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Denizen
(2010)

Director: J. A. Steel 
Cast:
J. A. Steel, Jessica M. Bair, Dianne Sullivan


When someone has watched as many films as I have in my lifetime, you find over the years trends in the motion picture industry. It's probably inevitable that with each serious moviegoer, they will find a few particular trends more interesting than others, and will reserve time to watch all the movie that were made during the trend, or with every new entry if the trend is still going on in the present day. I will freely admit that there are a lot of movie-related trends that I have found interesting to explore, some of which I have covered in other reviews of the web site. For example, I think have revealed that I love those action movies made in the 1980s to the mid 1990s. Not just the big studio theatrical movies, but those that went straight to the video store shelves, such as those movies made by PM Entertainment. But it isn't just particular movie studio stuff that I'm interested in - I am also interested in the work of particular directors as well. For example, there is Albert Pyun. Now, you probably remember from my review of Omega Doom that I stated that except for The Sword And The Sorcerer, Albert Pyun has demonstrated again and again that he is nothing but a terrible director. In fact, that's how I still feel many years after reviewing that movie. But I find Pyun to be fascinating for many reasons. How does this guy manage to be so prolific? He manages to crank out a movie on an average of every year or so. For that matter, how does he manage to get financing after making so many bad movies, his name is common knowledge among B movie fans? Questions such as those fascinate me, so I try to keep up to date with what Pyun is doing, even if I am not actually watching his movies. (Though I'll probably watch his upcoming sequel to The Sword And The Sorcerer, even though early reports have been totally negative.)

There's another filmmaker that has intrigued me since the very first time I saw one of this individual's films. That filmmaker is J. A. Steel. I was introduced to Steel when she offered to send me her first movie, The Third Society, in order to be reviewed. Several years later, when she completed her second movie, Salvation, she once again contacted me and asked if I would like to review it, which I said yes to. Now, if you have read my reviews for those two movies, you will see that I didn't think very much of those movies. The Third Society was almost completely ineptly done, and Salvation wasn't that much better. So you are probably wondering why I have such an interest in a filmmaker who has not managed to succeed in making very good movies. There are several reasons, actually. One reason is that J. A. Steel is a woman. If you think of all the movies made ever since the concept of feature film was invented, you will see that there have been very few female filmmakers. Another reason why I am intrigued by J. A. Steel is that unlike just about any other female filmmaker, J. A. Steel does not make serious dramas. Instead, she makes what many would call B movies. The Third Society was an action movie, and Salvation was an action movie with a dash of the supernatural. And while her movies may have been terrible, you could tell that they were made by someone who loved making movies - you had to at least admire their spirit. Anyway, several months ago, a reader reported to me that Steel had made a new movie, Denizen. I went to her official web site, and sent her an e-mail telling her I'd be happy to review her latest film if she sent me a screener. The days went by, and I didn't hear back from her, which I took with a shrug. She could have been busy or something, and no longer had the time to deal with a lowly movie critic like myself.

As it turned out, she was busy, and my e-mail got lost in the shuffle of her making her next movie Blood Fare. Several months later, I got an e-mail from her telling me of this, and telling me she'd love to send me a screener of Denizen. So I sent her my snail mail address, and waited Denizenpatiently for the screener to come. It didn't take that long for an envelope with a DVD screener landed in my mailbox. But when I examined the DVD, there was a big crack in it, making it unplayable. Since I had agreed to review the movie, I ordered at my expense a fresh copy from Amazon. If you read my review of Salvation, you will have seen that I had to do the same thing for that movie, making me wonder if there was some conspiracy to make me help indirectly fund Steel's film projects! Anyway, I got a new copy of the movie, and I sat down to watch it. Here is a plot synopsis: In some unidentified city in the mid-western United States, several problems have recently surfaced. The local lake is slowly being contaminated by some unknown cause, and scientist Dallas Murphy (Jody Mullins, Salvation) has been brought in to try and find what is poisoning the lake. However, soon he finds the area is being threatened by something else as well - some sort of monster has appeared and kills several of the city's residents. The problem with this creature soon becomes so big that the military, headed by one General Jernigan (Glen Jensen, who was also in Salvation), sets up shop in the town and declares martial law. Dallas decides to call in his old buddies, Sierra Deacon (Steel) and Dexter Maines (Ben Bayless - yup, he was in Salvation as well) for help, but even with three people it's clear that solving all those problems is not going to be easy...

I admit that my expectations were kind of high before I popped Denizen into my DVD player. Salvation was an improvement over the nearly completely incompetent The Third Society, so I was thinking that Steel would have learned a lot from those past two movies and maybe deliver something genuinely good this time. But when I started to watch the movie, most of my expectations were shattered in the first few seconds of the movie. In one aspect, Steel had taken a big step back. To put it bluntly, Denizen looks and sounds horrible. Doing a little online research on the movie, I discovered that the movie was photographed via 24p video. How does this look? Well, do you remember in the '80s such shot-on-video movies like Redneck Zombies and Video Violence? Well, that is how the majority of Denizen looks like. But wait, it gets even worse than coming across like it was shot with an old camcorder. Quite often the movie doesn't come across like it was shot in the best of these circumstances. In indoor scenes, windows facing outside are glowing rectangles of white. When the movie moves outside, problems still persist. When the movie in a scene cuts from one angle to another, quite often the lighting of the actors changes significantly shot to shot, sometimes making them look so dark that they look like black blobs. The audio of the movie isn't any better. Sometimes the characters' tone and volume changes shot to shot in a single scene. Other times, characters are far enough away from the camera that their dialogue is hard to make out. And there are times when they are near the camera, but background noise makes it difficult to hear them. The only sign of post-production dubbing is in several scenes where the characters' backs are turned to the camera and we can't see their lip movements as they talk.

Even though the movie was so badly shot and its audio often so poor, believe me when I say that I tried to give the rest of the movie a chance to be a successful exercise in delivering good action and horror. But Denizen is so poorly made in just about every other way you can think of. Let's next get to the actors and their characters. Although the acting on display here isn't the worst I have seen in a motion picture, it still comes across as coming from a bunch of amateurs, with a couple of exceptions. As the evil general, Glen Jensen seems at times to be channelling those actors who used to tie women to railroad tracks. Steel, on the other hand, does bring a certain presence in her scenes that makes you curious and pay attention to her whenever she's around, but in the end she seems bored with the very role that she wrote for herself. As for Steel's character, and the rest of the characters Steel wrote for this movie, they have been poorly constructed. Why, for example, does the general think that martial law is the best thing to do, and to close off the town to the rest of the world? I don't think there is a proper explanation why he thinks this is important. And what exactly is the relationship between the characters of Dallas, Sierra, and Dexter? There are some mumblings about the characters having some sort of past together in Mexico, but what exactly happened in the past and what their present relationship is comes off as so garbled that I coudn't tell you those things if my life depended on it. Actually, there is one character that survives Steel's writing and livens things up whenever he appears, and that is the monster. Looking like a genetic mix of the D.N.A. from moss, a sheepdog, and Bigfoot, this creature looks so ridiculous that he brings a healthy dose of unintended comedy just by appearing in a scene.

In fact, Denizen has a lot more unintended comedy than just how that monster suit looks. Enough so that I am recommending that you watch this movie if you are in the mood for filmmaking so incompetent that it's funny to watch, as long as you can tolerate shoddy visuals and audio, as well as shoddy storytelling. For the rest of this review, I'll be listing just some of the things that make this movie hilarious to watch. It's interesting how the monster repeatedly manages to walk right up to people who don't see or hear it just before it sinks its paws into them, for one thing. There's also a character (Dexter) who sports an eyepatch that also apparently works as a hearing aid, because when he is woken up by a telephone call, he puts on the eyepatch before answering the phone. Later in the movie, when this same guy is on the phone with his former partner, he has to speak his entire name to his former partner despite the fact it's been established that the two men know each other well. During a town meeting at the local movie theater shortly after martial law is declared, despite this fresh declaration there are only enough of the city's citizens present to fill (some of) the seats in the first few rows. (Talk about apathy towards local politics!) Later, when Dexter waits to be picked up by Deacon, she comes by to tell him he's not coming - and to punch him out for no reason at all before she leaves. The click-click-click sounds of a computer keyboard don't match the speed of text appearing on the same computer's monitor. When guns are being fired, the muzzle flashes are obviously computer graphics superimposed on the barrels of the guns. When a woman soldier is shot, she shows no blood, but then a cut to a different angle suddenly shows her to have blood gushing down her neck. One character is told to mail something, even though the town is under martial law and is sealed off from the rest of the world. With unintentional comic gold like that throughout the movie, it's safe to say that J. A. Steel has finally made an entertaining movie. Just not entertaining in the way that she intended, that is.

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See also: Blood Freak, The Third Society, Troll 2

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