How long has it been since you watched a truly low-budget horror film and you just knew that it was something special? For me, only a few come to mind – Halloween, The Evil Dead, Henry: A Portrait of a Serial Killer, Laid to Rest, and Freeway Killer. Well kids, it’s time to add a new name to that list – I Didn’t Come Here to Die (IDCHTD).
The micro-budgeted indie horror film, which was shot in only seven days in and around the Hill Country of Texas (Austin, Buda, and Kyle) on a small GH1 Digital SLR Camera, provides hope for the future state of horror.
Writer/director Bradley Scott Sullivan delivers a swift kick in the nuts to the recent spate of Hollywood horror remakes, insipid sequels, and lazy torture porn wannabes, with an irreverent take on the “Horny Kids Head Out Into the Woods to Become Snacks” genre. He turns most horror film conventions on their heads, pays homage to/skewers many horror films that came before it, and creates both a fun time for the moviegoer, as well as turning their stomach with several cringe-worthy scenes of the red stuff.
The premise of IDCHTD is simple, yet different enough to easily engage even the most jaded of discerning horror fanatics (i.e. Me). A group of six volunteer activists hop into a van and head out into the wilderness with the goal of constructing a habitat for underprivileged kids. The group, Volunteers of America Generating Goodwill (V.A.G.G.) intends to head out for a year, theoretically removed from civilization, sans cell phones (an issue that must be dealt with in every horror film nowadays).
After an explosive fast-forward opening sequence that involves a bloody man lying in the middle of a deserted road, a scared, but determined police officer, and a random eyeball, we are introduced to the six VAGGers. The next twenty minutes are spent fleshing out the various characteristics of the six volunteers. We learn a bit of who they are and why they have volunteered for such work (it’s not all for altruistic reasons). After the various introductions, the characters pair off based on their similarities. We have the super attractive All-American do-gooders, Sofia (Emmy Robbin) and Danny (Kurt Cole); the lovable, yet goofy nerds, Miranda (Madi Goff) and Steve (Jeremy Scott Vandermause); and finally, the wise-cracking, booze-filching troublemakers, Chris (Christian Bale lookalike Niko Red Star) and Julie (Indiana Adams). The establishing scenes were the most difficult for me to sit through, especially after the solid opening sequence. The actors, especially Robbin and Red Star, seem wooden at first and a tad cliché. It wasn’t until later in the film that I realized there is a purpose for their woodenness – and it works out to the film’s advantage.
After the relationships are squared away, IDCHTD kicks into high gear and doesn’t take its foot off the proverbial petal until the end credits roll. As is often the case, the negative festivities get started with a bottle of booze. Chris decides he’s had enough of group leader Sofia’s anal retentiveness, so he absconds with the bottle of liquor he pilfered from a convenience store and encourages Julie and Steve to join him away from the campsite. The three get sufficiently soused and are spied upon by the uptight Miranda, who decides to tattle on them to Sofia, only to find her in flagrante with Danny. Miranda instead returns to the drunken soirée and begrudgingly decides to not only join in the festivities, but to decidedly amp up the party atmosphere. Several shots of booze later, the no longer repressed Miranda suffers an accident that will make Evil Dead II fans jump for joy and everyone else recoil in horror. What follows are the hilarious exploits of how her fellow drunken volunteers manage to deal with (or not) Miranda’s potentially life-threatening accident.
Once Miranda is finally shuffled off to a hospital, a Final Destination-like series of unfortunate events begin to occur. The difference here, however, is that the accidents don’t come about in some convoluted Rube Goldbergian fashion, but rather, simply by a series of bad choices. One example, such as using a chain saw while hung over, leads to a different bad choice by another volunteer of how to remove said chain saw from said person’s face. Instead of copying Final Destination and being a movie of horrific accidents that are merely excuses for gory set pieces, the characters’ actions lead to mental breakdowns, which lead to even poorer choices made by other characters. As ludicrous as the reactions may seem at first, all of them actually do make logical sense.
Without giving away too many specifics, IDCHTD does a brilliant job of explaining the chaos. The opening sequence and coda not only wrap up the film neatly, but they also throw the viewer for a loop and make you question what you think you have previously witnessed. It is an excellent use of misdirection that adds to the underlying tension of the entire film. Also, actor Travis Scott Newman does an excellent job as a police officer that stumbles across two very bizarre scenes.
IDCHTD revels in its low-budgetness, from the use of the GH1 Digital SLR Camera to the seemingly (and deceptively) bad acting in the first act (which, by the way is NOT bad acting at all, just to be perfectly clear) to its use of old-school prosthetic make-up and special effects. (There are, however, two key scenes that use CGI effects almost to perfection. According to director Sullivan, one of these scenes was intentional. The other merely came about due to the failure of a key prop. The end result, however, is amazing and not noticeable in the least.) All of these facets of low-budget filmmaking add to the overall retro feel/look/mood of IDCHTD.
As I stated previously, what first comes across as over-acting in the opening establishment scenes between the main six characters, is revealed to be intentional. The hammy-ness brings to mind similar opening sequences of such low-budget horror classic fare as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Evil Dead II, The Last House on the Left, and Halloween, as we get to know the characters.
Two actors, Madi Goff and Niko Red Star, in particular stand out. The former’s whimpering character, Miranda, is both likable and annoying, as is Red Star’s Chris character, but for diametrically opposed reasons. The other four main actors also provide stellar work and make you actually give a rat’s ass about what happens to them, unlike many modern horror films.
IDCHTD is not a perfect horror film. It is, however, packed with gore, humor, chills, hallucinatory scares, strong actors, believable dialogue, and has a unique spin on a genre currently bloated with unoriginality and waste. It is the type of horror film that can be enjoyed with the gang and a case of beer, by the film geek interested in high quality low-budget filmmaking, or by the jaded horror fanatic who has seen it all.
Bradley Scott Sullivan’s I Didn’t Come Here to Die is one of the best horror film debuts since Sam Raimi unleashed The Evil Dead upon the world.