Studio: Dread Presents
Director: Tom Botchii
Writer: Tom Botchii
Producer: Erik Bernard, Jerry G. Angelo, Kodi Saint Angelo
Stars: Chase Williamson, Jerry G. Angelo, Lauren Ashley Carter, Matt Mercer, Gavin White
A serial killer’s protégée befriends a straight edge man who uncovers the horrifying secrets behind the boy’s family.
I cover some indie horror films after they’ve already released instead of before because many solicitations I receive to review something in advance go unanswered. The reason I don’t respond is because I absolutely dread requesting a screener, disliking the movie, and then having to face the uncomfortable situation of pinging a PR person anticipating a positive pull quote only for me to say, “thanks, but your movie is awful.” I prefer sacrificing timely clicks by covering something on my own initiative instead of having to disappoint or anger someone I’d like to retain a working relationship with.
This is a circumstance I confront regularly with Dread Presents releases. If I did my math correctly, I’ve covered 17 of their titles to date and they’ve averaged a 50-55 review score. The label has put out some excellent efforts like “The Golem” (review here) and “To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story” (review here). But the majority of their movies have been mostly mediocre, so I’ve quietly inched away from keeping current with their slate while avoiding any awkward interactions with their press people.
I took a chance on “Artik” anyway because its trailer was intriguing and it stars indie fright film favorites Chase Williamson, Matt Mercer, and Lauren Ashley Carter. I suspect others will give “Artik” a go for the same reason. It’s not unusual for any one of those actors to individually attach him or herself to a poor project every now and again. I just didn’t expect all three actors to sign up for the same underwhelming thriller at once.
While his weird wife Flin tends to a crop of captive kids forced to toil on their family farm, Artik raises their reluctant son Adam to become a sadistic serial killer like his father. Adam’s regular chores include chiseling an ice block as though it were a skull, acting as bait for Artik’s abductions, and finding a target for his first solo kill.
Adam instead finds a friend in tattooed machinist Holton. Abstaining from booze as part of his straight edge lifestyle, Holton’s skewed slant on life is odd, but less unsettling than Artik’s. Holton recognizes Adam’s struggle to find an outlet for angst, and helps him channel those energies into artwork, a trait likely picked up from his father’s unusual obsession with comics.
Adam’s disturbing drawings of Artik torturing victims alarm Holton. Holton initially enlists aid from Al-Anon counselor Kar, but quickly takes matters into his own hands when he decides to investigate Artik’s farm on his own. Holton uncovers an unimaginable horror show that he must rescue Adam from, provided he can first survive it himself.
Serial killer protégées, surrogate fathers, and sinister secrets hidden inside a farmhouse are familiar toys in cinema’s sandbox. But “Artik’s” problem isn’t in recycling common concepts for the broad strokes of its plot. It’s in the fact that with cursory characterizations and a runtime that’s only 10 minutes over an hour, there isn’t enough depth in the details for the film to manufacture meaty intrigue.
Hazarding a genuinely wild guess, first time feature filmmaker Tom Botchii appears to use his script to work through possibly personal topics as a cathartic form of therapy. What Botchii doesn’t afford as much attention to is how to mold the demons he wishes to exorcise into fiction focused on entertainment.
Dialogue funnels through unnecessarily cryptic, overly theatrical language that regularly sounds like everyone is speaking at instead of with someone. A few “wait, what?” examples follow. These aren’t necessarily the offenders that stick in the ear most jarringly, just ones I bothered to jot down.
“I had an epiphany that when anger comes, so does the truth. That’s when I realized, when something happens with the boy that upsets you, you’re not pure inside.”
“You chase the purity I live in, and if that’s what you’re after, why don’t you come take mine away from me.”
“The more of this poison that goes in you, the more you become the little blueprint you ran away from your whole life.”
Strained as it is, this poeticism probably appealed to Chase Williamson, Matt Mercer, and Lauren Ashley Carter. On paper, that writing style deceives actors into thinking they’re hooking a showcase role packed with opportunities for flowery dramatization. In practice, none of this sounds organic. It’s like the words came out of Botchii’s mind unfiltered without consideration for how unnatural these one-sided conversations sound in action.
The monotone acting of Jerry G. Angelo, who plays Artik, forges him as the cast’s weakest link. Sounding something like Ted Levine’s Buffalo Bill, Angelo’s mush-mouthed delivery makes the dialogue’s stiltedness stand out further. It also continues casting his character as an unconvincing WWE scrub whose strange comic book obsession doesn’t add up in the story’s long run.
Even factoring Holton as a conflicted caretaker and Artik’s wife as an unstable accomplice, “Artik” never gets off the ground as a concrete character study because the examination of their identities doesn’t provide interesting insight. The movie’s milieus include chained children, mutilated men, and multiple acts of savage brutality. Yet through exaggerated acting and thunderous music, the film frames the most pivotal moment as straight edge Horton being horrified when Artik forces Adam to drink whiskey. “Artik’s” priorities are just plain bizarre.
I suppose the movie’s main appeal is in seeing Williamson, Mercer, and Carter monologuing, if that floats your boat for some reason. While it might not seem like it, especially if you were involved in its making, I’m not being as hard on “Artik” as I could be. I’m keeping in mind that it’s an indie from a first timer that at least puts its best photographic foot forward. I also have to remember that next on my To Do list is composing a message to a PR person who is probably ready to remove me from future mailing lists.
Review Score: 40