Play Hooky (2012) – Film

“Play Hooky”

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A group of high school seniors decide to play hooky.  As each place they stop already has people or is a risk for getting caught, they finally decide to go to an abandoned psychiatric facility rumored to be haunted.  Once there, they accidentally get locked inside, they decide to do some exploring and look for a way out.   Instead, they find what is haunting the place.  

This low budget, indie, found footage film from first time writer/director, Frank S. Patrilli, is quite a bit better than I expected.  The plot is fairly straight forward, a group of kids skipping school get into more trouble than they anticipated.  The first half of the film is slow, introducing characters, attempting to draw the audience in and establish a connection. This could have been tightened up a little, they didn’t need to actually have a scene at every place that wouldn’t work, those things could have effectively been incorporated into the dialogue, especially when they discussed ditching one of the group, saying that they’d been driving around for a couple hours already.  Once they arrive at the psychiatric facility, the pacing picks up to a good pace, and although certain things aren’t ever explained or explored, the path the story takes is solid and well executed.

The cast is a mixed lot of talent, with the expected character stereotypes represented, especially when you consider that a lot of the dialogue was improvised as (per IMDb trivia) “the script was more of an outline”.  Carrying the camera (although he has plenty of dialogue, he doesn’t have much for a memorable personality), and never actually visible in the film, is Brad, J. Wright Chester (who co-wrote the story).  Brad’s cousin, the cool, rather douchey, somewhat mean spirited, guy with the car, Lance, is played by Vincent Kulish (who also co-wrote the story).  Kim Kleemichen, is Rosie, the tough girl, token lesbian.  Socially awkward, clumsy, and oblivious, Claire, is performed very well by Theresa Davis.  The audience is able to feel the discomfort and annoyance in multiple scenes which such social ineptness creates.

However the most dynamic performances, the ones who really carry the film, are Becky Byres (choreographer and stunt coordinator), as Megan Burke, the naughty private school girl who has a crush on bad-boy-with-a-girlfriend, Lance.  She conveyed such emotional range, specifically the entire scene after the kids get caught by Megan’s mother, and she was walking from the house to the car, the implication that she had slapped in the face by her mother and knew there would be further repercussions, but the audience can see her pull herself together and decide to continue to play hooky.   And Tom Petrone, as Buddy, the security guard.  Petrone is simply dead on with his performance and going back to watch this a second time, I was even more impressed with his timing and physical presence.

Something that was touched on, but not explored, is once they are in the psychiatric facility and Megan suddenly starts having feelings of something being wrong.  Once she is convinced to continue on, she is seen dancing to seduce Lance, then Rosie, then she appears confused, as if she doesn’t know why she had done that.  Afterwards it is dropped and never revisited.  Was it intended to be a subplot of possession or some sort of psychic ability?  The world may never know.

Very nice use of practical effects and implied gore.  With the shaky hand held camera and the first person perspective, the violence and gore was, again, better than expected.  I think, over all, this film was successful in what it set out to do, create relatable characters (some of whom the audience wanted to survive, and some, the audience loved the kill scenes), a creepy setting (if cliche), and a decent story.  The ending wasn’t great.  I would have preferred the film to end when the battery on the camera died, rather than the additional interview (explanation) at the police station scene.

Though, the low budget and inexperience is evident (and frankly, expected with a first feature length film), the drive and dedication makes up for it.  I look forward to seeing what these filmmakers have learned from this first film and how they have improved.  If you enjoy micro budget, found footage films, and appreciate the early efforts of indie filmmakers, I recommend this.

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