One of the most underrated directors working today is Adam Mason. Mason made waves in the indie scene when Dimension Extreme picked up his feature debut “Broken”. When his follow-up, “The Devil’s Chair” punched me in the gut, I was sure that he would become a household name. Here we are, several films later, and it feels like Adam’s films are getting even less attention. “Blood River”, which was one of the best films of 2009, has yet to even secure North American distribution. This is despite the high praise the film has been met with from most whom have seen it. Mason’s experimental film “Pig”, which was filmed almost entirely in one take, has been made available by the director through online premieres, but is still not readily available to those that wish to see it. Skip forward a year, and Adam is back with “Luster”. Though, admittedly not a horror film, it’s dark enough of a comedy, and intense enough of a thriller that it plays well to fans of the genre. Much like his last several films, Mason is having some trouble securing distribution, which is a sad thing, because this is his most polished film to date. “Luster” would play well on the big screen, and I honestly believe that if given the shot, it would stand toe to toe against anything that Hollywood has to offer.
“Luster” follows the title character, Thomas Luster, played by the amazing Andrew Howard. Thomas is dealing with a severe case of insomnia. He also suspects his wife of fooling around with his eccentric neighbor. When he starts receiving strange letters telling him to stop taking his insomnia medication, he assumes it’s his neighbor playing with his mind. Thomas, and his homeless friend Les, played by Tommy Flanagan(Sons of Anarchy) take a trip to a local pawnshop, and walk away with some video surveillance equipment to try and catch his neighbor in the act. When Thomas reviews the surveillance footage, he discovers that something far more sinister is afoot. When Thomas’ personal life crumbles, bodies start to drop, and Luster is left to battle his inner demons.
One of the most impressive things about Adam Mason, is that he can take a budget that most filmmakers would scoff at, and turn it into a brilliant, polished cinematic experience. “Luster” is no exception. Mason turns in a finished product that would convince even the most educated cinephile that he had much more to work with. It saddens me that films like “Paranormal Activity” receive support from big name studios, yet films like “Blood River” and “Luster” have gone unnoticed. A lot of people complain about the state of Hollywood films today, but only a handful are actually willing to do something about it. How can you complain about a lack of creativity in one breath, then slap your hard earned dollars down on the counter for whatever this month’s hot new pillaging of our childhood favorites happens to be?
Andrew Howard’s performance is the driving force behind “Luster”. Howard is a regular in Mason’s films, and every time he steps in front of a camera he brings his A game. Howard takes us on a roller coaster ride of emotions as we follow him on a steady decline into madness. Anyone that has ever gone a couple of days without sleep knows that your mind starts playing tricks on you after a while. This is portrayed with a level of brilliance, both by Andrew’s acting chops, and the impeccable writing of both Mason, and his writing partner Simon Boyes.
The cinematography of “Luster” is great, as with all of Mason’s films. The spectacular lighting is what really sets the mood though. One scene in particular features Andrew Howard standing in a bathroom caked in blood. The scene looks spectacular, proving that the aesthetics of your film rely heavily on your knowledge of lighting a scene. A lot of people don’t realize this, but sometimes fake blood that is used on the set doesn’t resemble blood at all. Mason himself admits that without the lighting of the scene mentioned above, the blood that Andrew Howard is covered in would have looked terrible.
Mason does a good job straddling the line between the gritty indie style he’s become known for, and mainstream marketability. Fans of his previous work will not be disappointed, yet casual viewers are not left feeling alienated. The characters are all interesting, and easy to relate to. The story is smart, and compelling, yet easy to follow, and the ending is both satisfying, and unexpected. Adam Mason stepped outside of his comfort level with this film, proving that he’s not a one-trick pony. With Andrew Howard’s career building steam, perhaps a much deserved theatrical release will be given to “Luster” in the year to come.