Closet Space (2008)
Directed by Mel House
Written by Jason Stewart
Starring Melanie Donihoo, Jovan Jackson, James LaMarr, Morgan McCarthy, Evan Scott, Peyton Wetzel, Tim Wrobel
In these recent years as a critic, I have had to sit through many a bad horror film. But these weren’t your garden variety bad horror movies. No, these were made by young men who were interested not in scaring us, the audience, but instead showing us how many other, better horror films they’ve seen. Homage-To-The-Genre horseshit. Out the window went atmosphere, imagination and good writing until low-budget indie horror, as a whole, turned into a poorly spelled myspace blog written by misogynists about their Netflix queues.
So incensed was I by these kayfabe-breaking motherfuckers that one of the reasons I dug There Will Be Blood so much was that a young man named “Eli” was bludgeoned to death by a bowling pin.
I say all this to say that the movie I’m reviewing for you, Closet Space, is special…. Well the first fifty minutes are special because it goes above and beyond any straight-to-video indie horror movie that I have ever seen. A stripped-down engine made solely to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. It shows initiative and depth of thought. It builds suspense and chokes you to death on its atmosphere. For the first time I could safely say that a little movie like this made me jump and creeped me out.
It’s special for the last fifty minutes, however, because it’s dumber than a second coat of paint.
The story breaks down like this: A group of college students hole up in this old house in Texas to investigate the disappearance of their professor. The leader of the group, Jack (James LaMarr), says he disappeared in the closet… which just happens to be the gateway to another dimension where tentacled, crawly beasts live. Kinda like Lovecraft, only without the chronic depression and racism.
I will make no bones about the fact that this is obviously a low-budget movie. Due to sound discrepancies, a lot of the dialogue was dubbed in afterwards, and it shows. You get the feeling you’re watching a kung-fu movie from the seventies even though ninety-eight percent of the time, the dialogue matches up with the motions of the actors lips. But even this can be a charm. If you suspend a little more of your disbelief, you can pretend this flick is from a country that still knows how to make scary movies.
The acting is uniformly basic. Not particularly good, and not particularly bad either. But this works as well, with how the first half of the screenplay is written. The characters are minimally developed; enough so they come off as relatable, but not so much that you feel like you’re being buried in backstory. With a movie like this, a group of professionals out-emoting each other would have come off as a distraction.
The entry into the closet is dark and creepy, lit only by flashlights and glo-sticks and cords of small lights they’ve wrapped around themselves. And Closet Space understands true dark when the lights go out. I could only smile, remembering that none of the film Pitch Black was ever set in pitch black. Director Mel House avoids this, and the minimal lighting gives the actors an eerie sheen. Combine this with the practical effects which, in low light, look more ominous and more real.
Props must go to the sound department as well in these early scenes, as every slither, scratch and breaking bone is loud and realistic enough to make you wince.
But Closet Space’s fall from grace was not a gradual thing, for I can tell you the moment that it happened. It was the “teeth” scene, and it was so corny and rock-stupid that it would have been out of place in something by Troma. It goes for a bad laugh and breaks the considerable tension it built.
From there, it’s almost entirely a downhill coast. It was demonstrated that director House can make a fuckin’ movie and make it well. It was also demonstrated that while screenwriter Jason Stewart has formidable powers in setting things up, he can’t knock them down very well. The tone of the screenplay shifts in the blink of an eye from Neil Marshall-lite to sub-James Cameron. The effects get piled on for no other reason than to show them off, and the dialogue gets worse… and worse… and worse. Dwell now, on the fact that the lines “John Conner called, he wants his mom back.” And “Do I look like Buffy the Vampire Slayer to you?” made it past all the drafts of the screenplay, the cast read-through, the day of shooting and the editing room, onto my TV.
And your transdimensional parasites don’t need a big Bond Villain speech to sum up their motives. They just need to be hungry. There’s a difference between transparency and overwriting.
Which brings us to the final scene, and it is just flabbergasting. It’s one thing to try and pull off a surprise ending. It’s a completely different animal to devote the last scene of your movie to a shameless plot-dump.
But the sixty-four thousand dollar question is would I recommend that you, the fine folks kind enough to stumble upon this corner of the internet, check out Closet Space when it comes out on DVD?
Yes I would.
Because even though mistakes were made, it’s still fifty kickass minutes of a horror movie, when most big-budget theatrical horror films can’t even manage five. And even said mistakes were honest ones. They were made in the earnest (though wrong) attempts to make a better movie. Not to make more money or insult your intelligence.