Cycle of Fear
by Jason Coffman
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As filmmaking gets cheaper and more accessible, it only makes sense that more and more people would try their hand at it. And it only makes sense that many of these filmmakers would take their first stab at filmmaking at a proven genre: the horror film. There are tons of great low-budget horror films that have been made over the years, but it’s easy to forget that these are the exceptions. For every Evil Dead, there’s 1000 unwatchable films with the same budget. The numbers are getting ridiculous as distribution changes— you can now snag 10, 20, 50, or 100 movies in cheap boxed sets for less than $1 per film. And generally, you get what you pay for. It’s a rare occasion that something in the independent horror wasteland really sticks out.
Unfortunately, this fully applies to Cycle of Fear, a new independent horror film produced and directed by Manuel de Silva. The film falls into numerous traps that plague low-budget horror films, and doesn’t really do much to set itself apart from the horde of independent horror glutting the market. In such a market, a film has to be either really exceptional or truly awful to stand out, and Cycle of Fear, unfortunately, is just competent enough to slide under the radar.
The needlessly complicated storyline goes something like this: the witch Selena Sutton (Diana de Silva-Bowles) returns to the small community where she was put to death long ago in order to obtain a codex that will allow her to either a) cleanse her soul so she can gain entrance to Heaven or b) use its incredible power for her own purposes (what those purposes might be wasn’t really made clear). Also in the race for the codex is an ancient demon named Azeziel (Andrew Priestman), who wants it so he can damn all the souls in Purgatory to Hell. Or something like that. Honestly, the exposition flies so fast and thick in a few scenes I’m not entirely certain what was going on. Standing in the way of these supernatural forces are Tabetha (Valerie Morrissey), the only survivor of Selena Sutton’s killing spree the year before the film’s main action opens (did I forget to mention that?); Jay (Sean Kaufmann), her nurse at the insane asylum; and Samantha (Rachael Ancheril), Tabetha’s best friend who was also imprisoned by Selena and was presumed dead— but apparently she was working for Selena in the intervening time? This is what I mean by “needlessly complicated”: the basics are two supernatural entities are after a book with great power, and some normal people have to stop them. Everything else just pads out the running time.
Speaking of which, there’s also an angry police detective out for revenge, because his partner went missing investigating the Sutton case. And a priest sworn to secrecy about his basement’s floor plan. And the fact that Azeziel has taken the form of a young man who died in Iraq? Trying to keep track of all the characters and motivations that pile up throughout the film is exhausting. After a while I just gave up and let it wash over me as the supernatural antics played out and the blood splashed gleefully across the screen every so often.
Still, the film’s willingness to completely obscure its plot in needless contrivances is something to remember it by. Otherwise, it’s a completely mediocre supernatural thriller clearly made with half a shoestring budget— some of the sets look like they’re literally cardboard painted and set in front of other walls to disguise reused sets. Just because a film has a low budget doesn’t mean that it can’t be great, but to overcome such severe limitations requires a little more than technical competence. Cycle of Fear isn’t a bad first effort (especially on such a small budget), and I wouldn’t be surprised if de Silva has a good movie in him, but he’s still got a ways to go from here.
Jason Coffman is a film critic living in Chicago.
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