Father of Lies
Review by Mark Schwab
July 17th, 2018
When reviewing indie shorts and features these days, I find myself torn between two schools of thought; do I compare the indie film against the standards of every film that gets released or do I just hold it up to the mirror of other truly indie, desperately kickstarted movies where just completing it deserves a certain amount of praise. Like in the old days when you would receive a minimum of points on the S.A.T. test for just filing in your name? Which way is the fairest of them all? I don't have an answer but I'll give it a go here with the newest submission.
FATHER OF LIES by the folks at Rogue Chimera Films is a very ambitious short film that takes place in two timelines. It begins in the medieval and mythical realm of gods - in this case the Norse family ones of Odin, Loki and Loki's children. The IMDB summary actually explains things perfectly:
On Odin's orders, Thor and his brothers Balder and Tyr have kidnapped Loki's children and locked them away to prevent them from fulfilling their destiny. In a fit of rage over the loss of his precious little ones, Loki murders Balder. As punishment, he is bound to a tree on earth with the keys to his children's prisons dangling just out of reach. There he will stay hidden from the eyes of the humans until the trees lose their memory of Balder.
That summary takes us to about the halfway point in the film when we then find ourselves thousands of years later in the present-day Florida everglades where Caleb and his girlfriend Rachel encounter a very strange man tied to a tree while searching for rare plants. Needless to say, when he gets loose all sorts of mayhem goes down as a Norse god combined with present-day Florida folk gives new meaning to the word "incompatible".
Now this idea has enough potential to position itself as a solid fantasy/horror film on paper. A combination of GAME OF THRONES and THE RELIC maybe?
Unfortunately, there is a very good reason why GAME OF THRONES is one the most expensive cable shows ever. It takes a lot of production value and skill to pull off magic, sword fights, physically demanding stunts and a tech-free world from thousands of years ago from scratch not to mention incredibly skilled actors to make all the nonsense sound convincing. And it is exactly those reasons why FATHER OF LIES comes up short of its own ambitions.
On nearly every front, the filmmakers are overmatched by their budget limitations - the action scenes are clumsily directed and edited to cover up the obvious lack of stunt people, the production design is threadbare to the extent that it's never convincing that we are thousands of years in the past and (by far the toughest obstacle to get past as a viewer) the performances are all very stilted by amateur actors. Strong performances can cover up just about anything in a low-budget indie and I wish more filmmakers stuck to that philosophy. However, I will point out that FATHER OF LIES has some truly impressive practical makeup/gore effects that would stand up well to any Hollywood-based production.
While I criticize the filmmakers for taking on a project that had almost no chance of succeeding given their lack of budget and available resources, I will turn around here a bit and say that I am genuinely impressed by the amount of hard work and chutzpah it took to get this off the ground flaws and all. I freely admit that as a producer/director I wouldn't have even attempted to make something like this given what was on the table. I am a little awed that director Shiva Rodriguez managed to do this kind of period piece and complete it from blank page to completed movie. It takes a special kind of attitude and I sincerely admire that.
So does "effort" trump "execution"? Does FATHER OF LIES deserve a higher rating just for the sheer enthusiasm that (I hope) all involved put forth? Or is it better that they hear "the truth" about their filmmaking shortcomings so they can learn and improve for their next project? Maybe the questions don't even matter. I just hope that Shiva Rodriguez and her crew make another movie and put it out there. Like I said, they clearly have the right attitude.