Blackout - Fantasia World Premiere
Director: Larry Fessenden
Starring: Alex Hurt, Addison Timlin, Marshall Bell, Joseph Castillo-Midyett, Rigo Garay, Barbara Crampton
Written by: Larry Fessenden
Produced by: James Feli McKenney, J. Christian Ingvordsen, Larry Fessenden
Cinematography by: Collin Brazie
Original Score by: Will Bates
A painter who, convinced he is a werewolf, creates chaos in a small town at each full moon.
Small town America. A spate of brutal murders. Racially provoked hysteria aroused by a cynical old land developer who thinks he owns the town and its people. A troubled artist who believes he's the real cause of so much pain and hurt. This is the foundation of Larry Fessenden's intimate werewolf drama horror that plods along slowly to begin with but kicks into gear around the half way mark and ends with a heartbreaking punch.
Hombre Lobo. That's what Miguel (Rigo Garay) believes he witnesses in the film's opening sequence as a very horny couple about to get down to business in an isolated field get torn to pieces by an unseen yet clearly animalistic killer. But Miguel becomes the scapegoat for blatantly racist businessman Hammond, played well here by journeyman Marshall Bell. And he uses his power to begin to turn the small town of Talbot Falls against Miguel and his family. That's the backdrop of the film but in the foreground is painter Charley Barrett (Alec Hurt) who just happens to be the ex-lover of Hammond's daughter Sharon. Charley has returned to town after a month away and is visibly struggling with something that he can't fully explain to anyone. He is determined to set into motion a chain of events that will stop the murders, clear Miguel's name and fix things for the town once and for all.
Genre favourite Larry Fessenden returns to finish his trilogy of Universal Monsters inspired films after 'Habit' (1995) and 'Depraved' (2019) only this time he tackles the werewolf phenomenon. But there's more going on here that one man's life changing (and life-ending) battle with his feral alter ego. Fessenden wants to highlight the very real problems that small town America is (and has been for some time) experiencing right now in regards to political and racial motivations and also how people in power tend to be the ones who lead the way for all the wrong reasons.
The hateful Hammond is in the process of developing a resort called Hilltop, which Charley's lawyer father was also involved in before his passing, and Charley wants to expose the potential legally unethical and environmental negatives that the proposed development might bring to the town. Charley is a man at odds with himself, just as America is today.
Guilt and daddy issues plague Charley. He claims in a discussion with his close friend Earl that his "transformation" first began shortly after his father's death. Although he admits that something making strange sounds outside his house at night that he subsequently inspected may have been the cause of his throat lacerations and blackout, it's allegorised that the root of his potential murderous split personality begins with the death of a loved one and the harsh reality of having to continue on without them. It's a fantastic scene interspersedly cut with shots of Charley "letting loose" on his large, gestural canvas at his art studio. It's also easily the best acted and edited scene in the entire film and helps to build the allusion that perhaps Charley's belief that he is a werewolf might not be entirely true after all. The fact that Charley is an artist with a drinking problem and sees the world very differently to most people also helps to propel the idea that his perception of reality might be distorted. The camerawork, which is often handheld, is another aspect that highlights this and I'm guessing is supposed to mimic the animalistic nature of the premise. Humans in today's society are really just animals.
"Hope you are a werewolf and not a serial killer...'cause that stuff... that is nasty!"
Fessenden builds this original and intriguing story by using the classic werewolf tropes and for the most part it is written very well. There are notably some instances of exposition and the first half of the film plays out a bit slower than I'd like but it's worth the wait. Once Charley confirms his desired fate with Earl, who he's commissioned some silver bullets from and asks to be his executioner, the film flows at a more balanced pace and we get to see some lycanthrope action.
Although 'Blackout' is a contemporary tale, Charley's werewolf is definitely an homage to Lon Chaney Jr. rather than more modern versions, in that when he turns he still walks on two legs and wears his full clothes. The design was heavily influenced by the drawings of Mike Ploog from the Marvel comic 'Werewolf by Night' that Fessenden was a huge fan of in the 1970s. The transformation scenes are short and choppy which actually adds to the realism and Charley continues to look humanoid after the change. I appreciated the lowkey scale of the film and at its heart that it's driven by Charley's desire to make things right for other people instead of trying to save himself.
- Gavin Logan
'Blackout' received its World Premiere at Fantasia '23 on July 20th