I was recently invited to a "super special" first time screening of a film titled, Manic Monday. I actually didn't know what the movie was, what it was called, or anything about it before the screening - the only thing I knew about the film was that it was a new low budget horror movie from a first time director. It was free, I was off from work and I felt all cool going to this exclusive little event, so as long as the film didn't make me punch animals, I was more than happy to drive an hour to check it out.
Expecting very little from a movie with a title like Manic Monday, on top of never hearing anything about it beforehand, I was very surprised with what I saw. Actually, very surprised may be the understatement of the year. Directed by newcomer, Dex Baxter, Manic Monday focuses on Miranda and Peter Gamble (Elaine Barstow and Jeremy Winston), a family that goes through hell when their young daughter Heather (Melissa Jost), literally opens a portal to hell while innocently playing with a Ouija board. It sounds a little cheesy, I know, but Manic Monday is a whole lot more than that basic description I just gave you.
I'll be straight forward and say that no matter how low this film's budget is, it's one of the strongest that I have seen this year so far. Baxter has an incredible eye and Manic Monday is strikingly shot and put together in such a way that I was nearly speechless by the film's end. Fantastic pacing, tight editing, and amazing use of what was available (within the budget) are what really blew me away with this one. I believe the film was shot all in HD digital, and it does make it look a little off at first (much like Ink), but once you get going and see what is pulled off with that limitation, you completely forget.
Story wise, Manic Monday is somewhat simplistic on the surface, but it has a lot of depth. Each of the characters are well written and the interactions between the parents and Heather are handled so realistically that there are some moments that are completely moving in the sadness of the situation with which this family is faced. Most of the actors do a proficient job playing their parts, but the stand out comes from Tom Huston, who plays the sketchy next-door neighbor, Ezekiel Smit. He is an intimidating presence and reminds me of a younger bald version of the Tall Man from the Phantasm films, mixed with some Fred Gwynne from Pet Sematary. And I must say, his raking skills are unlike any I have ever seen in a film.
There are a lot of well placed scares, many of which are enhanced by the films overall tension. I felt a sense of dread for much of the movies runtime and a lot of that had to do with how the film was crafted. One moment that I had my jaw dropped low, involved Heather getting her hand caught in a garbage disposal. For sake of spoilers, I wont reveal the details, but this is such an expertly crafted scene that made me quite uneasy and the use of Aerosmith's Dream On just pounded the terror deeper into my memory.
After the film, the attending audience learned that the studio has been keeping a veeeery tight lid on this one, so we were some of the very first people to have been able to see the film. They are trying to go with a grass roots campaign (along the lines of what was done with Paranormal Activity), to spread the word with the right community in a way to create demand for the movie. There is no definitive release date as of yet, as the screening was sort of the first word-of-mouth marketing step, but I will keep you posted with any news as far as when the trailer and official website go up. Manic Monday is a fabulous exercise in horror done right - I just hope to sweet baby eating Chuck, that no one swoops in for the remake kill.