Monday, April 29, 2013

Everything You Love Will Go Away: THE HOLY SOUND

The Holy Sound (2013)
Director: Nicholas Wagner
Rating: 6 / 10
IMDB | Official Site | Facebook 

Full disclosure: A screener copy of the film was provided by the filmmakers for review. 

Life as a small-town teenager can be rough, and nobody knows this better than the characters of Nicholas Wagner's microbudget film The Holy Sound. Rory (Ian Carmona) and Sam (Christian Adams) are just a couple of friends trying to survive the various perils of high school. If this wasn't enough, Rory's discovery of a hidden cave on the outskirts of town threatens to destroy any sense of normality in their lives. Inside the cave is a giant obelisk emitting an otherworldly sound that has euphoric effects on those exposed to it. Even worse, it appears to be addictive and requires human blood to function. Not content to keep something so strange and alluring to himself, Rory introduces his friend Parker (Elyse Dufour) to the cave. As he and Parker become more enamored with the cave (and each other?) Rory keeps the discovery from the somewhat naively religious Sam, who's undergoing a personal crisis of faith. Secrets this big rarely stay buried though, and this town is full of secrets - all of which hint at some sinister entity looking to exact punishment for sins long buried in the town's history.

For a first effort, The Holy Sound is unusually ambitious. Where many low/no-budget features opt for the easy route by resorting to a derivative plot or campy humor, Wagner's film takes a more thoughtful approach in an attempt to examine themes such as faith, addiction, and the loss of innocence. Bolstering its lofty message is its ability to effectively convey the sense of an ancient evil preying on the characters. Even more remarkable is how subtly it accomplishes this. In a standout scene, one of Rory's teachers delivers a monologue about a tragedy from his past. It's far more chilling than any monster shown on screen could be, and it sets the tone for the film's dark denouement. Adding to the otherworldly feel of the film is the dreamlike way in which it's shot - Wagner's ambient electronic score often runs unbroken over cuts from scene to scene, and time isn't clearly delineated. The slightly out-of-focus camerawork fits right in with the often saturated color scheme, giving the film a visual polish that's above par.

It also doesn't fall into the trap of being overlong, and runs for just a brisk 50 minutes. That said, the story is guilty of a little meandering. There are some plot hiccups in which events jump forward in fits and starts. One of these falls toward the end of the film, which might have benefitted from a slower crescendo. It's hard for me to say whether these choices were deliberate though, so I'll give the film the benefit of the doubt. What I'm guessing weren't planned were some flaws in the sound work that make portions of the dialogue difficult to hear. The editing is a little rough in a few spots as well, which undercuts the typically professional feel of the film. Still, for an independent production, I'm willing to overlook some technical imperfections in favor of the broader vision.

The Holy Sound is a promising first work, and Nicholas Wagner is a filmmaker I'll continue to follow in the future. I'd like to see more low-budget films that are this carefully crafted and thematically ambitious. You can watch the trailer for The Holy Sound at or at the official facebook page.

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