I really appreciate when a film can feel so grounded in reality and at the same time, exude a sense of otherworldliness. Tom Botchii's debut feature Artik is one of those films. Following its World Premiere at Popcorn Frights Film Fest, Epic Pictures and DREAD snatched up the film and released it on Blu-ray and VOD on September 10th. I'm very grateful they were kind enough to send a review copy my way, as Artik offers up quite a memorable viewing experience.
The film centers on Artik (Jerry G. Angelo), a comic book obsessed serial killer who spends his nights in the town which he lives searching for unfortunate victims to satiate his murderous tendencies. While on these "night hunts", Artik begins teaching his son, Boy Adam (Gavin White), how to get away with a series of brutal murders, attempting to pass on his homicidal legacy, if you will.
Seemingly feral by nature, Adam also has a reflective, somewhat sensitive side, and ends up befriending a troubled and mysterious young man named Holton Shudcase (Chase Williamson), who takes pity on the boy and sets out to discover more about his obviously disturbed home life. Unfortunately, this newfound companionship threatens to expose all of Artik's hard work, and Artik will stop at nothing to keep his secrets in the ground.
Also on hand are Flin Brays (Lauren Ashley Carter) Artik's wife and partner in crime, Holton's Al-Anon leader Kar (Matt Mercer), and a cadre of children that Artik and Flin keep locked away in their barn.
While Artik may sound like a tale you've seen countless times from the horror genre - you know, the whole "family that slays together, stays together", psycho hillbilly schtick - you can rest assured, Artik is quite a bit different than your typical run-of-the-mill slasher. Botchii skillfully blends a grim atmosphere with solid character building, effective storytelling and some stylistic flair thrown into the mix for good measure. Think The Texas Chain Saw Massacre meets The Crow, if Eric Draven had Charles Manson as a mentor.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, Artik features an otherworldly vibe to it, which certainly lends itself greatly to the whole comic book motif. Some scenes felt almost post-apocalyptic in nature, bleak and gritty, while others featured a sense of warmth and serenity. For example, scattered throughout the film are shots of bright yellow sunflowers that permeate Artik's blood-soaked farmland. These bring a feeling of purity and serenity to the table, and outwardly symbolize a glimmer of hope in a predominantly harsh cinematic landscape.
On the performance side of things, Artik features fantastic turns from each and every member of its cast. Jerry G. Angelo ("Better Call Saul", American Warfighter) does an outstanding job with portraying the film's anti-hero. Artik is an imposing on-screen presence, but he's substantially different than your average slasher flick brute. He's an irregular serial killer who thinks he's doing the world a favor by carrying out his heinous acts in an ongoing pursuit of purity. Artik, while savage and cruel in nature, is a character you feel for and one that's an absolute pleasure to watch and study. Personally, I think Artik is such an intriguing character that I would love to see his backstory fleshed out a bit more in a prequel. Lauren Ashley Carter (Imitation Girl, The Mind's Eye) delivers an equally demented performance as Flin, who can go from a moderately loving mother figure to an unhinged madwoman with zero empathy in a heartbeat. Gavin White’s (14 Cameras, "Black-ish") performance as Boy Adam is an impressive one when considering his age, his limited lines of dialogue, and the film's disturbing subject matter. Chase Williamson (John Dies at the End, Beyond the Gates), who usually takes on slightly-comedic roles, shines as Holton, a character struggling to overcome a past of addiction and excess. And even though, we don't have much insight into Holton's past, Williamson carries the character with so much finesse that the lasting effects of an out of control past are clearly presented and understood.
In terms of special effects, Artik features some outstanding gore and torture sequences, and while they don't necessarily reach the level of "torture porn", the film's more gruesome scenes are sure to satisfy devoted gore-hounds. The carnage is well-shot and effective without being too over-the-top. The choice to stick with practical effects is always a welcome one in my book as well. Corey Wallace's score wraps everything up in a nice little package, further heightening the film's overall sense of dread and unease.
Credited as writer, director, producer and editor, Tom Botchii has delivered one hell of an impressive and ambitious feature-length debut with Artik. It's a film that'll keep you on the edge of your seat until its conclusion and resonate in your mind long after the credits have rolled. Artik pulls no punches and wastes no time whatsoever with its delivery. When taking into consideration Artik and the two short films (Goldblooded and 11 Minutes) included on the Blu-ray, Botchii is definitely a filmmaker to keep an eye on moving forward. It's worth noting that the Blu-ray also features director commentary and a couple of behind-the-scenes featurettes.