Two-Toned, by Bob Connally

27 Sep

One of the more difficult things to pull off in a film is a successful shift in tone. It’s even more difficult when a filmmaker shifts back and forth between tones throughout a movie. Altered Spirits attempts to do this several times over the span of 90 minutes but unfortunately it just leaves the viewer repeatedly asking, “What does this movie want to be?”

It’s hard to tell from the film’s first few scenes just how seriously it’s taking itself. First, we’re introduced to two men and a woman who appear to possibly be pirates as they find an unconscious young man lying in the desert. They speak in grandiose terms of a portal being opened before we cut to the young man we just saw in a car with three friends. He and his pals share some banter as they drive out to a sweat lodge. It hints at a possible twist on the opening of a “cabin in the woods” style horror movie. Four people in their twenties have a lighthearted conversation before they arrive at their destination and the chaos begins. This could have been effective had the banter been stronger. This ends up being an indicator of really the entire movie that follows.

Written by Peter Bohush (who also directs), Joseph Medina, and Stephen Weese (who also stars as Scott), Altered Spirits tries to do many things but doesn’t really do any of them particularly well. The early comedic tone falls almost entirely flat before giving way to the much darker meat of the film, in which the friends find themselves separated, all forced to relive the worst moments of their lives. These scenes work a bit better taken on their own but following the goofy humor of the earlier scenes and intercut with more attempted comedy focused on the charlatan that runs the sweat lodge (Richard Epcar), they feel like they belong in a different movie. Imagine if Sam Raimi had tried to fuse Army of Darkness and A Simple Plan (two wonderful films that have decidedly different aims) into one movie and you get some idea of where Altered Spirits goes wrong in its second act.

Altered Spirits is a low-budget film and of course there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s even the sort of thing that a filmmaker could use to his or her advantage and if this had really committed to one tone and done it well then this movie could have worked. As it is, the writing is pretty clunky and the actors are largely inexperienced working on camera. (A number of the leads have extensive anime voice credits to their names.) As a result the performances tend to be either a little too big or a little too small. Allyson Floyd who plays a reporter looking into strange goings on at the sweat lodge is an exception and gives a solid performance. Unfortunately her role is relatively small but had the film been focused on her, Altered Spirits would have at least had a pretty good lead performance going for it. Epcar’s greasy fraud schtick almost works and in a more consistent movie with better lines for him to deliver his character and performance could have been a lot of fun. One can almost imagine the writers picturing Bruce Campbell as they worked, again bringing it around to Army of Darkness.

There is a sense of ambition here that is admirable but unfortunately that ambition leads to a messy film that tries to be too many things at once and relies more heavily on its low-budget visual effects than it should. It’s clear that everyone involved cares and if nothing else, Altered Spirits is not boring. Sadly, the film still leaves much to be desired.

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