Studio: Indie Rights
Director: Kipp Tribble, Kurt Ela
Writer: Kipp Tribble, Kurt Ela
Producer: Kipp Tribble, Kurt Ela
Stars: Kurt Ela, Kipp Tribble, Nick Greco, Jeff Kober, Buddy Wilds
While staging a fake documentary about the Ojai Vampire, three filmmakers encounter true terror when they decide to chase the Char Man legend instead.
Why did I watch “Char Man?” That’s not a rhetorical question intended to introduce this review with a thoughtful breakdown. I’m legitimately asking myself in writing because I want to work out what would possess me to make such a terrible choice for an evening’s entertainment.
It’s not like “Char Man” doesn’t come with an unwritten warning regarding its quality. It popped out of nowhere with no exposure whatsoever as a free stream on Amazon Prime, the new dumping ground for any amateur who knows how to upload a video. It’s a “found footage” film written, directed, and produced by its two unknown stars, one of whom is a first-time filmmaker. And four frames of the trailer are all it takes to showcase slapdash cinematography and a patently pedestrian premise.
What else does “Char Man” have to do to tell prospective viewers to stay away? Swap its poster art for a biohazard symbol?
Unlike 99% of horror fandom, I haven’t yet tired of “found footage.” The format still fascinates me, even more so when the setting incorporates local L.A. landmarks or legends. In this case, “Char Man” cursorily covers two enticing tall tales of Ventura County boogeymen: one being the titular terror and the other being the Ojai Vampire.
So it was that my rule to refrain from ripping into micro-indie movies went out the window. I knew better than to flush away 85 minutes on something whose title rhymes with name brand toilet paper, yet I did it anyway. And if I had to suffer watching it, then someone has to suffer reading about it.
“Char Man” starts like at least half of all “found footage” does. Amateur filmmakers Eric and Cameron have an idea for a phony documentary that involves the Ojai Vampire. It’s a “real” urban legend, as is Char Man, but that both begins and ends the “inspired by a true story” claim touted on the poster.
With additional cameraman Andy, Eric and Cameron plan to stage a search for the undead Ojai rancher’s grave. Over the course of filming however, a local historian played by Jeff Kober tells them about Char Man in one three-minute take. Somehow, the men make the call that this quick story of a burned ghoul shouting “boo!” at a nearby bridge sounds cooler than unearthing a vampire’s coffin and abruptly change the focus of their fake film.
At this point, we’re already scalp-deep in useless B-roll, like the “hilarious” joke of Cameron catching Eric on the crapper. Eric and Cameron go into town to interview locals during one sequence, yet never actually interview any locals. Another scene shows Eric making a phone order for coffins that are never delivered. Now the movie effectively says, “all the aimless ambling we’ve been doing for the preceding half hour is going into the garbage.” There’s a joke there about where the whole film can find a new home, but only hacks take predictable paths.
Over 45 minutes pass before something more sinister happens than a discarded doll reappearing in unexpected places or faucets turning on by themselves. A couple of kids in masks start stalking outside the trio’s rental house and, well, that basically sums up the extent of “Char Man’s” supposed scariness.
Temporarily tabling complaints, the truth is I don’t find much fault with the filmmakers directly. I don’t know anything about Kipp Tribble or Kurt Ela other than what’s on IMDb. But I don’t believe they ever set out to compete with “Paranormal Activity” or expected to break big with the next “Blair Witch Project.” They seem like Average Joes who simply pulled out their phones while on a weekend trip and tossed together a makeshift movie during their downtime. Much like how “Char Man” was made, someone probably saw the final edit and speculatively said, “let’s just throw this up online and see what happens.”
Intentions don’t excuse “Char Man’s” poor production value though. I may not know much about the men behind the movie, but I can say for certain that their technical skills are as rough as they come. Repeated autofocus burps and routinely blown out exteriors are just two of the offending eyesores. In several cases, the latter problem could have easily been corrected by simply panning the camera a few degrees to one side, or choosing a picture car that is literally any other color than white.
End credits cite ten total actors and four of them share the same last name. If that doesn’t explain the level of craftsmanship we’re dealing with here, the fact that a production assistant is the only credited crew person aside from the three leads should.
So why did I watch “Char Man?” That dimwitted decision is entirely on me. I got what I expected, which was exactly what I deserved. The new and improved question is, now that you know everything above, why would anyone else ever watch “Char Man?”
Review Score: 20