Monday, September 19, 2011

MIFFF Review: 'The Selling'

A big problem with films that present themselves as horror-comedies is that, all too often, they are neither frightening nor funny. In direct opposition to this trend, Emily Lou’s new film “The Selling” succeeds on both of these fronts—it is strong low-budget comedy and strong low-budget horror. There are consistent, legitimate laughs throughout, and, especially as the movie builds and progresses towards the climax, some solid ghost story action in the midst of all the humor.

Richard Scarry (Gabriel Diani, who also wrote the script)—like the children’s author—is your ideal real estate agent. He’s honest to a fault, to the point where he discourages potential buyers from purchasing a home because the mortgage is far beyond their means. Basically he is the kind of broker you want working for you because he will always tell you the truth, he’s just not much of a big timer as far as real estate is concerned.

Beyond that, Richard takes care of his cancer patient mother (Nancy Lenehan), as if you couldn’t tell that he’s a good guy already. Desperate to earn some quick money to cover mom’s ever increasing medical bills, Richard and his business partner slash childhood friend, Dave (Jonathan Klein), buy a house from a conniving rival (Janet Varney). The property seems like a steal—way below market value, all it apparently needs is a coat of paint and some elbow grease before Richard and Dave can flip it for a tidy profit.

Here’s the catch. The house belonged to a notorious serial killer, The Sleep Stalker, who allegedly killed a dozen people in the attic. All sorts of ghostly mayhem ensues—the house talks to them in spooky voices, it throws baseballs at them from out of nowhere, the toilet spews vile black goo, the walls bleed, and, oh yeah, sometimes the hallway closet doubles as a portal to the spirit realm. I can’t decide if that’s a feature you pay extra for, or if the agent should knock a few grand off of the asking price—I’m not up on current real estate practices, and it probably depends on what the buyer is into.

Richard attempts to reason with the house, tries to fight it, tries to figure out what the spirits want in order to put their troubled souls to rest, and all of the usual tactics. None of them work. There is an exorcism Richard’s estranged childhood priest, Father Jimmy (Barry Bostwick), a paranormal blogger, and an ancient unnamed evil no one is able to place. As the movie goes on the tone changes, turning away from the quick, pop culture saturated wit towards the more sinister side of the spectrum. It is still funny, but this is where the film becomes more of a horror story.

“The Selling” definitely pays homage to the horror films that came before it. There are “Elm St.” references, nods to “The Shinning”, a riff on “The Exorcist”, and even a “Jaws” joke. Clips from the original “House on Haunted Hill” make a guest appearance, and visually the film alludes to other genre kin, though the canted frames and spinning, pulling shots get old before too long.

Diani’s performance is what carries “The Selling” and makes it a lot of fun. His neurotic charm and droll humor are engaging and you can’t help but root for him, and his character is a direct descendent of Cameron Frye from “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off” (another in a long line of cultural citations). The score is absolutely pitch perfect, a jaunty blend of horror that is a little spooky, a little “Adam’s Family”.

Many answers come too easy, the script takes a lot for granted, and at least a couple of the characters are grating and obnoxious. These are the elements that I feel keep “The Selling” from being a great film, but even with these missteps there is definitely enough to carry you through. Iverall “The Selling” is flawed, but also a really fun time and a great way to close out the 2011 incarnation of the Maelstrom International Fantastic Film Festival. You should be seeing this film around somewhere very soon.

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