– Summary –
Director : Michael J Cramer
Year Of Release : 2015
Principal Cast : William McNamara, Marcelle Bowman, Kenneth McGlothin, Fabian Valle, Kathleen Shukin, WIlliam R Dean, Dalisa Contreras, Wayno Sanchez, Dyami Thomas, Johnny Tabor, Sabrina Gomez, Adam Ostland, Jack Lutz, Eric Young.
Approx Running Time : 96 Minutes
Synopsis: A group of young college-age film students find themselves fighting a losing battle for their lives, after they stumble upon a government conspiracy and end up infected with a deadly nano-enhanced virus.
What we think : Slow-burn thriller has elements of great genre films within its marrow, but cannot muster enough effective chills to be truly memorable. If it wasn’t for the shadow of these other films lurking on the periphery, Truth would be a real chiller. As it stands, it’s a competently made, yet largely uninvolving sci-fi thriller that never really makes its mark like it should.
Ebola? Yeah, what-ever.
Disclaimer: Truth is a low-budget independent film out of New Mexico, and one I was given an opportunity to view via a screener copy provided by the producers. This review is based on that screener. The film is due to be released through New Mexico in January 2015, with hopes for a wider release later in the year. For more information, the film’s official website is: www.WhatIsTheTruthMovie.com, and the official Facebook page can be found here. The online screener can be viewed by interested parties for review by contacting the production at: info(at)prc-productions.com. This film is not to be confused with the James Vanderbilt directed, Robert Redford-starring film of the same name, also released in 2015.
Plot synopsis courtesy of the filmmakers: A diverse group of college students, led by their inquisitive professor, stumble into a top secret facility hidden in plain sight, somewhere deep in the mountains of the Gila wilderness. Unbeknownst to them, the hospital was ground zero for a large-scale test of a truth serum based on an inert virus ten years earlier; a test that went disastrously wrong. It forced the immediate closure of the facility. Now inadvertently infected with the deadly virus, the students fight against time, overzealous guards and an inability to lie, in the hopes of discovering the lengths some men will go to in an attempt to hide the truth.
Independent filmmakers should be given every exposure to the wider film-going public. From the smallest budgets to the largest, all film-makers should have an opportunity to have their work seen, appraised, appreciated. Truth, a film written and directed by Michael J Cramer, deserves your attention, even thought it might not seem like it. While it’s low in budget, and contains mostly actors who otherwise haven’t appeared in anything you’ve seen, the story is the key driver to this project’s success or failure. And with a particularly vibrant sense of terror in the final act, Truth will provide a few decent thrills for those looking at an alternative to the mainstream.
A hint of Resident Evil, a touch of Outbreak, a crumb or two of the REC franchise, a slice of Blair Witch Project’s verite style: Truth feels like an homage to the sci-fi horror films of years past. That’s not to say Truth is without its own unique style, or even a sense of fresh blood pumped into old veins, but elements of many of these “viral outbreak” films seep from the DNA of Truth’s low budget fabric, making it appear on the surface to be some kind of rip-off. Truth isn’t that, not exactly. As an independent film, it might owe its foundation stone to other films, but it has a definitive soul of its own, thanks to Cramer’s fanciful, yet effective, screenplay.
Cramer attempts to tap into a primal fear we humans have, that we’re not the most powerful creatures on the planet pound-for-pound, with viral weaponry being one such agent of doom the fear merchants like to throw up from time to time. The central premise of a “truth virus”, which strips us of our ability to lie, doesn’t quite feel as face-to-the-fist as, say Resident Evil’s “T-virus”, but it does its work in a much more psychological way. The removal of our ability to lie is something I think a lot of people don’t believe is all that destructive, but considering we all tell multiple lies throughout every day of our lives, what mental anguish would it create (for both the liar and the liee) in a scenario in which Truth takes place – a secretive government installation where human testing was carried out….
Okay, I’ll admit the premise didn’t excite me much, what with the cliched plot of a group of nubile students in mortal peril in an isolated environment having been done literally to death, but Truth reinvigorated that premise with a sense of irony and a deft hand by Cramer’s camerawork. Perhaps it’s the low-budget framework of the film that adds a frisson of excitement to it all, like a high quality home-movie gone wrong – perhaps had Cramer shot this as a found footage film (ugh) it might have struck more of a nerve? – but the moody, atmospheric visual style from DP Ryan Valdez (the film was shot digitally) is both evocative and redolent of classic horror films. You get the sense that the genre’s well-mined motif of horror in the most mundane of places is the feeling Cramer tried to engender, and his opening act largely conveys this motif: long, low-angle tracking shots, wide locked camerawork, and steadycam shots conveying a sense of tranquility with a hint of danger.
The cast are primarily up-and-comers, with the notable exception of lead actor William McNamara, who is perhaps the only one in the film to have mainstream movie success, in the Sigourney Weaver starrer Copycat. McNamara plays the “professor” role with conviction, although you kinda get the sense that he’s rather be “one of the guys” instead. Marcelle Bowman, as Anna, is a doppelganger for Vera Farmiga, and her vocal intonations especially made me think more of Farmiga than they did the character Bowman was meant to be playing. Jack Lutz, as Marcus, and Adam Ostland, as Harlan, give the film its only real humor, as the two guards who initially discover the presence of the group within the facility. The rest of the cast, including Kenneth McGlothin, Fabian Valle, and William R Deal, seem to be merely cannon fodder for Cramer’s horror show, as the group eventually descends into primal madness.
Part of the problem with a low-budget film such as this is the inherent lack of development afforded the characters, and Truth is no different. McNamara’s Luke may be the lead character, but I know as much about him at the end of this film as I do at the start, and this problem is repeated for almost all the other characters. The editorial oversight in providing depth of character, even in the slightest bit, comes in the opening act’s “lets go hiking to the hidden facility”, in a bizarre Fellowship Of The Ring-esque walking sequence where the characters begin to interact, but there’s no sense of genuineness to the moment. This leaves the film wide open for a complete lack of emotional heft when many of these characters start to suffer and die. An ensemble story like this is notoriously difficult to get right when it comes to character development, and I’m sorry to say Truth isn’t about to buck the trend.
What is pleasing is the overall tone of the movie, the grungy, low-rent horror aspects all being mounted with technical precision in spite of budgetary restraint. While the costuming, lighting and production value on the film might seem incongruously tangential, even like an afterthought, there’s professionalism and dedication to the movie that’s inescapably present throughout. Cramer stretches his team’s abilities (including the cast’s) to their limit, drawing as much tension, terror, drama and emotion as he can from the story and location (most of the movie was filmed in a 1930’s hospital, Fort Bayard, New Mexico, providing much of the film’s stark atmosphere), so Truth is one of those rare beasts that actually improves due to its low cost restraint. Sure, there’s editorial problems I’d have liked to see tighten up – the opening act does drag at times, with copious slow-motion used where it probably wasn’t warranted – and the film’s use of music is suspiciously sparse and grating (perhaps on purpose?), but once things get dark (pun intended) and the virus takes hold, the film really picks up.
Truth is a worthwhile independent film from a film-maker I can see big things happening with in future, with larger budget and a more unique story. Truth’s near-fatally slow opening act, with a weirdly ponderous opening credits sequence, almost scuttles this film initially, but thankfully once the meat of the story cranks up, things bubble along nicely. Considering the budgetary restraint on show here, Truth isn’t all that bad, and displays plenty of potential that is reached more often than it isn’t.