds assistance in fending off the relentless reapers in the form of the straight-laced Oz (Poncho Hodges), the wise-cracking and 39-time adulterer Mally (Cory Rouse), and a slew of other escapees.
If that isn't enough, Sam learns that Hanna is missing, and he's suspect numero uno. With the ruthless reapers in constant pursuit, Sam fights to stay alive and unravel the truth behind Hanna's disappearance.
Gregg Bishop, the man who wrote, directed, and edited this puppy, has crafted a wild tale chock-full of different yet intertwined genres. He wastes no time in giving viewers a jolt before the title hits the screen, but first impressions can be deceiving: This is not a simple, by-the-book horror film. At its heart is a tragic love story, and a current of mysteries flows beneath the action and bloodletting. Jarring, mysterious quick cuts soon left me pondering all sorts of questions. Who killed Sam? Why was he condemned to Hell? What happened to Hanna? What's the deal about Sam's murdered parents, and who's behind that? What's the deal with the document and Sam's signature? Bishop lets these questions simmer as he patiently builds his characters and tosses red herrings along the way.
Speaking of red, there's plenty of it here. The Other Side is not a wall-to-wall gorefest, but the shootings, stabbings, arm rippings, and impalings spill their share of blood in ways that definitely garner the R rating. The quality of these and other effects is often top-notch and surprisingly accomplished by a variety of methods. From simple physical props, squibs, and real guns firing blanks to "guacamole" guns, Photoshop, and a bit of CGI, The Other Side sports extremely impressive visual effects for a film on a shoestring budget.
Of course, the physical carnage brought by the reapers' wrath would mean little if the characters didn't feel genuine. Thankfully, they're brought to life by a capable and talented cast. Mobley more than holds his own as the film's lead, and the rest of the cast—no matter how small the part—often show real acting chops. Of particular note is Rouse's portrayal of Mally. Rouse brings his comedic talents and improvisation skills to a character that craves and indulges in the more material pleasures of an earthbound existence, and his actions and quips are truly funny. He's a pleasant source of comic relief amidst the weightier tones of the story. Best of all, none of it feels forced. It's the type of person Mally truly is versus who he isn't.
The music warrants kudos of its own. Kris Carter, an Emmy award winner for Batman Beyond and composer for Teen Titans, has crafted a fantastic score that injects Bishop's action sequences with audio adrenaline. It echoes of some scores from mainstream action fare with far mightier budgets (portions made me think of Aliens), but I can't quibble with that. Like so many other aspects of the film, it works, and it works very well.
Bringing it all together is Bishop's excellent direction. Clearly gifted with an eye for making movies, his love of making a film is palpable throughout. Despite the incredibly low amount for which this film was shot, Bishop's work behind the camera and in the editing room had me forgetting that this was an independent flick. This is film made for the love of it, and truth be told, I found it incredibly refreshing.
If the film is the cake bought at a dime store price, Bishop's commentary track is pure icing. This is how a commentary track should be done. Too many times have I listened to a commentary track with seemingly-bored participants dishing out uninteresting banter between long gaps of silence. Again, Bishop's passion for film shines as he jumps right in, eager to admit he's excited to do a commentary track. Bishop reeled me in with his entertaining and enlightening tales about his "guerrilla filmmaking" experience and how he managed to pull off a film with the budget he had. He goes into the technical, telling viewers how he gave the unfortunate souls of the damned their unsettling gait or how a particular scene was—or in some cases, wasn't—lit. He points out the characters who are friends, significant others, or family members who sometimes became instant crew members (and vice-versa). But what I enjoyed most of all was Bishop's array of tips and tricks for shooting an independent film. He discusses things like the power of wearing an orange vest, the approach that is sometimes better than asking for permission before shooting, and the endless favors he obtained from his network of friends, family, and fellow film school grads. Bishop's commentary track is a real treat and is not to be missed.
Visually, the film is on the grainier side, but given the fact that this is an indie film shot with donated equipment, I can hardly fault the filmmakers for not having a sharp-as-nails presentation. And given the subject matter, the quality of the visuals actually work in favor of the film. Audio is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that won't work your rear speakers often, but it's crisp, your subwoofer will enjoy the occasional rumble from swells of the soundtrack and gunfire. I did notice a few scenes where the dialogue dropped lower than I expected, but those moments were the exception rather than the rule.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Some may feel that Bishop's script borrows much from The Terminator and its sequels. The parallels are there and easy to spot, but Bishop's film mixes it up with elements of other genres and manages to tell an original story that makes it feel more like a nod to Cameron's films and less of a bad rip-off.
The Other Side is great fun. It's a well-written, deftly directed, and confidently shot supernatural thrill ride filled with solid acting, comic relief that works, impressive action sequences, and a fantastic soundtrack, all of which elevate this film to a level far greater than the sum of its parts. It's an indie film that runs circles around many of its bigger-budgeted and bloated Hollywood brethen that so often rely on expensive CGI effects and star power to buoy a flimsy script. Highly recommended.
The court hereby finds The Other Side not guilty and is free to go. Let the record state that the court eagerly anticipates Gregg Bishop's future filmmaking projects, as the man clearly has some serious skills. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Allumination Filmworks
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