One Must Fall is an Entertaining Bloodbath
written by Jeremy Herbert
One Must Fall is a feature-length adaptation of that scene in crime dramas where the coroner eats a meatball sub over an open cadaver to everyone else’s disgust. And that’s a good thing.
As the Venn diagram of indie horror and 80s throwbacks creeps ever closer to circledom, the best way to stand out from the pack is premise. And while there are enough tickled synths and gore-streaked Goonies posters to rouse the warm-fuzzies, One Must Fall could easily take place today. If anything it’s a sly way to sidestep the Cell Phone Problem inherent in trapping a crime scene clean-up crew in an abandoned factory with a serial killer looking to make a bigger mess. That’s a good hook in any decade.
The best parts of One Must Fall come from the almost disrespectfully mundane company morale. Yes, one of the cleaners does eat something directly over a pile of assorted limbs. When questioned, he assumes their problem is with his diet. “Hey these are still warm,” is all the investigation warranted by some freshly lopped hands that are immediately after thrown into a garbage bag. At the site of a shotgun suicide, when a grieving mother talks of her son’s imagination, team leader Dorian admits, “I can see that all over the wall.” He catches himself a moment too late, and it’d trip clean into bad taste if not for actor John Wells’s charmingly flustered performance. A lot of this movie walks that precarious line of black comedy and almost all of it plays, which is no mean feat.
For his feature-length debut, writer-director-editor-little-bit-of-everything Antonio Pantoja threads a dangerous needle. There’s not a bad performance in its 80-some minutes. As the de facto hero Sarah, Julie Streble runs off with the movie, earning her place at the head of its sumptuously painted poster from watercolor master Christopher Shy. J.P. Lebangood plays the kind of boss that can’t help but pelvic-thrust during the worst syllables of “insider trading” a little too well. Lloyd Kaufman shows up and talks about severed penises with more dignity than expected. The cast keeps the proceedings light when they should be and grim when the rubber gloves come off. The trouble comes with the difference.
As a wry office comedy, albeit with a strange office, it’s a good time. Nobody wants to scrub homicides out of shag carpet and everybody agrees about that. This attitude and the first act, wherein single mom Sarah loses a job for not sleeping with the boss, point to a less-nostalgic bile toward the socio-economic state of things today. At their very first introduction, the clean-up crew is told they won’t see their family much given the hours. Various employees are either desensitized to the point of near-perversion, broken from mopping too much innocent blood, or lazily taking advantage of both. But it’s a living. When the killing starts, though, One Must Fall loses some edge.
It’s violent, make no mistake. Eyes are popped. Bellies slashed. Cement saws used in ways neither Black nor Decker ever intended. I was genuinely impressed with the creativity and volume of jam-jar viscera on display. Low budgets don’t often translate to high mutilation, but One Must Fall does the impossible. The trouble is that, once the killer takes the wheel, it turns into another Greatest Hits slasher. Credited only as “The Killer,” actor Barry Piacente is sufficiently terrifying. Late in the game, he delivers a thematic punchline about the movie’s heroes and villain, and aims it squarely at the hair on the back of your neck: “Sometimes you have to forget that they are real people.” The rest of his philosophizing, about the nature of God and how similar they are, sound like CliffsNotes from Red Dragon. As the cleaners get picked off one by one, some quite cleverly, their line of work degrades into an elaborate excuse for leading lambs to the slaughterhouse. Scooby-Doo logic splits up survivors and kills them in un-Scooby-Doo ways. Cops are despicably, if not illegally, careless. The ending satisfies in the Savini sense but feels out of tune with everything before it.
All that to say One Must Fall is a great, gory example of what indie horror should be. The story may be a little shaggy - the team doesn’t reach the abandoned building until 40 minutes in - but the detours are spent with characters we don’t mind spending that time with. Slashers may be well-covered (camp)ground, but this gives a fresh, fun angle from which to watch the slashing. They pronounce “Louisville” the right way, like your mouth is full and can only afford the most important consonants. Whatever the budget was, it looks more expensive than that, down to old-fashioned ingenuity. The cinematography in the abandoned warehouse paints everything in a palette of neon mold to impressive effect. Which reminds me, the effects are impressive. This is an ambitious, sometimes messy, always entertaining bloodbath of a horror movie. And for a feature-length debut, that’s worth bragging about.
One Must Fall is currently on the festival circuit. You can follow the film’s Facebook page to stay updated about future screenings and news.