Sunday, July 1, 2012

"Lo" - Film Review by Mark Donovan

Lo starts with the main character, Justin – or, as he’s called throughout; Dinner – performing a ritual to summon the demon Lo. The scene is framed and scored very seriously, and the entrance of Lo is plenty dramatic. The creature is first seem crawling out of the darkness, slowly revealing its form – an ashen gray, hairy beast that is essentially one large torso with ruined scraps of legs trailing behind, with a small patch of its skull either missing, or it has a slight touch of harlequin ichthyosis. It is a frightening moment that lasts for about a minute, and then, with a cough, all pretense of seriousness is dropped, and the true nature of the film reveals itself.

The friend that recommended Lo to me summarized it thusly, “A guy summons a demon to get back his girlfriend, and then they dance.” He wasn’t being entirely accurate, but he was honestly recommending it. While initially billed as a horror movie, Lo is far more of a quirky comedy. Or, more accurately, it is one part comedy, one part love story, one part musical, and a few parts community theater. That last bit is not a knock against it; while you can see various stage productions similar in theme to Lo, most tend to be lacking in one very important area: the script. The makeup effects also help. Think of it more as Buff the Vampire Slayer: The Play. While Buffy did take itself seriously, to an extent, it was always aware of what it was, and used its premise to make more than a few sly jokes. The same can be said for Lo.

Lo, as played by Jeremiah Birkett, is all dry humor and sarcasm. Birkett is one of those ‘that-guy’ actors that has been acting in bit parts for over two decades - though he is unrecognizable underneath all of the makeup – and his experience is certainly evident in his timing and delivery. He is one of the reasons why the film works as well as it does. By contrast, Ward Roberts is less experienced, and when compared to Birkett, it shows. His delivery isn’t bad, but it lacks polish. He also looks like the love-child of Bruce Campbell and Marc Heap, and has more than a few moments where he seems to be channeling both actors.

The script does occasionally drop into camp - like the various song and dance numbers and a first-hand account of the tortures of hell as delivered by a bickering couple from behind a backlit bed sheet – but those moments are done willfully, usually as the setup for a joke, or just as the joke itself. Lo, in essence, is a one room, one act play and writer/director Travis Betz knows it, and uses that to his advantage. Half of the movie is set on a theater stage – if not all of it - with stagehands visibly smoking in the background, and occasionally reaching out to hand off a prop. The bulk of the action takes place on these various stages, and even the main circle, where protagonist Justin sits for the entire movie, looks like it is in the middle of a stage. Apparently there is an actual stage version in the works, which is surprising in that there isn’t already one. That is also one of the charms of the film; there is no reason for a film where the protagonist does little more than sit on the floor for the entire movie to work this well.

There will undoubtedly be a few people who stumble across this film on Netflix while looking for a horror fix, and those people will be disappointed. But those that don’t mind giving the film a brisk 80 minutes will find that there is quite a bit to recommend. It is no wonder that there seems to be a growing bunch of devoted followers on the film’s IMDB page. 

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