Dwellers (Movie Review)

Dwellers (Movie Review)

They are watching and they are hungry! Dwellers arrives on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital on Tuesday, October 12, 2021 thanks to Ellefson Films.

Written, directed, and starring Drew Fortier, who previously worked with Bang Tango on their 2016 feature, Attack of Life: The Bang Tango Movie, Dwellers is packaged as a found footage experience in the realm of 1999’s The Blair Witch Project. It details the struggles of a trio of filmmakers—Fortier (Her Name Was Christa 2020, Brimstone Incorporated 2021), James L. Edwards (Bloodletting 1997, Supernatural Assassins series), and Douglas Esper (Anathema 2019, The Nutshell short 2020)—who go missing while working on a documentary on the local homeless population, particularly a string of unexplained disappearances.

Dwellers still

In fear of losing his ample funding, provided by none other than the Grammy Award-winning David Ellefson (he of Megadeth fame and the real-life producer of the film), Fortier enlists his two friends by providing them with only the most minimal of details. And so the mismatched musketeers set out to interview the homeless, though, as this is a Horror flick, only one of the men survives to relate his side of the story.

Framed by scenes of an interrogation conducted by Officer Dotani (Omar Baig: Broken & Beautiful 2012, Let’s Make a Movie 2012), Dwellers fumbles along for 79 minutes trying to attain the authentic eeriness of features such as the previously mentioned Blair Witch while drawing inspiration from 1984’s classic C.H.U.D. But even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles understand that the sewers alone are not enough to illicit terror!

Dwellers banks its success on Ellefson and his marketability as both a producer and an actor. With less than five minutes screen time, he does an excellent job of portraying himself as a no-nonsense businessman with just enough edge to still be Rock-n-Roll. So while his acting chops are decent, he’s given so little time on screen that to direct fans to view the film for his presence alone seems misleading. Thom Hazaert, as well, is solid in his role as the pushy version of himself. There’s something to be said for his ability to demand an audience’s complete attention, but again, he plays a bit part. Former Mushroomhead Vocalist Jeff Hatrix also makes a cameo.

So where does the film fail? Its screenplay, for one, is predictable at every step and fails to build tension or atmosphere; one moment the group is sitting on a suburban sofa, the next they are traipsing through a brick tunnel. Only a vague mention of ‘creatures in the sewers’ has been made beforehand, so there’s little for the audience to anticipate save for the murky depths of the underground. Although, once held in its Stygian clutches, they experience run-ins with said creatures but moviegoers are only given quick glimpses of that which lurks below.

Banking on viewers’ fear of what they cannot see is a tactic that has been used before, with both disastrous failures (2012’s Chernobyl Diaries, anyone?) and intermittent success (the Paranormal Activity franchise)—it’s all in how the actors are able to sell the authenticity of their terror. Here, the script seemingly calls for a relaxed approach to imminent death, with the cast displaying more exhaustive frustration than reactions of spine-tingling horror. But they’re not a bad cast. Fortier’s self-shot, solo moments feel real as the actor chats with the camera, conveying his disgust with himself for waiting until the very last minute to live up to his deal with Ellefson. Meanwhile, Edwards dons a bougie persona that is not necessarily complemented by his choice of wardrobe, but the understanding that he’s the diva is there and it brings some life to his flat character. The third amigo, Esper, delivers a performance that, at times, overshadows his co-stars as he tries to grapple with his role in the failed documentary.

Unfortunately, the screenplay feels as sloppy as the filmmakers’ would-be documentary as it tends toward switching back and forth between the found footage and the present, never pausing to develop any of its characters or its urban legend. Likely because of this slapped together feel, there is a definite lack of attention to detail throughout. Actors that are meant to be living on the streets and sleeping in sewers have perfectly brushed hair, crisp, bleached wife-beaters, and generally do not provide the genuine feel of individuals who are struggling just to survive another day. We’re willing to overlook Fortier’s obvious fangirling, but he fails to omit lines within the dialogue that are unnecessary (“Do you know what it’s like to try to masturbate in private when you’re homeless?”) and detract from what he is trying to achieve; injecting prepubescent humor into a film that is otherwise (mostly) serious.

Dwellers still

That said, the film has certainly impressed many and has already taken home multiple awards, ranging from “Best Feature” at the Screamwriting Festival to “Most Disturbing Scenes” at the Horror Bowl Movie Awards. To be fair, Fortier’s passion for his craft does shine through despite his obviously low budget. A natural in front of the camera, it should be noted that his found footage scenes are raw and real, complete with audio interference and sun-bleaching of interview subjects. So there’s no reason not to believe that his filmmaking skills will continue to evolve toward something that is truly scream-inspiring. For now, however, Dwellers feels like a group of undeveloped characters wandering aimlessly with a hand-held camera, name-dropping as they make all the bad decisions necessary for a Horror film on a formulaic schedule. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Dwellers 2.5 of 5 stars.

Ellefson Films

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Jeannie Blue
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Jeannie likes to joke that she is little, yellow, blue, and different. She seemingly popped out of her mother's womb with a pen in her hand and has been writing ever since. Many moons ago - in what feels like a separate lifetime - Jean was co-editor of an online music magazine that afforded her great opportunities to interview and photograph some of her favorite bands/musicians: Tommy Lee, Good Charlotte, Warrant, Bring Me The Horizon, My Chemical Romance, Sevendust, New Found Glory, Deftones, Poison, VH-1 "Band On the Run" Flickerstick, an endless list of unsigned locals, and so many others. These days, she can usually be found hiking aimlessly through the woods in her favorite Technicolor sneakers with a Nikon in hand and her rescue dog, Molly, who is a bit hare-brained.

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