Creating originality in the realm of supernatural horror is quite the challenge these days...
...Many films find success by borrowing what’s worked in other films and putting their unique spin on them. Some of my favorite horror films take this approach, or, in some cases, are even remakes. Then there is the rare breed of film that borrows from a well of various sources to create something truly unique. Anthony J. Rickert-Epstein’s Compound Fracture falls firmly into that elite breed of originality thanks to the clever arrangement of borrowed supernatural mainstays. Originality can be a great asset to a film, but if the execution of that bright idea isn’t meticulously conducted, the results are often mixed.
Following the tragic loss of his sister, Michael (Tyler Mane), his spirited fiancé, Juliette (Renae Geerlings), and his rebellious nephew, Brandon (Alex Saxon) are on their way to visit his dementia-suffering father, Gary (Muse Watson). Michael is highly reluctant to make the trip, as his father was a short tempered and abusive alcoholic during his upbringing. Upon arrival, all three are shocked by Gary’s excessive use of home surveillance. He spends most of his days salting the perimeter of the house, fearing that someone is coming for him. Additionally, he’s made necklaces that he claims ward off bad spirits. His new wife, Annabelle (Leslie Easterbrook) pleads to Michael for help, as she can’t endure Gary’s antics any longer. Michael attempts to devise a plan to help Annabelle leave, but before they can make any headway, the family is visited by a shadowy presence (Derek Mears) stalking the countryside property. Intent on keeping his family safe, Michael is forced to work with his seemingly delusional father to put an end to the malicious intruder.
Compound Fracture is the cinematic definition of a mixed bag. A passion project for writers/lead actors Geerlings and Mane, the film works best when focused on its original, engrossing, and surprising story. The family dynamic is refreshingly odd, with Michael caring for his nephew, Gary being married to a new wife, and Juliette kind of being caught in the middle. Though the ties can be initially confusing, what’s unique is the fact that this entire family is uncomfortable with each other. Michael has just been thrust into caring for Brandon, Juliette is meeting Gary for the first time, and Annabelle is desperately looking for a way to escape. In a routine haunting film, the family being harassed is usually a functioning unit or at least familiar with each other. With the exception of Juliette and Michael, these characters either don’t know each other well or haven’t seen one another in a very long time. That lack of familiarity creates a static sense of unease, distrust, and uncertainty amongst the family. What really struck me about the film was the unrelenting inclusion of family abuse. Michael isn’t immediately likeable by any means, but by the time he is juxtaposed to Gary’s hot-tempered behavior and outbursts, we start to sympathize with him. We begin to understand that he’s doing the best he can with the scarcity of love he was given as a child raised in a violence. I found this to be a very unique way to develop a fondness for a character. Tyler Mane really commits to his role and I believed his pain with every wince, sigh, and frustrated expression.
Problems arise in Compound Fracture when things really heat up in the supernatural department. Up until then, the film does an expert job relating us to the characters and selling the tension of the very strange house and even stranger people in it. The film loses some of its edge following a flashback sequence that reveals a major plot point. Essentially, the engagingly tense drama that I was enjoying turns into a home invasion thriller. The idea of a paranormal home invasion film might be interesting, but when the invader is a mess of unconvincing special effects and incoherently shot attack scenes, the film falls apart. Atmosphere and mood are abandoned for choppily shot violence. The slow burn tension that had been ratcheting up the entire film dies with a whimper. This isn’t to say nothing about it works. The actors still give the material their all and the story itself remains original and largely intact. I just wish they used other techniques, perhaps involving light, shadow, and sound to generate their scares.
While I praise the story’s originality, there are a few inconsistencies that stuck out. For a film that takes the subject of abuse very seriously, it seemed to go against its message in later scenes, ultimately leaving me feeling uneasy about not just the story, but the incongruity of its tone.
Compound Fracture was undoubtedly born from talented writing and original ideas. Mane and Geerlings clearly had their hearts in the film, and it shows. Somewhere along the way though, the integrity of it gets lost to cheap scares and inconsistencies with the characters. Despite its flaws, Compound Fracture unquestionably deserves high praise for its original script, unique family dynamics, and stellar performances.
Compound Fracture is now on VOD via Level 33 Entertainment.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth