Every once in a while, I’ll get a low-budget, under-the-radar film that rekindles my love for the genre and proves that an excellent horror film CAN be made with a small budget. Sympathy is one of those films, reportedly shot for an astoundingly low budget of $6,500. It was directed by Andrew Moorman and written by Arik Martin (and based on his play “Serendipity”), and despite its budget, Sympathy is a firecracker of a film that crackles and sparks with a crazy energy that feels like it will explode at any minute.
Sympathy concerns an on-the-run bankrobber, Trip (Steven Pritchard), and the smart-mouthed teenage girl whom he’s kidnapped, named Sara (Marina Shtelen). Trip decides to hole up in a ratty motel room to plan his next move. Sara isn’t giving the young bankrobber much respite, and so he handcuffs her to the headboard of the bed, but then accidentally shoots her in the shoulder. Trip isn’t such a smooth criminal, you see, but no one is quite what they seem…
While Sara continues her smartass remarks to Trip (bullet wound be damned!), he leaves the room for a bit. When he returns, he finds that an escaped convict, named Dennis (Aaron Boucher), has joined them in their hideout. Dennis soon worms his way into Trip’s business, takes control, finds out Trip robbed a bank and tries to scheme how he can get his own hands on the dough. Meanwhile, Sara tries to sweet talk Dennis into helping her escape and he seems to take a special shine to her, but we soon find out that all three characters have their own hidden agendas.
Soon, dark revelations and hidden secrets come to light and the three characters clash in a cacophony of violence and blood.
Sympathy is an absolute marvel of independent, edge-of-your-seat entertainment! With its twists and turns, its well-acted and complex characters and its bloody action, it kept me glued to the screen from the very first scene.
The acting alone was impressive, with Marina Shtelen as Sara being the absolute standout in the cast of only three. Sassy, intelligent, daring and keeping her cool, the character of Sara is who everyone wishes she or he could be if ever kidnapped. Steven Pritchard as Trip and Aaron Boucher as Dennis do a fantastic job as well. Pritchard is able to go from commanding to cowering at the drop of a hat and had me alternating rooting for him and against him. Boucher plays Dennis with such a fierce intensity that we are caught unawares when the tables are turned. I can’t say any more for fear of ruining this fantastic film, but trust me that all the performances are raw, believable and grab your attention.
Since the film has only one static location where the action occurs, you’d think that this might get monotonous and lose some of the film’s edginess…but this turned out to be anything but the case! Director Andrew Moorman (who also took on cinematography, editing and a slew of other roles) keeps things interesting by utilizing shots from numerous angles and constantly keeping the action going as the three characters interacted with each other. A split-screen is even shown during one particularly tense scene. Visually, as well as story-wise, Sympathy never gets boring.
The suspenseful atmosphere is also supported by the sound design, alternating between rising strings and dead silence. The professional-sounding score really adds to the tension and really gives the film that extra shove to make it truly great.
As the story progresses, the motel room takes on a crimson hue from all the blood splatter. There are point-blank gunshot wounds, dismemberment, stabbings, a mild case of cannibalism and plenty of other cringe-worthy bloodshed. Despite all the violence, though it is entertaining, it isn’t what drives the action forward. The action is still propelled forward by the interactions and tension between the three characters. This, you see, is why this claustrophobic and suspenseful film works so well.
My one complaint with Sympathy is that it leaves so many different subplots unexplored or unexplained. The twists come fast and furious towards the end of the film, and it doesn’t feel like all the storylines are tied up as neatly as they could have been.
Still, Sympathy shines as one of the best indie films I’ve seen so far this year. More psychological thriller than balls-out horror, this film knows how to ratchet up the suspense factor and throw in a few genuine surprises along the way.
Sympathy was the official selection for the Horror Hound Weekend a few weekends ago, and is also an official selection for the Los Angeles’ Screamfest in October. If you pass up an opportunity to view this film, I won’t have any sympathy for you…