Even the most hardcore horror fans among us will readily admit that we, for the most part, watch the same movies over and over again. That is not to say the exact same titles (although that is true, too), but there are basically a handful of plots and themes that constantly get repeated – the unstoppable serial killer, the possessed innocent, the vampire, the werewolf, the zombie-possessed innocent werewolf fighting the vampire zombies only to join forces… well, you get the point.
Judging purely from his latest release Exhumed, I can only assume that writer-director Richard Griffin shares some of my thoughts on the self-imposed limits of the genre and has taken up the task of both challenging and expanding those boundaries.
The story centers around an isolationist cult who is holed up in suburban home. The players include “The Governess” played Debbie Rochon, “The Butler” (Michael Thurber), Drunk simpleton Lance (Rich Tretheway), oversexed minx Rocki (Evalena Marie) and delusional Laura (Sarah Nicklin). As the story unfolds, we discover that the “Family” – so to speak – was at one time much larger and spread through many homes. This group is all that remains and Laura is the orphan daughter of the cult’s original founders. Desperate to continue on, the group is attempting to recruit some new blood.
The cult’s isolation is extenuated through Griffin’s mise en scene. Noir lighting, claustrophobic camera work, short narrow hallways – even the actors themselves (specifically the tall, all-enveloping Thurber) ensure the viewer’s breathing will hasten at his will throughout the film.
The score is key to the work. Daniel Hildreth and Alec Redfearn’s music is a crucial element, which allows Griffin to steer his narrative through both calm and turbulent waters.
True ensemble casts are rare in horror – even when intentioned (i.e. Devil’s Rejects). At some point, an alpha character or actor emerges as the leader. Not so in Exhumed. From a pure acting standpoint, Thurber and Rochon are simply brilliant. Throughout the film, there is a constant Dominant/Submissive tango with each taking the lead at different points. Thurber is both calming and menacing at the same time. Though instinct may tell you otherwise, few could deny they would climb in his car… no questions asked.
I am not going to belittle Rochon by over emphasizing her B-Queen status. Yes, Rochon is still as beautiful as the day she started making films – maybe more so now – but she has also always been a talented actress. Jack Nicholson, who is a three-time Oscar winner and considered by many to be the greatest living film actor, got his start in Roger Corman movies shot in a few days for pocket change, yet that fact does not make its way into every single article written about him.
Sarah Nicklin’s portrayal of Laura is the linchpin of the film. I am not overstating a fact to say that she reminded me of Shirley Booth’s portrayal of – you guessed it, folks – Laura in a TV version of Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie that I watched in high school English class. While the parallels to the character and the elements of the story itself are hard to ignore, Nicklin makes the character her own and does not fall prey to poor mimic or parody.
I am not sure what Mr. Griffin’s ultimate aspirations as a director are – if he hopes to gain the marquee value of Wes Craven or John Carpenter, I think he can. If his desire is to continue to hone his craft and make solid films outside the Hollywood system, he can do that, too. Choices are a good thing and I think – judging from Exhumed – Richard Griffin has many available to him.