Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Weeks Too Late: Lo

Lo. Directed & Written by Travis Betz.

Preconceptions: I spent some time last week beefing up the Netflix queue in hopes of getting a few more flicks (of the non-Breillat persuasion) that I felt a touch more strongly about (as much as I'm sure you're enjoying my "meh" series of reviews). In my rummaging I found Lo, a short, low budget romantic comedy (uuuugh) with demons (you see where my interest was piqued). Now in the past I've been almost entirely unimpressed with the mixed genre horror I've seen (right down to being the only person in the universe who didn't like Shaun of the Dead), and my feelings on romances have been well documented. I figured, best case scenario I'd find something to love in this type of movie and worst, I'd have something constructive to moan about.

General Review: Doing the old genre definition on this movie would be extremely difficult. In a bit of post-game internet flipping, I saw a number of sites try to properly peg this down. Over-all, it really is a romantic comedy, but it does have a pile of horror set dressing and sensibility to keep it from being unpalatable to romance detractors such as myself. The basic plot breaks down like this: Justin (Ward Roberts) is trying to save his girlfriend April (Sarah Lassez) from hell. He summons the demon Lo (Jeremiah Birkett) using the spell he's found in a book owned by April. While Lo certainly wasn't without flaws (don't worry, I'll get to them) it really was rather good, and it's a flick I think a lot of you readers out there will enjoy. It manages to be funny and romantic, while occasionally squicking me out the way a good horror should. There were more than a few goods laughs and some pretty disturbing stuff as well. Naturally, of the three elements, the romance is by far the hardest sell for me, but I bought it. I enjoyed the story of April and Justin's awkward love and his bumbling quest to save her.

My main beef is that, somehow, this unique idea manages to lean too heavily towards the derivative. It's clear that Betz is a fan of both Joss Whedon and Sam Raimi. Not bad people to emulate when trying to get the mix he was shooting for, but I felt more than once that I was watching the Ash (Evil Dead) and Anya (Buffy) love story. That and we had a singing green demon, in a sequence that was funny, but very much pulled from the pages of Angel. I wish that the characterization had been more original because that's all that was keeping this from being an original, interesting experience. A stronger voice that belonged more to Betz would have driven this movie from being good to something really spectacular.

The set and make-up were great. I was expecting another movie like Ink , where they used heavy CG to make the setting and characters otherworldly. I was completely off base, Lo was done almost entirely with practical effects. The demons were guys in (excellent) make-up and the set was an empty black void, with Justin sitting in a magic circle. We occasionally watch re-enactments of parts of Justin and April's relationship as a deliberately low-end stage play. Despite the minimalist set, I never felt bored or trapped. Part of this is probably due to the impressive pacing. Lo is only about 80 minutes and it gets in, makes its point, and gets out again. None of the time is wasted or padded. My only complaint, visually, was the demonic book. I'm more than willing to suspend disbelief and play along that Justin can understand it, but it simply didn't look good. The cover, with its vein-y eye was cheesy and the drawings inside of the Ikea "summon your own demon" ritual wasn't much better. Going for the standard antique novel with unreadable (to the audience) writing would have been less distracting and more effective.

There was a definite range in the skill of the performances. Jeremiah Birkett was superb as the demon Lo. He was funny, intimidating and otherworldly. Sarah Lassez was good, but not great. She was lovable and awkward, but as I mentioned earlier, she was too much like Anya and not enough her own character. While Ward Roberts sold the love story, I didn't buy his "geeky outsider" impression. Besides being a little too handsome, his nerdiness was too much a caricature. Quite a bit too much rapid blinking and stuttering for my tastes.

Despite my complaints, I think it's a fairly sure bet you'll enjoy Lo. While its flaws might keep it from being the best thing I've seen in the last couple of months, they don't keep it from being a fun watch. It manages to mix quite a few genre elements together successfully and not alienate my unsophisticated palate. I'm actually surprised I haven't heard more about this in horror nerd circles, because it is so good. So you may be hearing it here first, but who else's opinion do you really need, shoo-shoo, go rent it.

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