As part of its continuing coverage of the 20th annual deadCenter Film Festival, Oklahoma City Free Press will feature three films from the festival each day: a feature-length narrative film, a short film and a documentary.
Today’s roundup focuses on director Ryan Staples Scott’s sci-fi action film Robot Riot, Parker Finn’s short shocker Laura Hasn’t Slept and Cheryl Horner’s documentary about the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland Rising.
by George Lang, Free Press film critic
Robot Riot. As Neill Blomkamp proved 11 years ago with District 9, it is possible to populate a science fiction film with convincing effects on a limited budget. Robot Riot, the latest film from director Ryan Staples Scott (Skid) takes Blomkamp’s visual ethic to heart, making up for some script shortfalls and hammy acting with sharply executed action.
Ryan Merriman, the Choctaw-born former child actor who has appeared in television series like Pretty Little Liars and the 2018 Ryan Bellgardt film The Jurassic Games, plays Shane, who wakes up in a sealed-off ghost town with a chipset in his neck and robots swarming around him. He and several fellow travelers (Sarah J. Bartholomew, Barrett Carroll Curtis, Luke Wyckoff) must fight a seemingly endless horde of mechanized death machines with the few weapons they have.
Robot Riot plays a lot like a first-person shooter game and much of the dialogue is roughly at that level, but the film works as an object lesson on technical capabilities for micro-budget action films. It does not take tens of millions of dollars to make a science fiction film that is visually strong and does not require suspension of disbelief to enjoy, and on that front, Robot Riot is in the game.
Laura Hasn’t Slept. If the good folks at Blumhouse have not yet encountered Laura Hasn’t Slept, they need to set up a meeting with writer-director Parker Finn immediately. Laura Hasn’t Slept, an 11-minute grindhouse homage, is relentlessly scary during its short running time and more effective than many feature-length horror films.
Caitlin Stasey (Reign) stars as the title character, and right from the top she is in a state of trauma, beset by a repeating nightmare. Her therapist Dr. Parsons (Lew Temple) begins to ask her questions that reveal that not everything is as it appears, and from that point forward, Laura Hasn’t Slept is an unrelenting chamber of horrors.
Stasey is superb from the start, and it is her believability as the victim of chronic nightmares and sleep deprivation that allows the rest of Laura Hasn’t Slept to achieve its ends. The film is dead-frightening and unrelenting in its intensity. Finn’s cinematic sensibility suggests that future longform films by this gifted director will mostly be watched through splayed fingers.
Parkland Rising. Marjory Stoneman Douglas was a suffragette, a journalist and a tireless advocate for conservation, so it makes sense that students from a school bearing her name would be called to action during a crisis.
Parkland Rising, a documentary about the former students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the Parkland, Florida school that was attacked by a lone gunman on Feb. 14, 2018, provides insight into the months that followed the shootings, as the students take to the media with their story.
The loudest voice to emerge from the attack belongs to David Hogg, now a student at Harvard University. While Hogg serves as an articulate spokesperson for the movement, he has also emerged as a lightning rod for pro-gun activists. In one particularly illustrative scene, Hogg conducts an interview outside a Publix grocery store and the discussion is interrupted several times by pro-National Rifle Association activists.
Directed by Cheryl Horner, a longtime director and producer of MTV documentaries like the long-running series True Life, takes a no-nonsense approach to her subjects, humanizing their struggle to have their first-person experience with gun violence heard by lawmakers and the general public. Amid the continuing debate over the best way to curb such violence, Parkland Rising shows the true stakes in taking this subject to the masses.
The 20th annual deadCenter Film Festival can be experienced piecemeal or through a full-access plan. Patrons can enjoy one film for $10 or get the $100 festival pass. Donor level passes are $2,500. Visit deadcenterfilm.org
For more coverage of the festival, visit freepressokc.com.
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