Bad Bones has good bones. Which is handy because microbudget movies have hurdles to get over, and a good story really helps.
No prizes for guessing it’s a horror movie, what with a title like that. It’s also director/writer Stephen Eggleston’s feature debut and he teases to deceive in the opening setups – a pre-credits sequence featuring a nice couple so keen to get away from what looks like a very normal suburban house that they’re prepared to die doing so. Cut, post credits, to two other people, Russ (Chris Levine) and Jen (Maddison Bullock), a loved-up couple who’ve just moved into the same house. It was going cheap (of course) and so Russ snapped it up while Jen was in a coma, it’s later revealed, in a sorry-what-pardon moment. It seems Jen is dying of some mystery but rather movie-ish disease (why hire an attractive actress and disfigure her by making her look like shit seems to be the logic)
Russ, we understand, is in charge. As is Eggleston, as he nudges us into Amityville Horror territory.
A funny little incident early on sets up the atmosphere that’s going to pervade the rest of the movie. Jen makes some cookies and heads over the road to offer them to her neighbour, as a getting-to-know-you gift, all smiles and “hey there” bonhomie. Only to find the neighbour is more than a little cool with her. The neighbour has almost the same name – Jenna – and is wearing a top that’s almost exactly the same as Jen’s. Nothing too shocking, though it is just a tiny bit weird. Characters in movies usually have names that clearly separate them from other characters. They don’t generally wear nearly the same clothes. What is going on here?
But back to the house, where Russ has broken through into the crawlspace beneath the house and discovered something odd down there. Having set up what looked like an excursion in Amityville – husband goes increasingly mad and the wife struggles to keep the show on the road – Eggleston performs a rather neat about-face. What’s down there might hold the key to curing Jen’s disease, but while it’s initially Russ who’s leading the charge – doing odd experiments with apples that seem to regenerate – increasingly Jen becomes the master of the situation, the increasingly impressive Maddison Bullock shifting register to access Jen’s inner badass.
Looked at through the lens of the male/female power dynamic, this is the classic story of the controlling husband who won’t let his wife have a life of her own, distorted enough through the weird horror/sci-fi filter to give it new legs. Looked at through the biblical filter – the apples – this reverses the Adam and Eve dynamic. It’s Russ who’s tempted by the fruit and it’s Jen who has to fix the mess he gets himself into.
The evasive description is necessary. Spoilers and all that.
Microbudgetary implications mean that some of the scenes probably should have been shot again to iron out the odd acting wobble, and there are a few scenes that don’t seem to particularly go anywhere, but technically this is a good film. Jarrod Paul Beck’s cinematography is a mix of the plausible (we’re in suburbia, after all) and the atmospheric, while Seth Neuffer’s score works hardest of all binding all the elements together into a moody, jangling whole. They’re a good team, Eggleston, Beck and Neuffer, and worked together once before on the director’s 2014 short, Collection Day.
Debut directors often try and load up their debut movie with all the tricks they’ve learnt along the way. Eggleston resists the temptation to deliver a movie that has a story to tell and sets about telling it. This is no flickerbook of calling cards. Amazingly, you can watch this movie for free on YouTube.
Bad Bones – Watch it for free on YouTube
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© Steve Morrissey 2022