Bad Movies Beware!
Ah, indie films!
It’s no secret that I have a great amount of love and respect for indies. The fact that you’re ballsy enough to actually A) beg for funding and B) convince a whole lot of people to give their time and talents for not a lot of (if any) money or guaranteed exposure is enough right there to earn you some respect. It’s also why I hold indies to higher standards than I do mainstream movies. My expectations are high. It’s hard to tell a good, original story.
Blowing s**t up constantly and retelling someone else’s story with an endless budget backing you?
Not so much.
Athena is a project I’ve been keeping my eye on. The original trailer sold me. It was what a trailer should be: show me enough to get my interest but be vague enough to make me curious what the movie is about without showing me a two-minute synopsis of the film that spoils all of the good scenes.
Let’s get started, shall we?
Carl is a train wreck of a human being. He drinks straight whiskey like an athlete drinks Gatorade on a hot day after practice, takes medication for depression/anxiety that he chases with said whiskey, lives alone with his dog, has recurring dreams about his dead wife, and stalks the hot girl at the pharmacy, Emily, who he actually has a past with. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
Carl is badly burned—his face, hands, and other areas of his body scarred from the fire that cooked his ex-wife, Marion, a little too well-done to survive. He and Dodger (the mutt) live in an apartment in Charlotte, North Carolina. Dodger is a wiener dog that eats, literally, ANYTHING he gets near.
One night, Carl is walking his dog and comes across a murder in progress in the back alley behind his apartment. The guy kills the older man he’s attacking, then manages to stab Carl and vomit in his face. Scene-shift to the hospital. Emily is there, and Carl chats with her for a sec before leaving to get Dodger from the pound. The older guy, Colin, was a friend of theirs.
Soon Carl begins hearing a woman’s voice in his head, and he dubs the voice “Athena,” after the Greek Goddess. Fitting, since he’s often seen reading The Odyssey. The voice wants him to connect with Emily and try to start a relationship with her. Things escalate quickly, however, and we soon find out that Athena may (or may not) have Carl’s best interests in mind.
About halfway through, the focus shifts to Emily. It starts with flashbacks and brings it up to present day. Nothing really spoiling about it, so no “ah-ha!” moments in telling you that Carl and Emily were once an item behind Marion’s back. Carl calls it off, which Emily isn’t thrilled about.
Colin is the stereotypical gay best friend and the comic relief in the film. He and the others decide to play a drinking game, and they all retire afterwards, too drunk to drive home. Emily throws a notepad near the fire and accidentally burns the house down.
Surprise! Emily is also a samurai and practices in her bedroom daily. She goes to the hospital when she’s notified by the police that Colin has been killed, and things go awry from there. The two timelines mesh at the scene where Emily and Carl chat at the hospital, and we get the second act, which is a retelling of the first act, but through Emily’s viewpoint.
VERDICT: Give it a go!
Yup, that’s right! No spoilers!
The good first.
The film, visually, looks great. That’s not something you’re going to miss. The minute it starts, you’ll swear you’re watching a mainstream, big budget film. Every shot is befitting to the scene and the character action, so you’re not going to get large scenic shots all over the place, and you’re not going to feel like you’re ALWAYS stuck inside a shoebox with the characters, either. Not that the visuals don’t have issues here and there, but we’ll get to that. On the whole, the cinematography is just great, and unexpected for an indie. How many indies have I watched in the category of what I call “Handycam film?”
The writing is also very good. The dialogue, for the most part, doesn’t force the action along unnaturally. It gives the actors something meaty to work with, which is helpful because no one in the movie is of note. When you’re an actor with talent, you really want something you can work with so that you give a good first impression to potential fans and, frankly, studios. Something with meaty writing and in-depth storytelling.
A story about the inside of something deep and meaty is likely not going to help you in that regard.
At least not outside of internet obscurity.
Let’s keep it real: this is NOT a perfect film. It has its issues. The dream sequences from Act 1 could be taken out altogether. Frankly, they look a little cheap, much like a movie filmed and edited on iMovie rather than in a studio, and it just doesn’t mesh well with the crisp, clean look of the rest of the film. Plus, they don’t really add to the story at all and interrupt otherwise great pacing. Not that there shouldn’t be something, but I felt we would’ve gotten more out of a shot of Carl sleeping and a sound clip in the background of the fire and Marion screaming his name. The dream where it seems that Athena has taken over his memory of Marion is good, but again, isn’t really necessary since we already get, by then, that Athena has Carl by the stones.
Another bit that bothered me a little was Emily’s samurai bits. I felt like her being a samurai didn’t really do the job of making her seem like a strong character. Could be because, admittedly due to the formula set by other films, I’d expect her to have a big battle at the end where the ability to wield a blade would come in handy. When she trains, the scene goes to a psychedelic photo-negative look, which was good but ended up being unnecessary since her samurai skills weren’t really fleshed out. Anyone can grab a sword and hack someone up. I would ask if she couldn’t just have the set in the house as a decorative thing and then end up using it in a pinch because it’s what she grabbed.
The thing you’ll pick up on with this movie is that the story, at its simplest core, has been done before. A parasite takes up residence in a human. That’s not a bad thing, though, because there is a way to do a common story and it still be effective and feel new. Athena takes an ambitious and major risk with this and comes out on top by presenting the story in a unique way that keeps the viewer interested from beginning to end with a very psychological emphasis on things, which says a lot considering it’s a science fiction piece. Most indie sci-fi films tend to over-focus on the science fiction and leave the characters behind in favor of “ooh, look at the scary monster!” I had a conversation about the film with Jerry Chandler, the man behind Needless Things, and he said, “You can see the raw talent in there that stylistically reminds you of a very early Ken Russell or David Cronenberg type of filmmaker trying to break out past the limitations he had in making Athena.” The dream sequences really aren’t deal-breakers at all, but watching them sometimes felt like I was running on the treadmill and missed a step only to be jerked back into the groove again.
All in all, I’m gonna give it one Pile of S**t. Despite its flaws, Athena hits the mark for me as a solid film with attention paid to detail where it needed it. I’m leaving spoilers out because, well, you need to watch this movie.