Review by Mark Schwab
November 30th, 2015
Douglas Reese's MAYSVILLE opens with some grainy camcorder footage of two young children - one boy and one girl - presumably brother and sister as they walk around a suburban home. The footage mostly looks ordinary on the surface but there is a vague menace to it all as the young subjects become more agitated by the camera. It is also unsettling how the cameraperson never utters a word, just mercilessly records the kids. Director Reese had my attention.
We then cut to the present where we see the now grown up Jayden (played by Reese himself) sleeping in bed - the camera poised above it looking down on him. And we continue to observe him. Passively. Sleeping. For a lonnnnnng tiiiimmmmmeee. Then I noticed a book next to him on the bed just jutting enough into the frame to be noticed - it's a copy of Eyes Wide Shut. Uh oh. Visions of John Giorno in Andy Warhol's 6-hour opus SLEEP started to creep into my brain and my pretension-detector went into overdrive.
He eventually does move into the slimmest of narratives about his sister Selena (Tesla Renee Gray) threatening suicide to Jayden unless he comes to pick her up and take her back to Maysville. Mostly, though, we get a series of very long takes of people doing very mundane things. There might only be 12 or so total cuts in the 70-minute running time to go with maybe 3 pages worth of spoken dialogue.
Now, I like out of the box filmmaking as much as anyone but if you are going to go the intense arty-farty route, you need to have certain base minimums covered in my opinion. In MAYSVILLE, the sound recording is distracting with severe room echoes and the already spare dialogue tough to hear (except for one ear-splitting scream which came out of nowhere and nearly blew my speakers). Also the compositions of the long takes are weak and static - just not strong enough to sustain any sort of audience interest. I understand the confines of a low/no budget production well but in today's technology, a film does not need to look and sound like a home video anymore.
However, even with all of these shortcomings, Douglas Reese does hold the screen as an actor at times. I noticed on the Vimeo screener page that Mr. Reese has been extremely prolific, making quite a number of shorts and some additional feature films. I decided to then click on an earlier work from 2013 called PAZUZU thinking it might reference the demon from the 1974 classic THE EXORCIST. The film started, I got another underlit fixed camera angle, I sighed deeply...but then...
It started to work...and I got it. Reese's style came through for me. PAZUZU is a terrific underground indie film with a very strong performance by Reese as well as his co-star Mattea Benz. Here, the micro budget, long takes and improvised dialogue create a very tense atmosphere with Reese and Benz hitting on all cylinders which easily held my attention for the 45-minute runtime.
So I get it - Douglas Reese wants to create his own style, eschewing all the Hollywood cliches. He's putting forth his deepest emotions and expecting the audience to look, listen, "slow down" and "work" to get all the meaning out of it. While I do believe Writer/Director Reese is being honest and heartfelt here in MAYSVILLE, he's directed the movie like a college basketball coach thinking he can just hold on to the ball, run out the game clock and then try to win 2-0.
It's also clear why MAYSVILLE came up short for me. The problem isn't really Reese's auteur choices as a filmmaker. It's the situations he's creating here. Ronald Tavel, Warhol's "scenerest" for his movies recalls that Warhol never wanted plot or story - he wanted incident. Combine an interesting incident with some (admittedly doped-up) "superstars" and you might come up with something endearingly crazy (like his one true influencial film - 1967's CHELSEA GIRLS). MAYSVILLE's "incidents" and "performances" are too sullen and low-energy to generate any real heat where in his earlier PAZUZU, there's a good incident and interesting characters. It works. Works quite well in fact. I encourage adventurous film watchers to check it out.
So I must take my hat off to a new voice on the DIY indie film scene. Douglas Reese, you certainly have heart (especially as an actor), you take risks and you put it out there for all to see. Just keep creating and making films your way - trust me, I get it now.