Lucky Cerruti's short film opens with the striking image of a bloodied woman (Donna Moschek) laid on the driveway of a suburban home. It's broad daylight as she strives to slither her weight away from the house behind her. Alas, her antagonist catches up with her and drags her by her collar - at which point we realise her legs have been hacked off. End of scene.
The story starts proper when we meet John (Eddie McCole) and Sarah (Ava Kostia), a young couple engaged to be married. They're currently looking for a suitable venue to host their wedding ceremony. To this end, Sarah busies her evening on her tablet scouring the Internet for holiday homes for them to stay in while they visit their favoured town to check out potential venues. Keen to get her off her tablet and into bed, John suggests she looks on Grab Pad - a site where homeowners invite you to rent a room with them for a short stay. It's essentially Air BnB, where your hosts are also present. Sarah's not initially keen on the idea but it does seem the cheapest, most practical option: she visits the site later that night on her 'phone and takes the plunge by clicking on a property owned by friendly-looking Gail (Leslie Dame).
A few days later, John and Sarah drive out to Gail's house. Observant viewers will immediately remark on how they saw that front lawn and driveway in the film's opening scene ...
Gail is all smiles when she eventually answers her front door and invites the young couple in. She offers them both a glass of water and gives them space to settle into their room before showing them round her spacious, beautifully tidy home. Welcoming the pair to make good use of her huge living room and help themselves to the contents of her fully-loaded fridge, Gail couldn't be more accommodating. Despite all of this, Sarah is still clearly unimpressed with the thought of staying with strangers.
By the close of the evening, however, Sarah seems happier when she and John retire to bed. John jokingly remarks that they're not sharing the house with a stranger - rather, they're staying with their "new best friend". Ah, if only they knew that they were being watched on hidden camera during the nocturnal hours ...
The following morning, John and Sarah visit a prospective wedding venue and are delighted with it. While arranging to pay a deposit to secure the place, they make small talk with the venue's manageress (Allison Dewey). She becomes cagey when she learns they're staying with Gail, not wishing to disclose much about their new friend's personal life. She suggests that, if they want to know more about Gail, they ask her themselves.
That's exactly what Sarah does later that day, learning over the dinner table that Gail was previously married and had a son. According to her, both her husband Michael and her son Oliver befell tragic fates.
The truth about Gail's family is somewhat different, however, as the hapless couple will discover later that night ...
KINDNESS OF STRANGERS comes from the multi-media production company Cerruti and McCole co-founded in 2018 alongside Sam Williamson, Dead Vision Productions. Earlier shorts of theirs, such as WHITE ELEPHANT and A BUTCHER'S LAMENT, are available to view freely on YouTube.
In 2019 the company produced its longest and most accomplished effort to date, KINDNESS OF STRANGERS. Written and directed by Cerruti, the film clocks in at 33 minutes and 41 seconds in length and looks very good, handsomely shot on HD.
There's a lot of good use of natural lighting for the most part, while well-lit interiors and canny camera angles lend a healthy dose of atmosphere to the tense final ten minutes. Cerruti paces his storytelling well, never rushing to the punchline and instead showing impressive discipline in setting a credible scenario before ushering in the gory finale.
Along the way, performances may not win awards but are confident enough and do a game job of authenticating the characters. Dame is a standout as the outwardly genial but undoubtedly "off" Gail. Cerruti knows how to build suspense too, with the subtle introduction of the hidden camera conceit being well-utilised and an agreeably creepy later shot of a figure standing motionless at the foot of a flight of stairs. It's refreshing to see (what is ostensibly) a gore film focus more on building characters and scene-setting.
As for the grue? The film definitely delivers in its final few minutes, albeit the practical effects (credited to Dead Vision FX, with additional assistance from fellow cult filmmaker James Bell) are minimal. Still, there's plenty of blood in evidence including hammer violence, severed heads, cannibalism and kneecapping. The setting and set-up of this denouement echoes familiar scenes from the likes of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and FRONTIERE(S). The splashy sound design is particularly noteworthy during this section.
Thematically, the film offers a cannily skewered view of the world of online anonymity, be it through social media, dating sites or the likes of Air BnB-type apps. How do we ever know what waits on the other end of any connection we make with seemingly trustworthy people we meet online? There's also a twist coda which makes an observation on small-knit community mentality. None of it's completely original of course, but Cerruti handles affairs with a deftness that keeps feeling fresh.
KINDNESS OF STRANGERS is currently available to buy on DVD directly from the filmmakers' site, at www.deadvisionproductions.com/shop.
It's a solid independent effort and I'm definitely interested in watching Dead Vision Productions grow. Their next film, PROCESS, is due out later in 2020 and I'm looking forward to it. There's a lot of talent in evidence here. I daresay as their experience and budgets increase, these guys will become a force to be reckoned with.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Directed by Lucky Cerruti|