Covering an international festival like Frightfest gives us a fairly clear view of independent horror cinema, and above all allows us to discover new talent. Transmission, a strange and daring low-budget horror film directed by Michael Hurst, is a spellbinding blend of creativity and complexity. Presented in preview, this cinematic project plunges into the enigmatic town of Santa Mira, USA, where an eclectic cast, including Vernon Wells, Felissa Rose, Dave Sheridan and Sadie Katz, delivers a whirlwind of stories.
The film ingeniously employs a quasi-anthological approach, using a series of interconnected vignettes to build an overarching story. The narrative begins with an old man embarking on a channel-surfing escapade. His remote control becomes a portal that transcends the realm of traditional storytelling, revealing a captivating medley of diverse programs.
When he stumbles upon Malvolia's Movie Madness, a program reminiscent of Elvira's iconic Movie Macabre, the viewer finds himself immersed in a world where a B-movie entitled Transmission takes center stage. However, the man's attention wanes, leading him to change the channel and stumble upon a disturbing news report describing a perplexing murder-suicide in Santa Mira. This seemingly incongruous sequence of events sets the stage for a complex narrative tapestry that draws the audience into a captivating cinematic whirlwind.
The film's unconventional structure, which revolves around channel surfing, proves to be a powerful narrative device. It engages viewers in an intricately woven web of stories, presenting a potpourri of visuals and thematic threads that oscillate between the strange and the absurd, capturing the essence of the enigmatic allure of late-night television.
One of the film's most striking sequences is Transmission, a sci-fi horror film that forms the core of the film-within-a-film experience. As the chilling plot unfolds, the protagonist's apprehension about this strange transmission reflects the audience's growing curiosity. This complex layering of narratives creates a sense of depth and intrigue that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats.
In the midst of this hypnotic channel surfing, a recurring program emerges: it offers an exploration of the life of Franklin Tadross Roth, the cult horror film director behind Transmission. His legacy becomes a narrative anchor, bridging the gap between fragmented content and establishing a sense of continuity. Roth's enigmatic disappearance and the unfinished nature of his final film lend the story an air of mystery and disquiet.
Despite its ambition, Transmission faces its share of challenges. Striving to set itself apart, the film juggles a range of content, sometimes exceeding its own narrative coherence. This desire to innovate, while laudable, results in an occasional loss of focus and clarity. Some of the channel-surfing sequences, intended to showcase diversity, can feel disjointed and detract from the overall experience.
Visually, Transmission ranges from visually captivating scenes to those that bear the mark of its limited budget. The juxtaposition of these visual extremes reinforces the film's kaleidoscopic effect, but it can also create a sense of incoherence that detracts from immersion.
Director Michael Hurst's passion and dedication are palpable in the making of this cinematic odyssey. The film resembles a complex jigsaw puzzle assembled with care, even if some pieces don't fit together perfectly. The ambitious premise and underlying enthusiasm are clear, but the end result may resonate more with horror film fans willing to accept the unconventional approach.
In a world where the influence of media is both profound and multifaceted, Transmission serves as a metaphorical exploration of the diverse narratives that shape our perceptions. With its multi-faceted narratives, layers of mystery and bold experimentalism, Transmission offers an experience that pushes the boundaries of traditional storytelling. Even if it doesn't fully realize its potential, the film remains a brave attempt to traverse the uncharted territories of narrative structure and visual storytelling.
Written and directed by Michael Hurst
Produced by Robbie Dias, Michael Hurst, Pat Kusnadi
Starring Dave Sheridan, Vernon Wells, Felissa Rose, Sadie Katz, Sheri Davis, Robin Hill, Kaitlyn Dias, Ben Stobber, Jessica Cameron, Jennifer Nangle, Alan Maxson, Noel Jason Scott, Vienna Hayden, Michael Hurst, Charles Chudabala, Nicole Cinaglia, Tandi Tugwell, Angela Cela, Marcella Di Pasquale, Jared Rivet, Ben Kaplan,Maria Shapley, 'Knife' Sotelo, Mark Schaefer, Del Howison
Music by Karl Casey
Cinematography : Vincent Enriquez
Edited by Richard J. Aguirre, Marco A. Elorreaga, Chad Narducci
Running time : 75 minutes
Viewed August 11, 2023 (Frightfest press screener)