August 13, 2018 Show Yourself (Movie Review)
The various circumstances where life challenges people are often couched in metaphorical terms like “fights” or “battles.” This implies the potential for a decisive “victory” (or even “defeat”) at some nebulous future moment. Grief is one such emotion encouraging these descriptions. Show Yourself, a sophomore feature film from Writer/Director Billy Ray Brewton (Dead Ahead 2008), seeks to dig a little deeper. Winner of multiple awards on the film festival circuit, Show Yourself now comes to VOD and DVD on August 14, 2018 through Fox Hollow Features. Brewton’s film will certainly leave many viewers with questions. Are they the good kind, though?
Show Yourself is the tale of the grieving Travis (Ben Hethcoat: Dead Dad 2012, Best Friends Forever 2013), who goes to the woods to process the recent tragic loss of his childhood friend Paul (Clancy McCartney: Chicago Fire series 2014, Jessica 2016). As his somewhat solitary days pass, he begins to sense he may not actually be alone. A truly low-fi Horror Drama, Show Yourself is essentially a one-man show with a very simple plot. As it is mainly about Travis’ personal journey to come to terms with Paul’s death, it asks the viewer to be patient. This is about Travis’ grief, so much time is spent getting to know him and the different aspects of his life both touched by Paul and not.
A film that certainly leans more on the side of Drama than Horror, anyone expecting a straight haunted house story should be forewarned. In that sense it sort of echoes A24 Horror, where characters with real human depth contend with increasingly bizarre conditions. Travis is an actor. He takes some time in the solitary peace of the forest to work on his upcoming film with his Director Daniel (Stephen Cone: The Wise Kids 2011, Shameless series 2014). Aside from that he speaks every so often with girlfriend Nikki (Corsica Wilson: Floreana 2014, Seeing Through 2016) and a few friends. All of these individuals, save Director Daniel, have a history with Paul as well. Travis took it upon himself to spread Paul’s ashes about the campground.
Travis spends a lot of his time walking about the camp. He thinks. He drinks. The film asks the viewer to lose themselves in the minutiae of the main character’s experience. Things eventually begin to get weird and it veers ever so slightly into Horror before taking a more pronounced approach toward the end. A truly compelling lead would totally help here. At times the plot-light tale, while thoughtful, meanders. Ben Hethcoat is game for the role, but the character Travis just isn’t that interesting. While the story strives for moral ambiguity in the friendship between Travis and Paul, it never quite feels like more than a sketch, though.
Some interesting things are going on here with technology, however. One could argue not only is Travis constantly interrupted by his phone, iPad, etc. but that he is also willingly interrupting his mournful time there. He calls the people in his life regularly. How alone does he really want to be? One thread running through the film is Travis’ inability to understand the reasons surrounding Paul’s death. Once Travis starts receiving strange text messages that only grow stranger, this aspect of technology’s influence grows. There seems to be a wall between Travis and certain persons in his life. The loss of human connection thanks to tech-mediated experience has some weight to it here.
And what of Paul, whose death haunts everyone, especially Travis, in the film? Give Billy Ray Brewton credit. He is attempting to sketch out characters here that feel like real people. In Paul, he basically has a ghost, someone gone but alive in Travis’ memories. None of the characters have an arc, per se, but they feel real enough. This is a tightrope to walk and Brewton does not exactly nail it (no characters really stand out). There does seem to be something subtly satirical about what this reliance on technology does to people using it.
It is disappointing, doubly so, then that besides the Travis character being somewhat weak, Brewton gets a little heavy-handed with the Horror side of the story. The low-key strangeness goes out the window. In doing so, Brewton creates too definitive of a ghost story for what it feels he would been brewing beforehand.
So where ultimately does Show Yourself stand? It has some good ideas and some simple, effective scares, but the characters are mostly lacking. The film’s Horror-centric third act felt almost out of place and needlessly obfuscating as a result. The film’s resolution is not that satisfactory either. This could certainly be an acknowledgment that grief is not exactly something one comes to solid terms with. However, again, the third act kind of undermines the film’s emotional weight.
All told, Show Yourself is mostly a mixed experience; some aspects to like, nothing to really love, and some questionable things. Billy Ray Brewton clearly wants to tell a meaningful story about grief. While his attempt is admirable, it does not quite come together completely. For all this, CrypticRock gives Show Yourself 2.5 out of 5 stars.