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“FIRE CITY: THE INTERPRETER OF SIGNS” (Film Review)

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To some filmmakers, a low budget is a terrifying thing, constantly ticking away as time and resources quickly work against your grand vision for a story. To others, however, a low budget can be something of a blessing in disguise, allowing ambitious ideas to work within a contained environment. In either case, a low budget warrants resourcefulness from a filmmaker, and in that case, a healthy imagination is always beneficial to roll with the financial and circumstantial punches. And in the case of Tom Woodruff Jr.’s FIRE CITY: THE INTERPRETER OF SIGNS, that imagination is on full display, allowing the Stan Winston alumnus to make a truly vibrant and intriguing story of monsters and men without peeling at the seams of its budget.

Now, FIRE CITY is not your standard genre film, even though the film does have a good share of blood, gore and flat-out fright. The tone of FIRE CITY is a mix of horror, fantasy and mystery, with a dark, mature storybook aesthetic to Woodruff Jr.’s cinematic voice throughout the film. Perhaps an appropriate term would be “monster noir,” with the supernatural taking the place of where the corrupt and sinister would show face in a classic crime story. In any case, FIRE CITY uses the “monster noir” elements as the base on which the film builds its world, rules and characters with as much attention being paid to the monster side as it is to the noir side.

FIRE CITY: THE INTERPRETER OF SIGNS follows a unique world where demons and men coexist with a parasite-host dynamic, as demons fuel the darker side of man’s impulses in order to feed off the relentless negativity. However, that balance is interrupted by a prophetic sign, and suddenly, the dark and seedy world of FIRE CITY is upended into the light. And with the demons growing weak and hungry, it’s up to de facto alpha male Atum Vine to get to the bottom of what’s plaguing FIRE CITY.

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With stunning practical FX, sly writing and a genuine sense of pathos running throughout, FIRE CITY proves to be a superb directorial debut for esteemed creature performer and SFX artist Tom Woodruff Jr., who nails the narrative aspects just as effectively as the visual elements. When the film gets dark, it’s unafraid to go truly terrifying in its implications, yet Woodruff offers an otherworldly atmosphere that keeps the tone from falling irreparably into despair. Michael Hayes and Brian Lubocki’s strong, though occasionally on-the-nose, script helps balance the various genres in which FIRE CITY weaves to and fro, all the while keeping the action contained and unpredictable. And with the help of cinematographer Danny Grunes, composer Ryan Leach, editor Brett Hedlund and production designer Dayne Oshiro, the world of FIRE CITY truly comes to life, projecting a pungent sensory palate that is as voyeuristic as it is vulgar.

Woodruff Jr. also proves himself to be one hell of an actor’s director on FIRE CITY as well, as the film touts some exceptional performances. Tobias Jelinek provides the emotional anchor for the film as the compelling Vine, who is simultaneously intimidating and empathetic with or without his demonic exterior. On the monstrous side of things, Kimberly Leemans and Danielle Chuchran are the stand-outs among the cast, with the former impressing as a vulnerable and desperate demonic prostitute and the latter providing a committed and savage performance as the titular Interpreter of Signs. And on the human side of things, Keely Alona, Derrick L. McMillon and Kristen Minter all bring their A-game to FIRE CITY, with Alona providing a solid and affecting child performance while both McMillon and Minter bring two unique yet impressive faces to their respective characters.

As a whole, FIRE CITY: THE INTERPRETER OF SIGNS is a testament to ambition and imagination in filmmaking, offering a low budget tale with top tier SFX that feels neither constrained or desperate despite its limitations. The “monster noir” world of FIRE CITY feels real and authentic, and the desire to explore it further is one of the many strengths that Woodruff Jr. applies to his directorial debut. And even though the individual beats can sometimes be a bit melodramatic at times, FIRE CITY proves to be a wholly engaging, unique and occasionally frightening experience, and one that this writer anticipates many will want to explore firsthand.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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