This era of filmmaking is pretty fascinating. Right now, despite the streaming disaster unfolding most places, it’s possible for an indie outfit to scrape together enough credit cards to make a movie and distribute it through Amazon Prime. And you hold all you need for shooting and editing now.
I have no idea if Amazon gives these filmmakers a good deal. I expect they don‘t.
Creature Cabin (released under the name Tarnation) seems to be one of these movies. Daniel Armstrong has made a few, shouldering writing, directing, editing, and producing for most of them. That’s a lot of work, and it works for him. However, there are a lot of regrettable decisions in the third act.
This is the story of Oscar (Daisy Masterman), lead singer for a lame band. During rehearsal she flips out over the tortured and saccharine lyrics she’s supposed to sing. The band’s manager, who resembles Ned Flanders, fires her.
When Oscar gets home, she discovers her boyfriend has left with her cat and the sofa. Her flatmate Raine (Danae Swinburne) tries to cheer her up with alcohol. Then she drags Oscar off to a cabin in the woods for a dirty weekend with himbos Wilmer and Bo.
Unfortunately, the cabin is a portal into a Sam Raimi film and soon the whole place is crawling with deadites. Also, a unicorn angel woman. And a zombie kangaroo with boxing gloves.
I was on board until the kangaroo. What lots of indie movies get wrong — particularly indie horror movies — is a tendency for everyone to stand around jawing. Armstrong keeps things moving. And while Critter Cabin wears its Evil Dead influence on its sleeve, but Armstrong’s story is no knock-off. It’s got its own story, its own sense of humor, and a serviceable script to boot.
Armstrong, thankfully, depends on practical effects. These are rarely convincing, but they work much better than typical low-budget computer-animated visual effects. What if the spiders look like toys? Many of us have seen James Nguyen’s Birdemic. We know computers won’t save the movie.
Horror-comedy is a tough balance-beam to walk, though, and Critter Cabin falls off halfway. There’s a confidence-shaking dialogue between Good Oscar and Bad Oscar that apes Peter Jackson’s Gollum. This heralds the chatty portion of the film. Oscar and the wheelchair-bound Wheels (Emma-Louise Wilson) rehash the same witty banter for too long. And (pet peeve), I hate it when characters stop all the action explain the theme to the audience.
That’s when continuity takes a hit, too. There are glaring mid-day shots inserted into night scenes. Sometimes Oscar is tied to a cross, then in the next shot she’s chained. When we get to the rap battle, the goodwill has dissipated.
Armstrong has said he runs out of steam in his own projects. In 2015, he told Comic Bastards that it was discouraging how much work indie movies can be. “There’s a stage about three-quarters in where you just hate the living crap out of what you’ve made and want to chop it into little pieces, feed it to a pig, make bacon out of the pig, eat it and shit it down the toilet,” he says. It shows.
Creature Cabin shows a serious attempt to make the best movie possible. It’s better than most Prime crap, even that made by major studios. Creature Cabin just needed a bit more thought. And maybe someone else shouldering the writing, acting, directing, or editing duties. “It really burns you out,” he says, and there‘s no doubt.
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