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DVD Review: Lo

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Lo, a comic horror flick written and directed by Travis Betz, will be available on February 10 on DVD from SKD USA. According to the film's publicity release, Lo was a winner at the 2009 Las Vegas International Film Festival, 2009 Honolulu International Film Festival, and 2009 Shriekfest Film Festival, and was an official selection at the 2009 Austin Film Festival, 2009 Boston Underground Film Festival, 2009 Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, and 2009 Indianapolis International Film Festival.

Set in a darkened apartment where the hero of the film, Justin, played by Ward Roberts, spends nearly all of the 83 minutes of his screen time perched in the center of an elaborately drawn pentagram, Lo tells the story of a nerdy young man who summons up a demon named Lo to bring back the love of his life, April Oak, who has been 'girlnapped' to hell by the demon, Jeez. Although Justin is somewhat clumsy about it, he does manage with the aid of an ancient book of spells and rituals to get not only Lo to appear, but Jeez as well, only to discover that demons are a snarky bunch who would just as soon lead you down the garden path as follow your commands. Lo more often than not, after a terrifying opening gambit, comes off like a stand-up comic putting down a heckler. Jeez is at his horrifying best as the lead singer in a lounge act.

As demons go, these two would have a hard time with the crew from Paradise Lost, but of course that is the idea. The world of the 21st century is a world in which young girls fall all over vampires, zombies are funny, and Frankenstein's monster is a song and dance man. Why should demons be any different? They may be able to mash your face. They may be able to make off with the woman you love. They may be able to tear your chest up a bit on a cheese grater in hell. But when all is said and done, despite their appearance, they do seem to add a little spice to what would otherwise be a kind of dull life. That can't be all bad.

In flashbacks presented as little set pieces acted on a tiny theater stage that appears on one of the walls of the darkened apartment, we learn that Justin works for the corporate HateMyJob. He meets April while he is on lunch break, eating a rather lame salad, and doodling dreamily. As played by Sarah Lassez, she is quirky and pretty and despite some strange behavior (she scarfs down his salad; she doesn't understand that she should have gotten him a Christmas present), she entrances the bemused Justin. Roberts manages to get enough needy naivete into his character to make the whole thing believable. In typical post-modern fashion, the theatrical artifice of these flashbacks is emphasized by camera angles that show what's going on in the wings as April and Justin go through their little scenes. Nameless characters kiss, light cigarettes, or just plain stand around.

In a sense the whole film seems to emphasize artifice as opposed to realism. The blackness of the darkened apartment surrounding the candlelit pentagram is like nothing so much as a black box theater space with a spotlight on the action. Demons make entrances crawling from the darkness out into the light of the circle, while the space around remains dark. Souls suffering in hell writhe and moan, black shadows behind symbolic red curtains. This is a film that seems imprisoned in the claustrophobic mise-en-scène of the theater. It has the feel of a stage play.

While demonic makeup reveals just enough of human eye to deconstruct the horror effect and underline comic intention, the heavy makeup leaves little room for acting nuance. Everything must be done vocally. Jeremiah Birkett's Lo manages a surprising range of emotional expression under the mask. His performance is specific and layered. Devin Barry's Jeez is less successful, perhaps because his mask is much less malleable. On the other hand, his turn as a lounge singer is one of the high points of the picture. There is nothing to compare with a demon that can sing and dance.

Lo is the kind of movie that has cult potential. Think The Rocky Horror Picture Show. If its demons wouldn't quite fit in with Milton's Satan or Goethe's Mephistopheles, they may well make some headway with the fit though few. Check out the trailer below, see if you qualify. One note: the DVD includes no supplementary material.

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