Tribeca 2019 Review: SOMETHING ELSE, Something Special From THE BATTERY's Jeremy Gardner And Christian Stella
Hank has a bit of a problem. Truthfully he has more than one. His long time girlfriend Abby got up and left him with just a note pinned to a kitchen cupboard. Now that is pretty bad to start but since Abby has left some kind of monster has been coming by every night and try to break into his backwoods Florida house. If he is not drowning his sorrows in beer and whiskey he is verbally sparring with Abby’s brother Shane, a local sheriff, or commiserating with his best friend Wade and his sage advice derived from the bowels of cable television. Where did Abby go, and will she ever come back? What will Hank do about this monster that keeps coming by every night, and will someone believe him that it is real and not some Everglades critter looking to make a fuss?
Jeremy Gardner and Christian Stella’s Something Else is a bold film. Bold in the sense that you are giving to your audience a character driven story that has a dash of monster movie in it. From Gardner's script, together with his co-director and frequent collaborator Stella they have given us an excellent character story about love and what would you give up for the one you love. It just so happens that a monster lurks outside and stops by to say rawr every night. Here be a monster that hides in the shadows as our own personal monsters hide deep within us, surfacing when our guard is down.
Gardner takes the lead in his film alongside Brea Grant as Abby. He has written a film with a relationship that feels slightly dreamy when it is at the best of times. It is lit differently, laced with light and endearing humor. Gradner and Grant's chemistry is very, very good. You like Hank and Abby, and you like them together. If you do not already have a relationship this loving you wish you had what Hank and Abby have.
After Abby leaves Hank though there are genuine moments of fear and loss, capitalized with moments of terror as the monster attempts to rip into the house. So as Hank struggles to process Abby’s sudden departure he also has to protect his home every night. There is one moment in particular where I think Hank has his epiphone about what his role in a relationship should be, it is so subtle you may miss it. You do not know if Abby is going to come back to Hank, but you know you want her to because he is an absolute mess without her. Come back, Abby. Please.
Justin Benson’s (The Endless) Shane is the voice of reason in film. Abby’s brother tries to bring reason to Hank’s claims about the monster, saying it could be a bear or a panther making those claw marks on the door. There is an excellent discussion that the two have about Hank’s monster, Shane going back into history where our imaginations draw faces on the noises in dark, ‘And we always draw sharp teeth’. On the other hand you have Henry Zebrowski’s hilarious Wade. Built for levity, drinking gorilla farts and recounting stories about aliens from shows on the History Channel Wade is a true believer, but even he may have some doubts about Hank’s claims about the monster.
You see, thing is, the monster remains carefully hidden for the bulk of the film, on the opposite side of the door and the couch Hank is using for a barricade. We see a shadow, a claw, a tire swing sway and a car bare the brunt of its weight by way of dipping headlamps yet Gardner and Stella are in no rush to unveil their creature until deep into their story. There has to be a shoutout to lead SFX artist Keith Arbuthnot and the makeup effects team who have done a terrific job on the film. Arbuthnot also performed as the monster in the film.
Almost immediately you understand why the production team Rustic Films, made up of genre defying directors Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead and producer David Lawson Jr., backed Jeremy and Christian and their project. This is their wheelhouse; a character focused genre film guided by some cracking dialogue and guarded presentations of the monsters around us. Of that trio’s feature films Spring would be the perfect companion piece to Something Else.
Artists imbue a bit of themselves into their art so for Gardner to write such an emotionally deep character piece begs the question of where he was at when he wrote Something Else. If Something Else is an allegory, then Gardner may be retracing his own life path to what it takes to be in a relationship with someone. Whereas my story would make up an anthology of terrible short film, cause that is about all the material that I got.
(Fade in to couple sitting at a park bench)
Me: So, yeah. I kind of like you.
Her: Oh. Uh…
But I guess yay for us that Gardner is perhaps pulling from personal experience, personal moments of having loved and lost, and he has something to say to the rest of us about making that decision to go all in. To sum it up, you are living the lives of two people when you’re in a relationship. You have to give up some of your past self to make room for your present and future self with your partner. What you do for your partner you do for the whole of your relationship.
The beast makes one last ditch attack on the home and perhaps that is symbolic of Hank’s hunter past, a physical manifestation back on the prowl, one last effort to take him back to the glory days. Before Hank can move forward he has to confront his personal monsters then the physical monster outside, dealing with what it is symbolic of, once and for all.
Side note. It is also funny to see how alcohol plays a role in Hank’s decision. No really, pay attention to what he and Abby drink throughout the film and his last line in the film pretty much seals the deal.
And I feel that I also have to mention the awesome music in Something Else. Music plays a role in any film, establishing mood or complimenting the images the director has chosen on scene. Something Else has a terrific ambient score by husband and wife team, Eric Krans and Jen O’Connor, who also feed into the mix a lot of indie pop songs from their band The Parlor. A second husband and wife team (picking up on a theme here) are The Hummingbirds whose southern charm and style backs up some of those sorrow filled moments at the bar and from the bottle.
Gardner also included an easter egg song near the end of the film and when you want to have the most impact during your emotional peak of the story you can do no better than to pull out the biggest pop rock love song of the mid-90’s. Those last two mysteries are for you to discover when you watch Something Else.
It turns out that Something Else is really something special. Here is a character drama that gives us genuine characters to love and care about, that we can relate to, and stirs up the pot with a fuck off scary monster lurking in the woods beyond the property line. The monster moments are mysterious and scary but the scariest thing for Hank may be losing Abby forever.
p.s. Something Else also has what may be *the* jump scare of 2019. Just saying.