He Never Left - FrightFest Halloween International Premiere
Director: James Morris
Starring: Colin Cunningham, Charla Bocchicchio, James Morris, David E. McMahon, William McAllister
Written by: James Morris, Michael Ballif
Produced by: Michael Ballif, James Morris
Cinematography by: Michael Ballif
Original Score by: Randin Graves
After hearing strange noises coming from an adjoining motel room, a federal fugitive and his girlfriend inadvertently become targets of the notorious "Pale Face" killer, whose legend has consumed and haunted the local community for decades.
Low budget horror can always be so hit and miss. From amateur acting to poor lighting to badly planned out scares, if I had a pound for every bad “attempt” at horror that just crops up on Amazon Prime, I'd be a rich man. So how do you stand out from the crowd? A good poster? A good title? These all help and can fool the viewer into clicking on your film, but what makes them stay is the performances and the story. 'He Never Left' has both a great name and title, and luckily, it also contains one of my favourite performances of the year.
'He Never Left' is half slasher, half psychological thriller and for its efforts, succeeds pretty well at balancing both. The Pale Face killer isn’t in many scenes in the film, so if you’re coming here for a 'Friday the 13th' or 'Halloween' type film, you may be disappointed. The slasher scenes are shot really well and build up enough tension to deliver just enough scares. It’s obvious while you’re watching the film that it has a low budget, but it doesn’t hold director James Morris back from crafting some high-quality film making. You can see homages in Morris’ work to films like 'The Strangers', 'Rear Window' and even 'No Country for Old Men' but it never feels like he’s ripping anything off. Morris takes a story that could be based in one room and opens it up into the world, setting it in places around town and showing us how the legend of The Pale Face Killer has affected the locals.
I wish The Pale Face Killer’s story was more expanded upon in the film, as the final act reveal of the killer kind of feels muddled and rushed, maybe with the hope of exploring them more in the sequel. I also found the cops side plot to be weak, especially since Morris himself used to be a police officer. The two cop characters banter just seemed lacking to me, I couldn’t quite put my finger on if the cops were meant to be an odd couple or actually friends.
The absolute star of the film is Colin Cunningham (Preacher, Falling Skies) as Gabirel. Cunningham delivers a performance that is full of nuance and paranoia, often having to act with just himself in one room. Haunted by his past actions and waiting things out while the heat on him cools down, Gabirel must deal with his demons and keep his sanity in one piece. Cunningham plays this perfectly, never once feeling too heavy handed or over the top. He's able to elevate the script written by Morris and Michael Ballif to such a high level that I only hope that they work together again on future projects.
Despite its low budget director James Morris is able to deliver a compelling tale with a central performance that’s truly award worthy. Overall, it might be light on scares and the Pale Face killer isn’t present enough to make him the next great horror icon but the psychological elements are where the film’s horror really shines. A sequel is teased and I'd definitely be interested in seeing it, but I hope they take a leaf out of 'Terrifier's book and lean more towards the mythology of the killer.
- Adam Neeson
'He Never Left' received its International Premiere at FrightFest Halloween on October 27th