FILM REVIEW October 30th: All Hallows Eve (2014 Ryan Byrne)

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Warning: this review may contain spoilers for the film, but we’ll try to avoid that.

There are many great creative minds that maintain that every basic story archetype has been presented time and time again, maintaining that any work of art you consume is really a different spin on a timeless concept. For no medium does that ring truer than film, especially in the horror genre. Maybe we, as an audience, are too desensitized, but this humble critic argues that nothing really scares us anymore. Think back to the true classics of the horror genre. Psycho, The Shining, The Exorcist, Halloween, The Silence of the Lambs and the list goes on. These films are so terrifying even today because they present what this critic believes to be the scariest thing in the world- the evil that lurks in man. But as we all know, people love to be scared and people love to scare. The horror genre grows and grows and as it grows, so grows the challenge of presenting something truly fresh, innovative. Truly scary.
This is where our film comes into play. October 30th– All Hallows Eve is a satire and loving salute to the classics of the slasher subgenre- Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street in particular. Director, writer, editor and star Ryan Byrne cites the peak of horror films of the 70s and 80s as primary influence. His film, painstakingly produced for $9000 with borrowed lighting and camera equipment, centres upon Ethan Pearl, a schizophrenic filmmaker (Byrne) who rallies his friends together to shoot an independent horror film, Ethan’s way of retelling a traumatic event from his past.
After our opening credit sequence, we begin with a flashback to 1988, where for the first thirty or so minutes, we witness the backstory and traumatic past of Ethan Pearl, his younger self played by Aidan Bass. It’s established quickly that both Ethan and his grandfather, Harry (portrayed chillingly by Adrian Gabrylewicz) are mentally damaged, psychopathic, twisted characters. After these events are set into motion, we’re treated to a second opening credit sequence, which, admittedly, comes off as an awkward and forced transition into the remainder of the film, set 20 years later, in 2008. This is where we see adult Ethan and his cast and crew retelling that night, 20 years ago. As they are stalked relentlessly by an older Harry Pearl (also Gabrylewicz), Ethan becomes increasingly hostile to his teammates, especially the actress, Jade (Ariella Arbus).
Byrne’s script, written over the course of a week, is full of darkness and the occasional sliver of humour. Unfortunately, nearly every character in the film is a cookie-cutter, assembly-line copy of most horror film characters. No one character’s motivations, flaws, dimensions or redemptions are made clear, and at times, this makes for confusing storytelling. Some performers are excellent, particularly Gabrylewicz, who brings life and personality into his archetypal “creepy old man” character, though I imagine this is due both to the actor’s tendency to improvise dialogue and his reputation in the circles of Sault Ste. Marie as an eccentric. Other performers, on the other hand, fail to bring any life or luster to their roles.
Altogether, this makes the satire angle unclear, as this critic was not aware until speaking to Byrne himself that the intent was to satirize its genre. This information could very well explain many of the decisions in dialogue and acting, but this critic wishes the motive were clearer. Satire or not, the script and its characters come as very convoluted and clichéd, which makes for very low stakes. Byrne himself gives a very flat, dry performance as schizophrenic Ethan Pearl, reminiscent of Michael Fassbender’s cold, calculating character from Prometheus or even Peter O’Toole’s cool and collected T.E. Lawrence from Lawrence of Arabia (a film this critic could not possibly heap enough praise onto, but that’s another article), but having admitted himself that there was no performance in particular that influenced him or that he wished to emulate, Byrne’s comes off as a performance without effort or sincerity.
Every horror film is only as good as their villain. Film characters of other genres are typically accompanied by motivations, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case for the horror villain, who is often made scarier if the character kills simply for fun. But at the very least, a horror villain should have personality. A horror villain should be interesting and memorable. Michael Myers of Halloween fame never speaks, Freddy Kruger of A Nightmare on Elm Street speaks entirely too much and Hannibal Lecter is a well-read, respectable, English gentleman. Sadly, Byrne’s Ethan Pearl lacks that one interesting and unique twist.
Moving to the technical side of this film and its production, nobody understands technical difficulty and budgetary concerns as much as myself, a college film student, director of three short films and writer of many others. But, to quote the legendary Stanley Kubrick: “if it can be written or thought, it can be filmed”. As far as this critic is concerned, the drive and motive to create new art or new entertainment for the masses is everything, no matter the technical side of things. Byrne, our editor, creates a tight and even pace, wherein the final film feels neither too short, nor too long. I have my share of horror stories in perfecting the sound of a film, but here, it is presented rather well, short of a few times where a line of dialogue is obscured by the music, which comes fully loaded with the trimmings of a typical horror movie score, including the low, ringing bass notes and shock stinger effects. The lighting and art direction plays a great deal with shadows. This makes some shots very beautiful, but makes certain scenes hard to see and discern what’s happening.
Overall, October 30th– All Hallows Eve, while definitely not without its flaws, is certainly not without its positives and is very enjoyable. I can say with complete honesty and sincerity that Byrne strikes me as having true potential as a filmmaker, and I, for one, am anticipating what he can show us next, as he develops this brainchild of his into a planned trilogy, with two more planned installments on the way. It is clear that he truly cares about this project and that, at least to me, is what truly makes a good storyteller.
In conclusion, this harsh and humble critic awards October 30th– All Hallows Eve with a rating of 6.5/10 and a recommendation to check it out! I, for one, hope that the spark and passion among young people to create art and realize their dreams never, ever dies.
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