Wednesday, March 18, 2020

UNSEEN FILMS STAY AT HOME FEST: Film Ten: Nate Hood on DEN (2001)

Please Excuse This Block of Text
When this post went up at 6:30 in the morning this space was occupied by a link to the You Tube upload of DEN. Some time in the 16 hours that followed the uploader closed his account. I do not know why. I do know that before I chose to link to the film I checked to see if the link was private, it was not, and I also checked the hits, there were several hundred, so I figured that instead of post a link to click I would simply embed the film. I do not know if this piece caused the film to be pulled, if so I am sorry. I have considered removing this piece since it is appearing as part of a series of films available streaming, something it appears not to be doing at the moment. However since the film is clearly floating out in the interwebs I am leaving this piece up since those who want to see the film maybe able to track it down somewhere. 

In 2014  great Robert Grimes wrote a piece about a little film called DEN. In the piece Robert spoke with director Greg Arce about his film and the tale that the filmmakers behind SAW saw it at a festival and lifted the story uncredited from his film. The piece exploded across the internet and Robert was interviewed and the possibility was discussed on Reddit and on podcasts. While most people entertained the possibility, the fact that the film seemed not to be available for screening  anywhere made confirming it impossible.

Years passed and the discussion of the film came and went.

Recently one of  Unseen Films' readers informed me that the film had made it's way to You Tube. I sent the link off to a bunch of the family and not long after I stated the Stay At Home Fest Nate watched the film and said he had to write it up.

For those of you who are curious the link  is above. Robert's original piece is here. There will be more discussion about the film  to come and those who want to chime in leave a comment below. 

In a better, perfect world, you’d find copies of Greg Arce’s ultra-low budget horror film DeN while rooting among the shelves of VHS tapes at your local mom and pop video store, tucked between other greats of the shot-on-video horror movement that flourished in the 1980s with the release of VHS recorders. Alas, through a combination of bad timing and legal shenanigans, DeN has tragically been largely lost to time. So while the brainless gorefests of lesser filmmakers and cinematic hobbyists thrive in midnight revival houses and basement videotape collections, DeN languishes in a bootlegger’s oblivion.

And that’s a damn shame.

For while DeN is a mess, it’s the best kind of mess, one with more ambition, enthusiasm, and sheer passion for movie-making than it does the means to do them justice. The film starts with a serial killer—played by Arce—kidnapping four random people and chaining them in his basement. After they come to, he reveals that he’s collected them to play a little game, namely to provide him with conversation on a number of topics. If they can fascinate him with their responses, he’ll let them live. If they can’t, they’ll end up like one of the severed heads in plastic bags he taunts them with. Over the next eight days, the terrified victims open up about their deepest, darkest secrets and learn that they might not have been so randomly selected after all.

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because Arce swears that the creators of the 2004 film Saw plagiarized his film, and indeed he might have something of a case: both James Wan and Light Whannell attended a Melbourne film festival in 2002 where the film was warmly received, even winning an award for its lead actress. Both films share an astonishing amount of narrative DNA, both in their characters, their set-ups, and their twists. But regardless, where Saw was a polished studio picture, DeN hums with the can-do spirit of indie auteurism. It’s fascinating to watch Arce work around the technical limitations of single lens VHS recorders by inventing his own visual language emphasizing claustrophobic close-ups and rapid editing. The screenplay needs work—it rambles for nearly two hours when it should’ve been a tight eighty minutes—but what’s there is fascinating enough to make one wish Arce had made more than just this one film.

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