George Romero's Legacy, 'Auteur'
The son becomes the father.
George Cameron Romero, the son of legendary filmmaker George A. Romero, explores the all-encompassing nature of the Auteur Theory, and its potential dark side in his film Auteur (2014). The picture is shot mostly in a documentary style, and it explores the disappearance of a hotshot scary movie maestro named Charlie Buckwald (Ian Hutton). The movie also stars Tom Sizemore, B.J. Hendricks and Madeline Merritt.
Jack Humphreys (Hendricks) is a wannabe filmmaker who is obsessed with finding the illusive Mr. Buckwald. The director’s disappearance coincides with the completion of his unscreened horror movie Demonic. With all the mystery surrounding the production, including the unexplained deaths of the make-up girl, grip and Buckwald’s parents, Demonic sends Humphreys on a frantic search for answers. Humphreys hopes to finally become a relevant player in Hollywood by solving the puzzle surrounding Buckwald’s vanishing.
Buckwald is basically hiding in plain sight, as he works at a local video store, and he lies low in his parents’ old house. Humphreys befriends and begins interviewing Buckwald who is paranoid and convinced she wants to find him and his unseen movie project.
Through a series of flashbacks, it is revealed Buckwald became frustrated with an exorcism scene in Demonic involving actress Kate Rivers (Merritt). Feeling Kate wasn’t going deep enough as an actor, Buckwald waited until the set was cleared and had his leading lady tied down for the scene. Helpless, Kate watched as Buckwald slit his hand open with a knife, so he could use his own blood and a spell book to summon a demon to possess the frightened actress.
The amateur witchcraft worked, and Kate was taken over by an evil entity. Later, Buckwald set up the scene once again. He began filming Demonic’s pivotal scene, when Kate’s co-star Brian (L. Stephen Phelan) showed up to play the priest. But things went horribly wrong when Kate broke free and mauled Brian to death with a cinder block.
Horrified, Buckwald realized what he did and absconded with his own film. Buckwald is desperate to not only conceal the truth of what he did to Kate, not to mention poor Brian’s death, but he wants to ensure the film never sees the light of day. Buckwald views Demonic as a bad film and doesn’t want his perfect streak of hit movies to end.
Unfortunately, the now devilish Kate needs the picture to be released in order to become famous and have her deadly deeds seen by the public. Will Buckwald be able to keep his dark secret, or will Kate have her fiendish way? And what will be the fate of the overly ambitious Jack Humphreys?
First, the acting in Auteur is very good, for the most part, but what do you expect when Tom Sizemore makes the casting sheet? Hutton gives a poignant and believable performance as the director obsessed with perfection.
Not to be outdone though is Merritt’s portrayal of both the actress Kate and the devil/demon who consumes her. Merritt delves into her acting range to pull off both parts, but it’s her demonic character who really shines through when comparing her two meaty roles.
Sadly, Sizemore is only seen in interview segments in which he discusses the production of Demonic. With all of his immense acting credits including Point Break (1991), True Romance (1993) and Saving Private Ryan (1998), it feels like Romero is wasting the talents of an A-List actor in Auteur.
The one thorn in the rosary of performers is Hendricks’ acting. His character Jack Humphreys is an essential cog in the workings of Auteur, but his performance is so drab. There is nothing engaging about him: From the way he stiffly moves on screen to how he appears to be reading from cue cards to get through his dialogue.
Auteur is in good hands when it comes to its technical aspects, with superior cinematography and adequate audio tracks, but a wider variety of camera shots would have been nice to see. Most of the film seems to play it safe with master, medium and long shots. Even the Blair Witch Project (1999), which is another documentary-style film, dabbles in more close-ups. The most compelling close-up doesn’t come until Kate taunts her director after killing the poor priest.
The best-looking scene comes at the end of the film when Kate finally confronts Buckwald. The cinematographer did an excellent job of mixing nighttime hues with the orange blaze of the fire crackling in the filmmaker’s yard. The whole sequence comes together beautifully in conjunction with the mastery of the actors’ performances and the soundtrack of the powerful blaze.
However, the film spends an inordinate amount of time with exposition which makes the majority of the film quite tedious. But, with all the exposition, the movie spends only a bit of time revealing what a genius filmmaker Buckwald is in the realm of horror. Most of his history is revealed by a brief, superimposed text at the beginning of Auteur. There is also some conversations sprinkled throughout the film, but not enough to make Buckwald feel like a behemoth of the Silver Screen.
Simply put, it would have been more interesting to hear Humphreys talk about Buckwald’s accomplishments instead of having to read the screen. He might not be anywhere near the actor Woody Allen is, but it would have been intriguing to see Hendricks talk about Charlie’s history much the way Allen talked about his life in the first scene of Annie Hall (1977).
The most disappointing part of the Auteur DVD is the utter lack of special features. There is nothing but the Auteur film trailer included on the disc. There aren't any production stills, interviews or even an audio commentary.
You would think with a picture by George A. Romero’s son there would be something to talk about. If nothing else, George Cameron Romero could have included a preview of his upcoming Zombie sub-genre horror flick titled Origins. Origins is set in the late 1960s just prior to the events in Night of the Living Dead (1968).
Auteur is only a 70-minute film, and it spends an hour scuffling through the metaphorical mud. But the last 10 minutes of the movie are not to be missed because that’s when all hell breaks loose, in a good way. If the movie was reworked as a short rather than a feature-length, Auteur could be one of those rare horror flicks diehard fans and industry executives talk about for years.
The climax is riveting, and the conclusion deems award-winning acclaim. However, the unbearable 60 minutes leading up to these miniscule moments of nirvana quells the totality of the picture.