Studio: Foggy Bottom Pictures
Director: Dylan K. Narang
Writer: Dylan K. Narang
Producer: Dylan K. Narang, Jeff Robinson
Stars: Caitlin Stasey, Markus Taylor, Leah McKendrick, Sorel Carradine, Rachel Melvin, Holly Twyford
The paths of a desperate man and an imprisoned young woman cross unexpectedly in the den of a mysterious killer.
Horror-thriller “All I Need” unfolds in parallel storylines. In story A, a bound and gagged young woman named Chloe wakes inside a dirty hotel room full of similarly imprisoned women. No one has any idea how anyone got there, who kidnapped everyone, or why. In story B, a desperate sad sack named Andrew finds the answer to his financial troubles when an unmarked package and a cash-filled envelope arrive anonymously on his doorstep. Andrew calls the number on an accompanying card and is gradually roped into becoming a no-questions-asked deliveryman for a mysterious benefactor.
While Andrew climbs the low rungs on an unknown underworld ladder, Chloe and the captives confront their masked and murderous tormenter in an ongoing series of fruitless escape attempts. As the movie continues rolling forward without either thread taking an intersecting turn, the connection between the two plots goes from being merely vague to seemingly nonexistent. It makes for an experience akin to watching two different television shows alternating scenes at each commercial break.
During the Q&A following the movie’s Dances with Films 2015 screening, writer/director Dylan K. Narang explained that the development of Andrew’s B storyline was necessitated by a hiatus in the production schedule that made it a challenge to re-wrangle actors for additional shooting later. That’s a nugget of knowledge redeeming the apple and orange arcs as an inventive way for an independent filmmaker to write his/her way out of a real-world jam. But to those not in the know about Narang’s recipe for making low-budget lemonade from unfinished lemons, it reads exactly as it is: a forced mismatch of separate ideas struggling to come together sensibly.
When the plotlines finally tire of avoiding an intermingling action, they connect at the climax in an obvious way that results in a letdown instead of a twist. It also results in a retroactive “huh?” that glosses over details like why this killer would don a distinctive mask and pretend he is Jason Voorhees instead of simply carrying out the task at hand.
Actress Caitlin Stasey of “I, Frankenstein” (review here) and “All Cheerleaders Die” (review here) is the film’s standout as Chloe. Chloe’s half of the film is largely wordless, but Stasey has that rare acting ability of saying so much with single tears, simple looks, or barely perceptible lip tremors. Even with limited dialogue, Stasey makes Chloe something more than a scantily-clad screamer.
Unfortunately, the script doesn’t hold up its share of that weight. Chloe turns out to not actually have her own story or even a definable personality other than resilient Final Girl. Chloe isn’t given a history or a purpose aside from escape, making her a catapult for scenes of hollow suspense instead of turning her into a true character. Imagine if Cary Elwes’ Dr. Gordon didn’t have a role in Jigsaw’s origin and “Saw” ended by revealing he was just a random guy with a shackle chained to his foot. That’s what “All I Need” does with Chloe.
The biggest issue “All I Need” has is that it doesn’t know when its scenes are over. The film has a drawn-out pace that works intermittently when building suspense, but that same stretching tempo remains in play during exposition, resulting in repetitive moments rather than the fostering of mystery.
In one instance, two girls barricade a door with a dresser. The killer manages to open the door far enough to put his arm through and proceeds to repeatedly jiggle the handle from the other side as if that is going to somehow open the door wider. Instead of realizing that the scene has exhausted its usefulness, “All I Need” gives its characters ridiculous actions like this because it doesn’t have anything else for them to do.
With no better ways to extend the action, music artificially amplifies and (in)activity plays longer than needed. By the time the movie agrees to move on, the tension has long since been left in the background.
Wondering what the presumptive accomplishment is of extending scenes to unnecessary lengths takes a viewer out of the fantasy entirely. During an overlong sequence of a character choking in a noose, my mind wandered to an imaginary editing room conversation in which someone presumably insisted, “that’s not long enough. We really need XX more seconds of this person gagging to death.”
“All I Need” does put value onscreen in other ways. Michael Fitzgerald’s production design and Collin Brazie’s cinematography combine for a practical look pulling the most from a small set with creative coverage and a cool hue. While director Dylan K. Narang is less successful with loosely linking Elizabeth Bathory-style madness into the backstory, or admirably attempting to work in a theme of generational entitlement, he does desexualize the captive female angle well enough to avoid being salaciously sensual. All but two women in the cast are clad in bras and boy shorts, yet “All I Need” doesn’t have the exploitive vibe of a typical T&A slasher.
Of course, competent camerawork and performances doing the best they can with what they have been given only take a film so far. “All I Need” opens with intrigue before its legs buckle from the burden of fitting a circle A plotline into a B story hole. Multiply that by an inability to know when the party is over and the result is a patchwork thriller overstaying its invitation.
Review Score: 55