Low-budget science fiction and fantasy movies rule. While mega-blockbusters crank out the same familiar stories, including a parade of sequels and remakes, a low-budget film can take crazy risks and tell an original story. But sometimes, low-budget movies can get just as obsessed with chasing fads and copying each other as the biggest Jerry Bruckheimer splode-fest.
Here are four trends in low-budget movie-making that we'd really like to see go away for a long, long time.
Top image: Perfect Sense.
The Slow Apocalypse
We liked Melancholia. But enough is enough — there's a flood of low-budget movies about an impending apocalypse, enough to drown all of us in apocalyptic cliches. It's easy to see why this is — an apocalyptic movie can be ultra-cheap to make, if you mostly just show people sitting inside a small room, freaking out about the fact that the world is ending.
In the "slow apocalypse" movie, either people find out that the world will end soon, or they start witnessing the signs of impending doom. And then... nothing. These aren't movies, by and large, about people trying to prevent the apocalypse or even survive it. They're movies about people dealing with the inevitability of the world's destruction — which is sort of neat, except that they can easily turn into uneventful wallowing. And once you've seen one or two movies like that, you never need to see another one.
Now they're even making a slow apocalypse rom-com (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) and a movie where the world slowly unravels while Ewan McGregor and friends eat soap and have sex (Perfect Sense). I know, I know — this is 2012 and everything has to be apocalyptic. But enough, already. The apocalypse, as a setting rather than as an actual basis for a story, has become kind of a cliche lately.
Examples: Melancholia, 4:44 Last Day on Earth, The Vanishing on Seventh Street, Perfect Sense, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.
The Ambiguously Supernatural Story
There's been a ton of "haunted house" and ghost movies where lots of weird, freaky shit happens. There are ghost-kid faces, and flickering black-and-white images in the corner of your eye, and weird jump scares, and doors that seem to close on their own, etc. etc... all the usual "haunted house" cliches. And you think it's actually leading someplace, and you're going to get a really cool reveal at the end... and instead, it's just left wide open. Or worse yet, the door is slammed shut, in a really abrupt way.
Was this really a supernatural occurrence? Were there forces beyond our understanding at work here, or was it just a crazy person hallucinating and acting nutty? We never know, or there are ambiguous clues... but after a few times around, it starts to seem like a cop-out. Just go ahead and come out as a "haunted house" movie already — that's what we're all there to see. You don't really get cool points for being coy, or for copping out on the genre stuff in the end. Actually, "haunted house" movies have been massively overdone in general, lately.
Examples: Innkeepers, Dream House, Silent House, The Last Exorcism
The WTF Ending
A lot of low-budget films stay pretty realistic and low-key throughout the movie, perhaps confining all the action to a few sets, and maybe containing just one or two pretty cheap special effects sequences. Until you get to the end of the film, and then — watch out! Either the movie tries to blow its entire effects budget in the last five minutes, or it tries to pull of a confusing "twist" ending that doesn't require much in the way of splashy effects. Either way, a movie that's been pretty down to earth until the final moments suddenly goes nuts, trying to make you feel like you've seen a movie.
Is this a new trend? I'm not 100 percent sure — but it does seem, subjectively, as though an awful lot of small-budget movies lately have had WTF endings that people complained about, or at least remarked on. It's become kind of a trend, to throw everything at the wall in a movie's final minutes — or else just to end suddenly, without any closure at all. Most of these films are supernatural, but some of them are just random.
It's not just the "M. Night Shyamalan-inspired crazy nonsense twist to screw with your head" thing. There's also a huge element of "it's the final moments, and we have no money, but we do have a stockpile of crazy."
Examples: The Devil Inside, Insidious, Intruders, The Woman in Black, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
The Crazy Epidemic
There are a ton of zombie movies on the horizon, including the big-budget World War Z, but also including a lot of smaller-budget films like Warm Bodies. And if you lump together all of the movies about a virus that turns people into monsters or drives people into an unstoppable killing rage, then there's a lot of viral horror and action in theaters recently or in the near future.
It makes sense: a virus is invisible, so you don't need to splurge on special effects in depicting it — you just need to show the lesions and decay on people's faces, or the signs that someone is losing his/her humanity. The only trouble is, you can only do the zombie uprising, or the rage virus, so many ways before they start becoming tired. And not every micro-budgeted movie can have a zombie tiger.
Examples: The Crazies, Survival of the Dead.
Thanks to Meredith and Annalee for suggestions and feedback!