An interesting concept can go a long way with just a little propulsion. I can think of several films with mediocre writing, acting and production but that also have an engaging or fun premise, that render the mediocre aspects forgivable. Take a film like Cube (1997,) for example. Does anyone remember the characters or specific lines? I sure as Hell don’t. Did Cube blow us away with a tight script, bulletproof to plot holes? No...
...Cube is remembered by me and many, as a borderline silly 90’s claustrophobic horror film where a group of diverse people are plucked and put into a literal cube with seemingly no way out. That’s a fun pitch. It’s one of those high concept films that I can imagine being pitched in a studio executive’s office in one sentence or less. It was fun, memorable as a concept and regarded by some as a cult favorite. A film with a cool concept or unique idea gets a few passes from me in regard to actual quality surrounding the concept. Not in a good bad movie sort of way, but just in the sense that concepts can sometimes help carry an otherwise ho-hum film. There is, however, a fine line between forgivable annoyances and immersion killing terrible. Crepitus, brought to us by Indican Pictures and directed by Haynze Whitmore, is a film that has been crafted with a daring, creative and even important concept. The real question begs whether or not Crepitus falls victim to another great concept piece with lousy execution.
Crepitus tells a brutal, often uncomfortable tale about two sisters and their unbreakable bond that’s bound by trauma and a sinister family secret. Throughout most of the film, not much is revealed about the circumstances surrounding the sisters’ home life, but it becomes clear very quickly they aren’t exactly peachy. Their mother, played convincingly by Eve Mauro, is verbally and physically abusive to the girls on a frequent basis. It’s never fully explained, but the girls are seemingly prisoners in the house. The youngest sister, Sam, played by Chalet Lizette Brannan, occupies most of her time with a GoPro, trying to catch their mother in the heat of one of her violently abusive episodes. Eli, the older sister, played by Caitlin Williams, does her best to toughen up little Sam by teaching her to take care of herself. The sisters have been told virtually nothing about their grandparents or any family history, for that matter. Naturally, they’re racked with questions and with all the free time they have at home without their mother lurking around, they start uncovering clues about their grandfather. As they uncover more mysteries, they receive visits by a menacing clown, played by Bill Moseley, most notable as Otis from Rob Zombie’s Firefly Family Trilogy. His visits become more frequent with each clue uncovered. Eventually, they stumble upon an old film reel in the attic, but before they can revel in their big case breakthrough, they are stilted with disgust and petrification by the film’s contents. From here, all is unraveled.
Crepitus is a frustrating film. Not because it has potential, which it does, but more so that it manages to realize that potential during certain moments, but they’re yanked away just when I feel it’s starting to win me over. Let it be known that Crepitus does have an interesting story that is very cleverly thought out. Once everything comes together, the narrative does make sense in the world that is built for us here. However, making sense and being a clever concept may work on paper in a purely structural sense, but constructing a balanced, well produced film out of that narrative is another beast entirely. Problems start early on, when the first lines delivered are cringingly awkward and unnatural. Caitlin Williams as Eli has that slightly overreactive porn star quality that intermittently goes from bad to barely watchable. Chalet Lizette Brannan gets more of a pass from me, given her young age, but her line delivery is also awkward, while still not as bad as Caitlin’s. The performances by the sisters alone is enough to break any potential immersion. The film was really losing me at this point, but after a good chunk of the film only involving the girls, we’re introduced to their mother. Eve Mauro breathes much needed life into the film, giving a powerhouse of a performance. She’s even able to elevate the acting quality of the sisters, because Eve’s violent tantrums are so animated and believable that anyone would be hard pressed not to react with at least a genuine wince. Whenever Eve is offscreen, Crepitus lulls back into its dull rhythm, following our unengaging protagonists.
If it seems like I’m not talking about the film’s credible character actor and household horror name, Bill Moseley, it’s because I’m not. Moseley is criminally underused and while his costume and makeup prove effective, he isn’t given the freedom or screen time to really flex his abilities as the electrifying actor he is. His performance in the recent, 3 From Hell, exhibits that he isn’t the problem here. Rather, it’s the material. It’s a real bummer, because I have a feeling there is a lot of unused footage of his character that will probably never see the light of day. There are a few other very minor characters that are serviceable, but this is primarily a contained film with our four main characters in this house of pure misery.
From a production standpoint, Crepitus is competent and sometimes very professional looking. Cinematographers, Jakes Burgess and Tyson Maughan know how to use their cameras effectively and I have nothing to complain about in this department other than a few awkward transitions, but that’s more on the editing side of things. Nothing is particularly scary, but everything seems to be shot with a consistently eerie tone. The sisters are shot to look powerless, especially during a disturbing scene where Sam is maliciously tossed down a hallway by the mother, leaving her flung off GoPro camera on the ground to show us the abuse. Scenes are also lit well, which is a nice relief, as many films in this genre are entirely too dark, crushing blacks and making movement impossible to make sense out of. Undoubtedly working with a small budget, it’s clear the filmmakers have used their funds wisely, as the costumes, location and overall aesthetics look above average for a tightly budgeted production.
Crepitus frustratingly goes through highs and lows and eventually, after many attempts to forgive its many flaws, I had to commit to admitting that it’s just not a good film. It is, however, completely watchable. I certainly don’t regret seeing it because it does contain one very powerful performance that, at least for me, warrants a viewing. It’s just a damn shame that it’s weighed down so heavily by its weaknesses that announce their presence so loudly, that the once fresh and imaginative concept fades into the background, ultimately leaving a poor impression.
Crepitus is now playing in limited theaters, with a VOD release planned for December 13th from Indican Pictures.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth