Synopsis: A sister, claiming to be cursed, persuades her brother to embark on a cross country road trip to break her spell.
Stars: Madison West, Joey Millin, John Terrell
Director: Powell Robinson, Patrick Robert Young
Running Length: 78 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: Sometimes the movies with the biggest ideas come in the tiniest of packages so I’ve learned it’s always wise to keep your eye on the indie-est of indies as they pass through your inbox. After all, you never know if that film you’re writing off because of its no-frills trailer or unproven talent might be the next big thing. I’m the type of movie fan that likes to hop on board trains gathering steam early on as they chug up a hill rather than when they’re hurtling back down the mountain like a locomotive and that goes double when it comes to horror movies which often need a little more time to get moving. Even the way directors are making genre offerings are changing, like 2020’s fantastically frightening Host, filmed during the pandemic via Zoom.
Shooting a movie on an iPhone isn’t anything revolutionary, heck, it’s even played a large part in the advertising for the product over the last several of its release cycles, so the makers of Threshold, out now from the Arrow streaming service and due out soon in a BluRay jam-packed with special features, aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel (reel?) with their approach to making their movie. Having their two actors improvise the vast majority of the script also is something that’s been tried before to various degrees of success (look only to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project for the pros and cons of the exercise), so what matters most is how it all winds up. Can you really make an effective no-budget movie using two phones, two actors, a script outline the actors will improvise to fill in the gaps, and a few practical effects thrown in for good measure?
Unfortunately, directors Powell Robinson and Patrick Robert Young have delivered a dud of a horror film and only a slightly better sibling drama, neither of which inspire much in the way of a recommendation. Confusing melodrama with tension and trite banter for deeper pathos surrounding a soul in crisis, it’s the longest road trip in recent memory…and I drove across the entirety of South Dakota in one day last month, and not the gorgeous Badlands/National Park part of the state.
Despite troubles in his own life, Leo (Joey Millin) has again come to rescue his troubled sister from a bad situation. What he doesn’t know is that Virginia (Madison West) has gotten involved with a bad group of people, finding herself cursed by the cult she has cozied up with and connected to a man on the other side of the country. As long as they share a bond, she experiences everything he does, and the feeling is mutual. Convinced Virginia is simply strung out after another bender, Leo humors her and offers to drive them from one side of the map to the other so he can show her there’s no curse and straighten Virginia out for good.
It’s during the trip that the siblings catch-up, having not seen each other for years. His life has changed quite a bit, finally revealing secrets to his sister he kept from her when she was a hardened drug user. She opens up about her time apart as well. The carve pumpkins, stay at ratty motels, sing karaoke, do touristy things they see on the side of the road along the way. The closer they get the stranger Virginia stars to act and it’s only when a Ouija board is found and used at an Airbnb that things taken a turn for the substantially weird. Saving the best part of the film for literally the final few minutes, I had to rewind the screener twice to catch what was going on.
I guess my biggest complaint about Threshold, and what made it such a disappointing rough sit, was that in outline form there is something to the story of this sibling road trip into fear. Either making a believer out of the brother or proving the sister to be cracked, so much more mileage could have been gained if there was a script in hand to flesh out key moments. Letting the actors improvise and ramble on endlessly may have given the film a certain truth but it didn’t make me believe they were siblings any more than I believed they’d met days before they began filming. Some order to the chaos would have been nice, though chaos implies something happens, which it doesn’t until that aforementioned ending that isn’t exactly conveyed with total clarity.
While I will give the filmmakers of Threshold points for one rather exceptional scare involving a mask, I take back some because it’s followed up by such an atrociously performed scene that it quickly crushed any butterflies let loose in my stomach. There’s also an abundance of pretty bad dubbing that took me out of scenes; iPhones may have great cameras, but they also capture a lot of sound. I’m not shocked they had to re-record much of the dialogue in the car while on the road. There’s nothing unpleasant about Millin or West in their roles, I would be all for seeing them remake this (or, sigh, I guess in a sequel) with a formalized script that gives their characters more purpose instead of letting them feel around in the dark for a way forward.
On rare occasion these miniscule titles become hidden gems you discover late at night buried deep in your streaming service of choice and you can’t believe your luck. Even at 78 minutes, this isn’t one you’re going to miss missing.