We’ve all seen films that remind us of an episode of either The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. We’ve also seen films that are bad representations of those shows. High concept films are tricky, because no matter how clever the ‘hook’ is, if the fundamental cinematic standards aren’t met, such as cinematography, screenwriting, editing and pacing, then the film will suffer...
...It’s a shame too, because there have been some excellent concepts and ideas that have been wasted under the care of poor filmmaking. Fortunately, in the case of Omar Naim’s new film, Becoming, we have a solid marriage of high concept and competent filmmaking.
Becoming starts off in a rather generic way, by attempting to make our two leads likeable. Alex (Toby Kebbell) and Lisa (Penelope Mitchell) are taking a scenic road trip to Lisa’s parents’ home, so they can meet him. Although their montage-like journey of sex in motels and gooey eyed gazes can initially come off as cheaply manipulative, they start to grow on you. There couldn’t have been more perfect pacing too, because the moment you warm up to their romance, Alex involuntarily undergoes something that changes everything. While staying at the home of a distant relative of Alex, Lisa wakes up in an empty bed, finding Alex asleep in the living room. Lisa finds this odd and after having an uncomfortable encounter with the relative earlier, she packs everything and urges Alex to leave immediately. Slowly, Alex starts exhibiting traits that are out of character for him and the concerned Lisa is not only puzzled, but eventually becomes scared for her life and that of her loved ones. Saying anything else would be a journalistic spoiler crime. The unfolding of events that follow are nail-bitingly tense, as Becoming enters the realm of the paranormal.
During the earlier stages of the film, I honestly wasn’t that impressed. I found the starry-eyed leads to be a bit irritating and feared this might be an overly familiar and conventional horror film. However, like many times before, my predictions were inaccurate. Once the young couple arrived at the relative’s house, the overall tension was ratcheted up and my investment had officially begun. No longer was this just going to be a film of two lovers who face a deadly paranormal threat. Instead, Becoming is much more concerned with human conflict, how we cope with that conflict and the kinds of things one might do in a uniquely messed up situation. While these deeper themes are being explored, the plot doesn’t slow down to catch a breath. We’re given a steady drip of information that never feels like info dumping or unnecessarily long scenes of exposition. Just when you’ve had enough time to put together the clues, another cluster are laid before you. It gives the viewer a sense of inclusion that I don’t often see in film.
The writer/director combination is seen less and less these days it would seem, but Omar Naim was certainly up for the task. What’s even more rare is a filmmaker who is proficient with both crafts. Naim has written a very tight script and one that deserves to be heavily praised. Becoming is consistent with its story and how it’s told. Several times, there is a setup for foreshadow and each time it comes full circle, it pays off in a satisfying way. Naim properly executes something that is often overlooked in horror films; he sets up the rules of his universe and plays by them accordingly. When this is done right, there are fewer plot holes, or lapses in logic. The paranormal entity in the film is given strengths, weaknesses and special characteristics that are all integrated with care. Naim simply sets up the rules for his antagonist and the world he inhabits with logical action and reaction. There are a few places in the film, that I believe could have been shortened, but for the most part, the pacing is solid. My primary criticism is that sometimes, things are spelled out a little too obviously. For example, near the end of the film, the antagonist is reminding a character about a moment we witnessed at the beginning and the flashback shown was a step too far. It felt like a studio move, where they feared the audience wouldn’t put the pieces together, so they remind us with a very unnecessary flashback. A little insulting to the intelligence of the audience but it certainly doesn’t ruin the film.
Both Toby Kebbell and Penelope Mitchell do an exceptional job here. It’s funny too, because I initially thought these characters would be irritating to no end. Kebbell has a tough role, because he is embodying several personalities and without giving too much away, all of them are very different. One particular version of Alex is terrifying, because he not only shows malice with his expressions, but his physical stature is extremely imposing and intimidating. Mitchell is also required to phase through several different emotional states. Sometimes she is vulnerable and fragile, while other times she is courageous and brave. At any given moment, Lisa is dealing with in inordinate amount of stress. What’s great about her performance is that none of her reactions feel over the top or overacted. Instead, she plays her character with nuanced subtlety.
I’m a fan of genre cinema. I like plenty of goofy horror flicks and science fiction B movies but Becoming takes high horror concept and treats it with the reverence and respect of a character study film. This film isn’t concerned with genre and I deeply respect it for that. It seems like Naim wanted to tell a good story with rich characters that also happens to have paranormal and supernatural elements. He focuses on his characters and because of that, the story surrounding them is that much better. Aside from a few scenes lasting too long and some spelled out plot points, Becoming is a film that slowly abducts you into its excellence.
Catch Becoming when it releases on VOD March 6th through Gravitas Ventures.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth