“AMONG FRIENDS” (DVD Review)
You’re invited to a party!It is prom night in 1984 so put on your best frilly dress, crimp your hair (or fix that mullet), get ready for a totally awesome night where once you notice that someone is missing, you’ll need to sort out which one of your closest friends is a killer. Sound like fun? This quirky set up, an 80s-themed murder mystery dinner party, is the perfect pretext for a twisted, blood-soaked night of revelations that doesn’t disappoint in Danielle Harris’ premiere directorial effort, AMONG FRIENDS.
After a fun, flashy preamble where the guests meet and hang out, party hostess Bernadette (played with ferocity by screenwriter Alyssa Lobit) begins the real game of the night in which guests become victims, are bound around a table and dark secrets and blood are spilled in equal measure. The rules dictate that each guest may ask only one question of their unhinged host and the answer requires a fleshy sacrifice, but the torture will not begin without the consent of one other table mate. The cringe-worthy punishments spark with a “haircut” and spiral from there. It’s all rather nasty.
Once the actors are assembled around the dining room table, Harris shoots the scenes in order lending an authentic air to the escalating madness. In the lively director and cast commentary (the only feature outside of a trailer on the DVD release), Harris says“I wanted them to want to kill each other and want to get out of this room so bad. I wanted them to feel suffocated”. This approach, along with the effective use of camera movement is spot on and inventive. Starting with a bright bubblegum palate of the 80s and using wide steady shots, things slowly grow grim as the party treads on. When events spin further out of control and these friends turn on each other, the frame whips around, bringing the viewer into their frantic headspace while the color all but drains away.
With the exception of Blane (Chris Meyer) and Marcus (Christopher Backus) who feel interchangeable as dim-witted guys who just want to get laid, Lobit has created a gaggle of well rounded characters, each with their own distinct approach to the madness at hand. Jennifer Blanc-Biehn’s Melanie breaks down immediately and with enjoyable intensity while the initially selfless Sara (Kamala Jones) handles her various physical and mental tortures with a quiet grace. AJ Bowen is a stand out (not just for the goofy mullet he sports for the first half of the film) as Adam, the one with the most to hide and the gorgeously expressive Jules (Brianne Davis) entertains with her ill-timed ‘shroom adventures, taking the viewer for quite a ride while remaining strapped to a chair (though one trip does last far too long, it is peppered with cameos that are sure to delight). Rounding out the group is Lily (Dana Daurey) who spends the least time at the party, but ensures she will not be forgotten.
Low budget and somewhat flawed, AMONG FRIENDS (now available on DVD) is an otherwise sharp psychological horror film with practical squirm-inducing FX, plenty of pretty things to look at… and even a limo ride from Harris’ HATCHET II & III co-star Kane Hodder.