Four years after the release of his first feature film “Deadfall Trail,” (the first film I ever reviewed for Examiner.com) local indie director Ro Ze returns to the big screen with the feature length horror film “Speak No Evil.” The film was shot entirely in Arizona with a cast and crew comprised mainly of local talent, film students and AZ indie veterans. “Speak No Evil” premiered on Friday, May 24 at the Valley Art Theatre in Tempe and has maintained a steady schedule of screenings throughout Arizona and the US. Gabriel Stone (daughter of Dee Wallace Stone) stars as Anna, a single mother in the small town of ‘Superstition’ Arizona, desperately fighting for the return of her daughter Joey (Olivia Cavender) after Joey’s abduction by supernatural forces. The children of the town begin to vanish en masse, and parents franticly search for their offspring. After a dramatic solar event wipes out all communication with the outside world, the children return to town under a terrifying spell. Law and order breaks down and behavior turns primitive as the children turn on the townspeople, devouring every adult that crosses their gruesome path.
It’s late at night in the doublewide when little Joey-girl is awakened by the clumsy sounds of her mommy Anna (Gabrielle Stone) trying to kill a spider with the help of her dimwitted boy-toy Creighton (Carl Jensen). Joey begins to investigate the naughty noises when an evil entity materializes outside and snatches her from the trailer. The local police arrive and grudgingly take a missing persons report, only after lecturing Anna on the importance of abstinence and making the right lifestyle choices. The cops are no help in locating Joey, so with the help of Creighton, the pair searches on their own; driving around and listening to the latest Miss Krystle tune as they comb the desert. They encounter a bandaged bag lady (Sylvie Cohen) with loads of incoherent info, and she chews on Anna’s ear for a moment before hightailing it back to her hideout. After this dangerous encounter, Anna enlists the help of Dale (Mario Guzman), her gun-toting alcoholic ex who’s not happy with her parenting skills, or her current choice of suitors. Meanwhile, the town is upside down, as every kid in the colony has now disappeared. The three prepare to go searching for little Joey when the entire town experiences a sudden simultaneous, celestial freak out. All power and communication is zapped: no phone, no lights, no contact with the outside world, yet somehow automobiles work just dandy, allowing Anna to bark “get the car!” to Creighton whenever things get really intense. After Anna experiences a few visions of children doing some sort of ritualistic gut munching, the bewildered kids slowly march back to town, wearing white T-shirts and carrying the now tongue-less, heavily zombified Joey on their shoulders. The reunion is bittersweet, as all heck breaks loose when the feral children, now under the spell of the evil “Adramelech” run amok, munching on mom and dad and screaming at the top of their lungs. Joey is rushed to the ER and Anna isn’t happy about the quality of healthcare in Arizona as Joey floats, spins, screams and spews gallons of gory goo. She pounces on her daddy Dale and chows down on his eyeball, while poor clueless Creighton daydreams about taking the whole family to Cape Canaveral (once this whole zombie thing blows over) to watch the space shuttle Endeavour launch (???). Mom brings Joey home for zombie hospice, eventually turning to Preacher Noel (Greg Bronson) for some old-school demon exorcisin.’ But the holy water workout fizzles fatally and the condition of the children only seems to worsen.
There’s still plenty of (constantly) screaming, entrails munching mayhem before the townspeople have had enough of the Ritalin deprived, parent poaching pipsqueaks and decide settle things AZ indie style; organizing a posse and picking off the demonic darlings like ducks in a shooting gallery. Displeased with the town’s new zombie eradication ordinance, Anna meets up again with the mysterious bag lady in her desert lair, but her pow-wow with the wise weirdo is cut short after a deadly encounter with the possessed paperboy. Anna slowly awakens in a mystical haze, surrounded by the bodies of dead parents. After a brief chat with her former lover (who now resides in zombie heaven), Anna is bestowed with supernatural rescue powers and a stunning new outfit; the boots say ‘though I walk through the valley’ while the sensible macro-mini screams ‘I will fear no evil, because I look absolutely FABULOUS!.’ She does some kung-fu fighting with Adramelech and is reunited with her pal Joey while the remaining kids are cornered and trapped under a trailer, their fate solely in the hands of a bloodthirsty mob of townsfolk.
‘Speak’ is a very intense zombie action film that moves quickly from the very beginning. With a huge cast of local talent occupying the screen, the range of acting is more suitably measured with a Richter scale. Ms. Stone delivers a rock solid and professional performance, but has clearly commandeered this acting vehicle and is driving it non-stop, straight to tinsel town. Loveable hunk Mario Guzman eagerly jumps into the part of Dale, playing it straight with just a hint of self-satire; having a blast in his crazed commando role. The ubiquitous Greg Bronson is oddly reserved in his performance as the self-righteous reverend, delivering the brimstone without any fire. Co-star Jensen is either playing it coy, or wishing he was home watching Dexter reruns instead, as he lumbers through a tepid, transparent performance. Credit must be given to all of the talented Cavender kids for their performances in this film: most notably Olivia, Elisabeth and scream-a-thon phenom Annalise. The serious props for ‘Speak’ have to go to scene-stealer Eric Zaklukiewicz as David. Zaklukiewicz’s character is the only one that really gets to develop as the film progresses; introduced as the wimpy son of preacher Noel and gradually transforming into the blood-drenched, murderous militia leader. Zaklukiewicz provides a very convincing and engaging performance, sinisterly slipping into a vengeful, sadistic lunacy as he leads the posse of townspeople bent on terminating every kid in town, zombie or no zombie! Presenting a perfect mix of homicidal fervor tinged in visible remorse.
While clearly a huge fan of both classic cinema and cheesy, low budget horror, Director Ro Ze has taken a hodgepodge of his personal favorites and flung the fuzzy handful against the Velcro wall; whatever stuck to the storyboard becoming the calamitous cacophony of scenes, subtle nods and cheap knock-offs that ‘Speak’ projectile vomits onto the screen; presenting already agonizingly familiar films in an AZ indie yard sale. Lighting and sound are adequate, although the extended scenes of constantly screaming kids rapidly becomes dull and distracting; attempting to force agitation but succeeding only in aggravation. While the turbulent photography combined with the hyper-frenetic pace of the film certainly keeps the viewers attention, it also leaves a series of jumbled and jagged images lingering on the screen. Director Ro Ze candidly shuns originality and experience as inspiration; preferring instead to present a misaligned, meretricious mashup of his favorite movies hewn slipshod with a filipendulous plot. Although evenly presenting the talents of many of AZ indie’s actors, crew and artists, ‘Speak’ is unfortunately mute, grasping heavy-handedly for cheap shock and easy references. Instead of championing it’s own cheesiness, this locally made drive-in fare mildly entertains while offering up a host of intentionally horrific impressions, superficially disguised as absurd ‘metaphors.’ With the impressive, vast amount of talent behind it, ‘Speak No Evil’ could speak volumes as an AZ indie feature, but is regrettably silent; a soulless, style-less offering of stories already told and images already seen.
Final Take – Gag order.