Among Friends Danielle Harris

Among Friends Danielle Harris
6
Modern-day scream queen Danielle Harris (the Halloween remakes and Stakeland) makes an auspicious solo debut behind the camera with dinner party gone brutally wrong horror Among Friends. Though it's limited in scope, intent and budget, and not without its flaws in execution, this sarcastic, catty Saw meets The Real World mystery thriller reaches beyond the majority of its genre peers in ambition and personality. The young director tries on a handful of stylistic ticks throughout the movie, using sped-up footage and jittery cuts to assemble the partygoers before settling into a smooth rhythm that emphasizes the candy-coated colour palette and theatrical, high-contrast lighting. With these signifiers of magnified emotion in place, the stage is set for a rancorous, bloody game designed to expose the darkest secrets of its players. It's a simple setup that's wisely confined to a single setting: a group of self-absorbed 20somethings get together for an '80s-themed murder mystery party. After a little wine, they find they've been poisoned, paralyzed from the waist down. The last person capable of standing admits to setting up the event in order to facilitate some much needed honesty and a little retributive justice. This "justice" takes the form of mind games and torture dependent upon the voluntary nominations of any one member of the close circle of friends being systematically exposed as backstabbers, cheaters and much worse. While all this gory air-clearing is going on, we get steady comic relief from Jules (Brianne Davis, Prom Night), the resident drug addict tripping on magic mushrooms she wolfed down earlier in the evening. This softens a particularly harsh revelation and subsequent punishment late in the film without undercutting its impact, with her hallucinations also serving as a method of exploring a different angle on the anxieties being dragged into the light around the torture table. Harris impressively harmonizes heavy, real-world horror with graphic gore and conversational, crudity-laced black humour. If she didn't feel quite so compelled to lean on gaudy stylization, Among Friends would be easier to appreciate for its wit and uncharacteristically emotional approach. The DVD is slim on extras. "Character Bios" lists superfluous information like each character's favourite '80s song, but the efficiently titled "Behind the Scenes" oozes charm, providing a plethora of information about the film's production. Comprised of interviews with the creative team and actors (the same people in two cases: writer Alyssa Lobit and producer Jennifer Blanc also star) and spunky behind-the-scenes footage, this feature is free of the typical clip-padding that makes something that's supposed to feel special such a drag. (Anchor Bay)