Studio: Uncork’d Entertainment
Director: Zack Ward
Writer: James Cullen Bressack, Zack Ward
Producer: James Cullen Bressack, Kenneth Gust, Shahen Jordan, Shant Jordan, Ace Underhill, Zack Ward
Stars: Emily O’Brien, Adrian Gaeta, Zack Ward, Sarah Ann Schultz, Anna Harr, Pam Hyatt
A young couple uncovers a haunting conspiracy after finding a child’s diary hidden behind a wall in their new home.
New homes often come with features such as vaulted ceilings, central air, or sunken living rooms. Todd and Rebecca’s comes with a strange history, oddly intrusive neighbors, and a troubling secret hiding within one of its walls.
While using his handyman skills to perform a few renovations, Todd finds a teddy bear doing a “Cask of Amontillado” impression behind an old wall. A surprising mystery soon unfolds like a Russian nesting doll when Rebecca discovers a diary stitched inside the stomach. The book’s handwritten contents in turn hint at a shocking story of child abduction and secret ceremonies conducted in the dark of a nearby basement.
The diary belonged to young Katie Vanderhurst, daughter of the house’s previous owner who abandoned his home with all of his possessions left behind. Katie vanished too, and she was far from the only little girl to go missing under suspicious circumstances in the neighborhood. Now haunted by nightmares and hallucinatory visions of a ghostly girl surrounded by flames, Rebecca and Todd must uncover what happened to Katie if they are to save themselves from a similarly grim fate.
Longtime actor turned first-time feature director Zack Ward partners with co-writer/co-producer James Cullen Bressack for “Restoration.” Bressack is an Asylum alumnus and indie horror veteran whose own directing credits include “13/13/13” (review here), “Blood Lake: Attack of the Killer Lampreys” (review here), and “Pernicious,” movies which offer a fair impression of the scope and style tapped to fit the limited budget and resources in play here.
“Restoration” is a Spartan story taking place primarily within a single location featuring four main characters. It’s a largely self-contained, compact haunter, though occasional exteriors and ancillary appearances drop in to open up the production so it doesn’t feel too tightly confined as a straightforward chiller.
Simple is the smart way to go for a freshman filmmaker’s first feature, especially when the wallet has more moths than money. Ward and Bressack’s script doesn’t demand ostentatious effects or otherwise unachievable ambition in its scenery or setups, affording the men ample opportunity to make a movie well within their means. Conversely, this forces Ward to rely on slowly built mood for conveying creeps while creating suspense, and that doesn’t translate into a particularly lively thriller.
One scene sees Todd silently stalking in search of an imagined intruder for such a seeming eternity, you’d think the tiny house was ten times its size. Music-cued montages of candlelit lovemaking and craftsman tools at work on restorations slot into necessary transitions, yet take up so much real estate that momentum starts slacking. With a plot focused on a core quartet and little else for the audience to engage in, it’s essential to move briskly, and such overlong segues end up pausing the pace.
There is also a wedge of routine marital strife over an unplanned pregnancy inserting a different type of drama into Todd and Rebecca’s relationship. An actor himself, Ward appears interested in giving his cast something meatier to chew on than simply feigning fright or furthering the plot. Todd unfortunately doesn’t have the most magnetic onscreen personality, resulting in some forced chemistry between the main couple. However, Rebecca picks up the slack as an interesting pick for the part, even though her backstory is similarly bogged down by a shoehorned crisis of faith thread failing to return on its character development investment.
“Restoration” doesn’t have enough uniqueness or a wow factor pushing it to the top of the pack of low-budget indie horror. But as first-time features working hard to hide their limitations go, Zack Ward’s film is competently constructed, properly lit, in focus, adequately acted, and the visual effects are on par with this level of production. It’s the right way for Ward to cut his teeth as a neophyte in genre entertainment generation. “Restoration” just isn’t the most thrilling thriller that this genre has ever seen.
Review Score: 60