Indie to the core!
I don’t normally post movie reviews but this taut indie thriller is done with such verve and spirit, despite its low budget. Probably, in part, because of it’s low budget. It gets to break rules that big movies can’t. There is so much that an aspiring author can learn from a story like Amber Alert the Movie.
Director Kerry Bellessa makes expert use of a single handheld camera in this flick reminiscent of other movies in the ‘found footage’ mold such as Blair Witch Project (which would have benefited from a plot and a script), and the infamous Cannibal Holocaust, a ‘70s sexploitive gorefest that’s impossible to watch and still feel human.
Summer Bellessa (from the credits it appears a lot of the Bellessa family were involved in the making of this movie) is Samantha Green, the extremely annoying – initially – friend of Nate (Chris Hill). Their relentless bickering, as they set off with Samantha’s younger brother manning the video camera on an indie filmmaking project of their own, almost made me stop watching. But the squabbling soon turns serious when they spot a Honda that’s just been flagged in an Amber Alert. They follow at a safe distance. At first. While Nate constantly comes up with reasons to drop the chase, Samantha keeps pushing. This conflict escalates nicely in a gas station where we watch the mysterious Honda driver tank up. When he goes to the restroom, Samantha – despite Nate’s pleading – takes a look in the car and, lo and behold, there IS a little girl in the back. Samantha manages to slip a microphone in the locked car and we soon learn that the driver is not just some disgruntled ex returning his daughter a day late.
The stakes rise yet again when our group is stopped by the police.
Then we learn that the Amber Alert has been called off.
What choice do our hunters have now except to follow the supposed pedophile to his house? And, when the cops fail to show up – AGAIN – go inside the house – themselves? It’s menacing AND inevitable – a great situation for your story to be in.
I found myself riveted to Amber Alert once I got past the beginning. The pacing is fast, and the acting is really quite good, in particular Chris Hill, who plays a sort of cherubic Mickey Dolenz (I’m showing my age here) who would rather put his arm around Samantha than hunt down dangerous perverts. The single handheld camera is not overused as it is in some movies of this ilk and doesn’t draw attention to itself. The low budget film-making actually enhances the movie, giving it a gritty, real feel. The ending knocked me out, along with the snippet of a pre-amber alert Nate and Samantha during the credits, taken from more ‘lost footage’. The storytelling is beautifully simple and just shows that you don’t need $100 million and a special-effects crew to pull off a nail-biting thriller.
Indie authors can learn a lot from a movie like Amber Alert: an uncomplicated, straight-forward, lean story with rising conflicts and stakes. There are sympathetic, but not sentimental, nuanced characters with opposing passions that constantly put them at odds with each other. There is a first-rate villain. A terrific ending that blindsides you (it did me, anyway), and overall, a story appropriate to the genre but also contrary to what a big budget flick might have done.
I think that’s important.
They say that the trick of genre writing is to stay within the genre but, at the same time, bring something fresh to it. Not easy, but key if you want to tell a story people will remember. And get noticed.
I hope to see more indie thrillers as good as this and look forward to more work from the crew who put together Amber Alert the Movie.
¡viven los indies!