The Forbidden Four (2012)

Description (from the DVD sleeve):
Tim; a writer suffering from block retreats to a dark, isolated cottage in hopes of letting his creative juices flow but gets a lot more than he bargained for when a mysterious lobster get his pincers on his brain! Securing Tim in his grip, the Lobster proceeds to tell him four tales of dream-like horror fantasy that will change Tim’s outlook on life, lobsters and creative writing forever!

Cast:
Jim Heal as Publishing Chief, Bobby Parker as Publishing Chief, Shane Moroney as Donald, Lee Partridge as The Clown, Corina Harper as Antigone / Sleeping Girl / Owl Entity, Matilda Harper as Ismene / Narrator, Louret H. Sametter as Polyneices / Blind Prophet / Death, Tristan Rowley as Creon, Derek Worlock as Manufacturer, James Underwood as Jerome, Luke Coates as Wealthy Man / Middle Aged Man, Kim Moody as Clair, Bryan Rider as Pagan Priest

Special Features:
Short Films, Music Videos

Written and Directed by Thomas Lee Rutter

I watch a lot of movies. A lot. Sometimes I get to the end of a movie and I think to myself, “that was weird.” Sometimes I think, “that was really weird.” And occasionally I think, “what the hell did I just do to my brain?” THE FORBIDDEN FOUR was a brain-assaulting entry into this year’s movie log. I like weird flicks – on more than a few occasions I’ve had to explain to others what a masterpiece LOST HIGHWAY is, and this is one of the less weird films that I could think of – but TFF just takes weird to a whole new level. As Jules says so perfectly in PULP FICTION, “ain’t the same fuckin’ ballpark, it ain’t the same league, it ain’t even the same fuckin’ sport.” That’s kind of my reaction with TFF and weird flicks: not the same sport.

Obey your lobster overlords!
Obey your lobster overlords!

TFF opens with a writer, Tim, who has been given an ultimatum on finishing his novel, and is seriously stressed about it. A fellow writer offers him an idea: a secluded place to get away from it all and writer without distraction. Unbeknownst to Tim, there’s a weird semi-demonic lobster (yes, lobster) waiting in the darkness of that cabin in the woods to slice open his head and feed him stories. From there, we go into the anthology bits of the film… so there’s that. The stories within TFF are about as odd (insomuch as how they relate to each other) as the wrap-around story that frames them.

Up first is “Antigone and Polyneices,” based on Sophocles’ tragedy. This story is basically told as a silent film, with no dialogue at all, just video then screens of text. This really bugged me. I am a big fan of having as little exposition in your film as is needed to get the audience to follow what’s going on, and in this story it’s all exposition – and even worse, it’s exposition that is written down for you to have to read (and doesn’t stay on the screen long enough for most people to get through the paragraphs before they go away). This makes “A&P” a very slow, very boring story indeed. Another big issue I have with this chapter is the fact that making a period piece is incredibly hard to do well on a low (or no-) budget film, and they went back to ancient Greece. This does not work. It’s very cool that it was shot in Greece, so that helps, but the ruins would not have been ruins, the clothes would not have bra straps hanging out of the back, the characters would not have cool little wrist tattoos; there’s just so much that takes this story out of that setting and reminds you that it is NOT ancient Greece.

One of the more interestingly composed shots in TFF
One of the more interestingly composed shots in TFF

Up next is a quick and creepy entry, “A Child’s Toy.” This is a bit better subject matter for the no-budget film, a weird B&W story of a woman’s doll that is apparently some sort of a cenobite and tears forth her fetus (also a doll… not sure if it was supposed to be a real baby or not) for the Manufacturer (only know that because of the credits) to take. There’s not too much to say about this one; it was short, it was creepy, it had good atmosphere, and – like most of the rest of TFF – it was completely confusing.

I'm crazy, you can tell by my hair!
I’m crazy, you can tell by my hair!

The third story, “The Catalyst,” was by far the best one. This story actually had some plot that could be followed (and it was interesting plot at that), it had dialogue, and it had a lot of elements that could actually put together a good little ride. Jerome is a painter, and is popular, but is told that he really doesn’t have the darkness in him to paint such dark images, that they seem false. This statement rattles around in his brain and makes him a bit crazy, and he ends up taking the darkness into his own hands, and paints a masterpiece from it. This story had some definite pros going for it; you’ve got a nice descent-into-madness story, good artwork (I was sad when the owl painting hit the water, I would have hung that up in my house!), and though I saw most everything coming in this film, it worked well. “TC” would be a great story to expand upon and make into a whole movie (probably not a feature, but a longer flick than this) that could stand on its own.

What's going on in Solstice?  I don't know either, and I watched it.
What’s going on in Solstice? I don’t know either, and I watched it.

Finally, there is “Solstice at the Midlife Circus.” This is really less of a story and more of a visual art piece, and as such it really makes little sense to be included in an anthology.

On the production side of things, TFF is a bit of a muddled mess. From the first moments of the movie, the lack of quality of the video is readily apparent. The film seems to be shot on an older video camera, and that’s hard to deal with as a viewer these days. It’s not good enough to appeal to most, and it’s not bad enough to feel retro or throwback. The video needs de-interlacing, and the face that it is letterboxed on 1:33 ends up with the viewer having a big black box around the film. In the days of widescreen TV, this is very apparent. Aggravating the poor image quality is the lighting, which varies from decent to bad to horrible. There is many a scene that is so dark or so bathed in harsh shadow that the viewer cannot tell what is going on at all. Then comes the biggest production issue: the audio. Oh, the audio. I have little to no issue with accents, but I couldn’t understand vast swaths of what was being said in TFF. From either way to quiet with too much background noise (the scene with Tim being offered the cabin – which is an important scene and I couldn’t understand a damn thing that was being said for 85% of it), to way too processed (the Lobster – again important I’d assume but I don’t know because I couldn’t understand the majority of it), to having too loud of a score over the top (much of the rest of the movie), the audio has just been beat to shit. I’ve said it many times on this site: audio is going to make or break your low/no-budget film (it broke mine), and TFF is another example of this.

So there are some shots that are a little dark...
So there are some shots that are a little dark…

Overall, I just could not get into TFF. From the production issues to the production design (bad effects, bad costumes, etc.) to the overall feel of the film, it just pushed me away. It really felt like it was weird just for weird’s sake, and that is no good. There needs to be a motivating factor, a payoff, something for me as the viewer to deal with the oddness I am being presented and there just isn’t any with TFF. I even watched all three of the shorts included on the disc to see if it would help me understand at least the style more, and that did nothing for me. I do have to give Rutter some credit for his editing skills, because that is the aspect of TFF that is the strongest by far. There are some ideas that are good, there are some nice shots here and there, and there are the building blocks for what can be a good movie in TFF, but they are way down deep beneath the surface. I would love for Rutter to take “The Catalyst” and run with that; when he’s not going for super-duper-ultimately-weird, he can obviously make an interesting story come to life, but there was just too little of that in TFF for my tastes.

Overall 2.5 / 10

TFF on the IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2154188/

TFF for sale: http://carniefilms.bigcartel.com/product/the-forbidden-four-dvd

TFF site: http://www.carniefilms.blogspot.com/

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