Last year, a small company from Baltimore (the home of my beloved Orioles) contacted me in the beginning stages of The Blood Sprayer’s existence asking if we would take a look at their short film, “BEHOLD”. “BEHOLD” ended up becoming my favorite short film of 2010. It was a perfect example of what inspired minds can do with little money, but loads of creativity. Considering how much I fell in love with the short film Mourningside created, it was only obvious that I would be excited to know that they were in production on a full length called Grayhaven. But would the second time out be as potent as the first?
Grayhaven, although an entirely new flick, will be very familiar to its audience. It tells the tale of 3 girls: 2 who are sisters, 1 a best friend. Megan, one of the 2 sisters, will be heading off to college in the fall. Consequently, her parents have decided to sell the home the girls grew up in. As the impending move draws ever near, we become increasingly aware of the strain this split will have on these bonds. Megan’s move is colliding head first with her relationship (with her boyfriend), it’s adding stress to the already stressful situation this poses for her sister and parents, AND it comes back around full circle to make her life temporarily miserable. So, the decision is made by the 3 best friends to spend the one last night in the house doing the things they grew up doing.
The ladies run around in their underwear/pajamas, eat pizza, watch movies and summon the unrested spirits of local scumbags who’ve past on. Though, they’re engaging in the things they’ve loved for so long, there are several distractions that take away from the enjoyment for them. To the girls, these are inconveniences but will soon become realizations of it being their time to grow up. As the night progresses forward, we discover that someone is lurking about who has harmful, dark things on his mind. This nostalgic reunion will end with horrible results.
I’ll be the first to admit that although I’m a fan of what Mourningside Productions does, I was nervous for this release. Whenever a filmmaker delivers a first film that leaves a strong, strong mark on you as viewer one can’t help but worry about a letdown. Will the next thing they create be as potent as its predecessor or will it fizzle out with your hope and expectation? A filmmaker’s entire life and career has lead up to their first film. They’ve toiled and slaved over that first piece of art that they then turn around and share with the world. The world stands in amazement at this creation…then, the world demands more. So now, the filmmaker has to try and top their previous work but do so in a sliver of the time they spent on their introductory piece. Call me crazy, but that’s a lot of fucking pressure! But after viewing writer/directors Richard Donahue and Justin Williams latest release, I’m glad to say my fears were laid to rest. These guys lit it up once again!
Previously, I stated that the film would be familiar to its audience, because for people from my generation, Grayhaven is the type of film we cut our teeth on. It very much has that feel you would get from seeing The Prowler or Halloween, but there is that one piece to this that makes Mourningside Productions so very special as a company-atmosphere. Generally speaking, the indie horror film market sees a lot of films that rely heavily on the most exploitative sides of the story. Often times gore and nudity are used to over compensate for a lack of story (and in a lot of cases, a flat-out lack of ability). Well, for Donahue and Williams relying on gimmicks is not an option. They prefer to heighten the suspense at a pace that practically has you bursting by the time the climax is reached. You will not find heads flying to and fro, limbs and entrails being strewn about. Instead, you will find sparse but very realistic dialogue. You will find characters that are very easily related to. Bottom line, these cats make the genuine attempt to create real fear. No jump scares or cheap thrills-Grayhaven effectively builds its tension alongside the fear/confusion the characters are going through.
As is the case with any low budget indie film, it has its flaws (audio could’ve used some love, as well as some moments of lighting that could have been more precise) but as a whole, the film’s heart wills out. Donahue and Williams are most effective as storytellers. This has been the strength that carried them from “BEHOLD” through to Grayhaven. The surprise with Grayhaven is that we spend much less time getting to know our faceless killer (known as “The Reaper”) and more time getting to know the characters. At times, it almost doesn’t feel like a horror film, and that is a gutsy move on the part of the filmmakers. Just as you’re beginning to engross yourself in the 3 friends and their lives, we get a reminder that not all that glitters is gold: There’s still an evil presences stalking their neighborhood and they’re in his sights. In fact, I found myself almost surprised when the violence took place in the film because I was so busy taking part in the story itself. And this very piece of evidence is exactly why Grayhaven is a great horror film. You’re learning of the evils of the evening at the same time the victims are. There isn’t a lot of precursor involved.
All in all, Mourningside Productions continues to impress me by taking unconventional routes. Could they have gone balls-out and had the killer gutting naked women from start to finish? Well, technically yes. For all intents and purposes, Grayhaven would normally be viewed as a slasher film and as is symptomatic of that sub-genre, gore is its foundation. However, as was proven with their first films, Mourningside Productions isn’t your older brother’s indie horror team. These guys are more concerned with substance than they are style. The genre could use more of that mentality. Don’t be fooled by Donahue and Williams’ other monikers they’re known by-these 2 take their writing and craft very seriously and are (hopefully) going to continue putting out great films that will take unique roads to tell us an old story. Grayhaven is a great accomplishment for the low-budget indie horror sect. So, once again in 2011, I ask: When is someone going to give these fellas some more money to make the movie we know they’re capable of?!
Tags: atmosphere, Baltimore, Gore, Grayhaven, Halloween, Horror, Indie Horror, Justin Williams, Low Budget, Mourningside Productions, Richard Donahue, slasher, storytellers, The Chainsaw Sally Show, The Prowler