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by Jay Seaver

"Two half-movies that almost add up."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: In the Q&A after the movie, the filmmakers described how "Ejecta" sort of came together as a sort of chimera, with its two distinct tracks being shot well apart and stitched together like a Frankenstein's monster. It's not necessarily a bad idea - I don't really think I'd like to see either stretched to a full ninety minutes, even if each has something worth watching - but it doesn't quite come together as a greater whole.

Though cut together, with both built around talking to the same man, the two parts have distinct styles. One is found-footage, shoot by paranormal documentarian Joe Sullivan (Adam Seybold), who has come to a remote farm to interview William Cassidy (Julian Richings), who claims to have been abducted by aliens, and certainly seems erratic enough to support his claims that they did something to his head. That's certainly bolstered, for the audience at least, by the other scenes, where Cassidy is being held in a black site and interrogated by Dr. Tobin (Lisa Houle), who is also directing a team of government agents very interested in the aliens' latest visitation.

Both tracks are ways that filmmakers with a certain set of resources - not a lot of money but a capable cast - might go about making a sci-fi thriller, letting the actors build characters around necessary exposition and saving one's metaphorical and literal bullets for a big payoff. The trouble is, this tends to lead to unreliable narrators teasing the audience with hints rather than telling the bigger story, and while the whole team - writer Tony Burgess and directors/editors Chad Archibald & Matt Wiele - do yeoman's work keeping up the feel of forward motion while keeping actual resolution just out of reach, but there's just not a whole lot to it.

As hard as the filmmakers try, they aren't quite able to bring the great execution that can sell this sort of thing. It's especially frustrating during the action scenes; the "farmhouse" sections feature a lot of hand-held camera work at night which is difficult to see and just eventually frustrating to watch; the other half tends to have its action happen remotely (although when it's not, someone makes a heck of an entrance). Again, there's a bit of a sense that the filmmakers are concentrating their resources if not their efforts; the black site has a good but sparse look, and while the scary things may not come far out of the shadows, they look more than fine in those moments.

The cast is an area where the filmmakers do all right from start to finish, at least. Adam Seybold has a job with pretty well-defined areas of responsibility here as the guy with the camera, mixing curiosity and cynicism and freaking out on the audience's behalf when things get freaky, and the horror movie HR department will give him a good review for how he executed his tasks. Lisa Houle's Dr. Tobin is my favorite thing about the movie, with Houle playing a sort of suburban next-door-neighbor black-project-sadist that I can't recall ever seeing before - she doesn't so much turn either side of the characterization on or off, but just seems like she genuinely enjoys the totality of her job, from the exciting science to the torture. It's a unique take on the trope, and I'd like to see Houle and this character dropped into a bigger, better movie. She certainly isn't hurt by having Richings to play off, either - he's a big plus on both ends of the story. A Canadian character actor familiar from lots of different genre work, Richings is the string that ties the entire movie together and he gets to do a little bit of everything, from the long-suffering victim to the defiant prisoner to a potential monster, and there's not a moment where these shifts feel artificial or where Richings is not at least interesting to watch go through them.

"Ejecta" has certainly got its moments, and maybe with a clearer plan at the beginning and a little more budget to keep from having to hide all the good stuff in the dark, it would really be something. That's not the movie that was made, unfortunately, and the good material can't keep it from being a bit of a grind to get through.

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originally posted: 09/17/14 09:14:39
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Chad Archibald
  Matt Wiele

Written by
  Tony Burgess

  Julian Richings
  Lisa Houle
  Joe Sullivan

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