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February 15, 2011

FMWL Indie Spotlight - Respire

(2009, Dir. by David A. Cross.)

From the depths of Baltimore comes Respire, an inventive horror thriller from MTI Home Video that hits shelves - or more likely, Netflix - today.  Though it's a deeply flawed film, it's definitely one of the more unique horror films I've seen in some time.

The plot picks up in the late 1930s, with a doctor who's devoted his life to harnessing the power of the last breath taking his own last breath into a deadly vial.  After this black and white scene we're treated to a pretty nifty montage of the vial's passage through 80 years - complete with generic footage of what Time Life wants us to remember from each decade - that leads to present day and a cancer-ridden young shopkeeper named Susan, played by Tracy Teague. 

The film then follows Susan and the mysterious box that contains the mysterious vial.  With a pair of young men in town searching for the box, she acquires it and decides that no harm could come from breathing in whatever the vial contains.  She's right, because she wakes up with a cuter hairdo, a skip in her step, and not a trace of cancer.  She's also a bit more violent, and now both of the creepy men in town are after her.  If she wants to save an outbreak of others getting this deadly thing that's not deadly to her, she has to figure out who to trust.  Carnage follows.

Respire offers a lot of great visuals (and I don't just mean Ms. Teague), but I often felt disconnected from the film.  The idea is certainly an interesting one, but the use of montage - particularly in the final act - takes away from the power of the film at times.  When things do get hairy late in the film, we're mostly treated to images of characters we don't know facing horrors unimaginable, and these montage scenes set to intrusive music feel a bit like filler between the plight of our main characters.  If you're going to have an "outbreak", I'd prefer you put characters we know in the most visually arresting scenes.

Respire also struggled to really get me interested in the characters.  There is a mid-film twist that shakes our attention a little, reminding us things aren't entirely out of hand, but the actors are pretty bland and don't offer a lot to the proceedings.  With the film checking in at just over 90 minutes, there seems like more could be done with the characters around Teague's Susan.  I'm not sure the actors or script could have allowed for this, unfortunately.  Editing is also a problem, as the film bounces from place to place far too much and almost lost me a couple of times.

Respire certainly has more going well for it than most low budget shockers of this sort.  The plot is unique, which makes it the rare independent horror title that doesn't piggyback off of other successful films (though there are some brief similarities to Romero/Eisner's The Crazies).  As I've mentioned a couple of times, the visuals are also a highlight, as director Cross does a fine job of using different color schemes to create atmosphere.  Some of the dark scenes are a little muddled for my taste, but the film is generally one of the better looking indies I've seen of late.

I can't fully recommend Respire to you, in fact there's a part of me that's still annoyed by some aspects of the film, but I can at least give it credit for being an original, self-contained horror film.  There aren't many truly fresh horror films left out there, and this one at least does its part to give the viewer something different.  The film is out on DVD and other formats today, so I'll leave the verdict up to you.  There's a good horror film inside Respire, but I'm having trouble seeing it through all the flaws.


Sammy V said...

This sounds interesting...I may have to check it out.

R.D. Penning said...

I have wanted to see it for a while now. The premise just sounded so unique for today's horror copies. I'm glad it showed some promies and maybe Cross can fix the mistakes next time around.

The Mike said...

It's got some good stuff in it, I just felt like it didn't come together quite right. Perhaps you guys will enjoy it more than I did.

Thanks for reading!