By RACHEL REEVES
Starring Madison West, Joey Millin and John Terrell
Directed by Powell Robinson and Patrick R. Young
Written by Patrick R. Young
Big Bad Film
In a time when large-scale productions continue to be difficult and unsafe, indie filmmakers are showcasing their creativity in unprecedented ways. With films like HOST, ALONE and THE POOL making waves with their minimal casts and ingenious use of locations, a perceptible shift in approach and acceptance is occurring within the horror film community. Joining this roster of effective, stripped-down ventures is Powell Robinson and Patrick R. Young’s second feature film, THRESHOLD.
Celebrating its North American premiere October 2 as part of Salem Horror Fest 2020, THRESHOLD is a remarkable example of ingenuity, creativity and genuine heart. Shot on two iPhones with a crew of three filmmakers, the movie centers on Virginia (Madison West) and her brother Leo (Joe Millin). After years of not speaking to each other, Leo reluctantly agrees to check in on Virginia at their mother’s request. She’s been struggling with addiction issues over the years, and both family members assume Virginia’s latest episode signals yet another relapse. However, Leo soon discovers that the current issue plaguing his sister is much more sinister than he could have ever imagined.
Opening with a bang, West and Millin do a very effective job at setting the tone, scene and story necessary to carry the bulk of the film. After initially thinking Virginia is experiencing an overdose, Leo is understandably shaken when Virginia resists medical help and claims she has been sober for eight months. Confused, Leo prods deeper until Virginia further explains that in actuality, she has become cursed by a cult operating under the guise of a rehab organization. Bonded to a stranger for mysterious purposes, Virginia feels what the other man feels–for better or worse. Although struggling to accept what Virginia is saying, Leo sets out with her nonetheless on a cross-country road trip in an effort to find the man, break the curse and escape the cult’s grasp once and for all.
Although bookended with successful horror-soaked scenes, the majority of THRESHOLD’s runtime is dedicated to the relationship between Virginia and Leo. Despite Leo initially being the one to come to Virginia’s aid, it quickly becomes apparent that both siblings are suffering. Struggling with an impending divorce and an unfulfilling career, Leo inevitably learns to process and communicate, all while reconnecting with his sister and learning more about her struggles with substance abuse. With much of the dialogue and shots seemingly improvised during these portions of the film, Robinson and Young’s guerilla filmmaking style benefits the story’s authenticity. Rather than feeling staged, there’s a natural dynamic between the two that’s further reinforced by the use of the iPhone cameras and Nick Chuba’s evocative score. Like flies on the wall, we watch these honest conversations convincingly pass the time between deliberate moments of plot development.
Due to this particular style of execution, there’s a certain amount of “settling in” required to enjoy THRESHOLD’s ride. Similar to an actual road trip, the film becomes most effective and satisfying when accepted as a complete adventure. Even though locations and environments allow for changes in visual stimulation, the story remains steadfastly dedicated to the two main characters and their emotional development. After the strong and intense opening sequence, this shift in pace and focus is significant, and leaves the genre classification up to interpretation. However, by keenly balancing humor and optimism with further bites of horror and intrigue, the film effectively entices viewers to follow the journey, culminating in a wonderfully bonkers final act.
There’s a refreshing attitude about THRESHOLD that exudes from every corner of the production. Operating on a microbudget never hinders the film’s overall effectiveness; embracing limitations rather than fighting them, both cast and crew cleverly utilize the tools at their disposal to their ultimate advantage. With the future of larger productions in flux, THRESHOLD highlights the beauty of small-scale productions and the natural potential that lies within them–with a few sprinkles of fear to boot.