It seems to me that B-level actors sometimes agree to do a movie for the experience and practice as much as to further their career and get a paycheck. Other times, the opposite is true, and major stars purposely chose to do a small independent production following a major success, knowing that they could never top their last picture. Often times, it is obvious when an actor has their personal motives in mind when choosing to do a film. Kate Winslet’s decision to shoot Hideous Kinky following the hugely-succes…ful Titanic comes to mind, as does Elijah Wood’s decision to take part in All I Want, following his work on The Lord of the Rings.
These films are usually great for everybody except the audience. The obscure filmmaker gets a “name” in their film, the actor gets to work in a more relaxed environment, everybody gets to work a little and the studio will hopefully break even in the accounting department. The film is almost secondary, and while the finished product usually has a bit of low-budget charm, it’s certainly not going to be an award winner.
I am happy to say that Devil’s Pond is a film that rises above the usual tired quality of these types of films. While not breaking any new ground, this is a piece that proves that you can shoot a suspenseful film that looks and sounds fantastic on a low budget. If Alfred Hitchcock would have directed The Edge, this is how it might have come out.
There is a great risk involved in shooting a film that utilizes only two actors. If either one is not on top of their game, the whole film tanks. This film tackles that challenge head-on, eliminating even the most marginal of background extras 10-minutes into the film. Kip Pardue is a bit shaky as the “new husband with a secret” during the first half of the film, but really comes into his own as character’s sanity heads south. Tara Reid, our actress getting practice, is surprisingly strong in this role, bypassing her usual flighty character traits to portray a woman that is strong, smart and resourceful.
When all is said and done, this is a pretty great film. Nothing particularly new and groundbreaking is attempted, but the beautiful scenery, decent acting and top-notch technical specs make this a film worthy of investing some time in.
The audio, like the film itself, is better than expected. This is a very tight, aggressive soundtrack. The sound field, like the location, is wide open. This is very important, as it subconsciously leaves the viewer with an uneasy sense of how alone these two really are. Surrounds are used well, as they carry the sound of birds circling in the distance. Panning is also used well… if someone is talking to the right of the shot, that’s where their voice comes from. This soundtrack has, to quote a Radiohead song, “Everything in it’s Right Place.”
There are a few negatives, but nothing major. Low end, while nice and full, it a bit on the boomy side, especially when it comes to duplicating thunder. The film both benefits from and suffers because of its score. While haunting and expertly written, its emotional impact is sometimes is over-used. I felt as if I were being manipulated to feel nervous or scared in some scenes where I normally wouldn’t have been, due to the musical score. While some of this is essential to the film, it felt a little heavy-handed in parts.
The video quality is equally as impressive as the audio. Color saturation is fantastic, with deep blacks, bright whites, and rich greens. When the location is a main character in the film, you’d better make it look great. Artisan has succeeded in this challenge, creating an imposing landscape that appears beautiful and dangerous at the same time.
There are virtually no blemishes on the negative, making this an ultra-clean transfer. In fact, the only real problems that I could find with the film were problems keeping some scenes in focus. It appears that the cinematographer may have had one to many moose burgers from Kraft services during the shoot, as he occasionally drifts out of focus, much like an old man trying to stay awake after Thanksgiving dinner. With the exception of this occasional annoyance, this is a near-perfect video offering.
For an independent film, there are a fair amount of extras included here. I am consistently pleased with Artisan’s view that every film in their catalog is important, and deserves to be treated kindly. Not only is the trailer for Devil’s Pond included, but there are also six other trailers, including a teaser for the upcoming Punisher film, as well as House of the Dead, and others.
Five deleted scenes are also included on the disc, complete with an optional commentary track. Truthfully, these are mostly extended versions of scenes that are already in the film, and their inclusion would have done little to change the finished product. Most of these bits were cut strictly for pacing reasons. Three storyboard comparison segments are also included, with commentary. If you’ve seen one storyboard, you’ve seen them all.
The real jewel of the special features menu is the Making of… segment, however. Where the majority of these pieces are glorified advertisements for the film, this one really delivers on what it purports to be. More than your typical fluff piece, this truly is a solid half-hour of behind the scenes footage. Included here is footage from the location scout, filming mishaps and quirky stories from a real life Montana outdoorsman. Especially clever is the way that scenes from the movie are intercut with the behind the scenes footage of the scene being shot. This is a really nice extra.
All of this, along with two complete commentaries, makes this a pretty respectable staple of extras for a wrongly-overlooked indie film.
While certainly not breaking any new ground, this quality thriller proves to be a very entertaining little film. I am a bit surprised that this one got past the box office with as little attention as it did. This is one of those rare discoveries in Hollywood; a low budget thriller that is polished and powerful. Quality extras and an excellent presentation make this a disc that is well worth your rental dollars.
Special Features List
- 2 Commentaries
- Storyboard Comparison
- Deleted Scenes w/Optional Commentary
- “Making of…” Featurette