Off the Beaten Path DVD Review
Written by Steve Pattee
DVD released by Not For The Squeamish Productions
Written and directed by Jason Stephenson
2004, Region 0 (NTSC), 64 Minutes, Not rated
Todd Hanson as Chuck Stevens
Carrie Sizemore as Dina Duncan
Jessie Welsch as Brenda Jacobs
Tommy Thompson as Randy Bodine
Acting on an email from a woman who claims strange things go on Gateway Township, amateur film maker Chuck Stevens (Todd Hanson) decides to head to the farming community to make a documentary. Certain this will be his big break, Chuck persuades his friend Randy (Tommy Thompson) to blow off filming a band video and accompany him to film his documentary. Tagging along is Chuck’s girlfriend, Dina (Carrie Sizemore).
Arriving at the local watering hole, the group meets up with Brenda (Jessie Welsch), the author of the email. Eager to check out the source of the strange happenings, Chuck is ready to leave right away. However, Brenda is hesitant because it is getting dark and it is never good to be in any woods after dark, much less Gateway’s. Yet, Brenda reluctantly agrees to lead the team to the cabins of the infamous killer, Jasper Hagan — the same area where people have been known to disappear — while giving them a history of Jasper — and another killer who lived in those cabins — along the way.
Of course, on a history tour in an area known for its evil, nothing is ever simple.
Clocking in at just over an hour, Off The Beaten Path tries to be a good movie, but unfortunately it’s too hit or miss.
The major flaw in Path is the acting. Not so much that the acting was bad — which it was — but the fact that, according to the production notes, the actors were not given so much a script, as a story. This would not necessarily have been a bad thing if Path had used trained actors instead of people “picked for parts based on their genuine excitement for the project.” Unfortunately, there are far too many instances of fumbled lines, stuttering, talking for talking’s sake and inconsistencies. A perfect example is a scene that takes place in a tavern. While waiting for Brenda to show up — the meeting was scheduled for 6:00 — Dina is told that the time is 5:45. Shortly after, Brenda arrives and asks if they were waiting long, Chuck tells her they had been waiting for about an hour — since 5:00. The reality is, they had only been waiting 15 minutes. There is a huge difference between 5:00 and 5:45, and if this were the only inconsistency, it would be forgivable. If you are working with new actors, give them a script as they are not experienced enough to create their own dialogue.
However, there is some hope for these actors. While Hanson, as Chuck, overacts almost every scene, there may be talent under there, given a proper script. At some points he is believable, but there are too many instances of melodrama and his character suffers from it.
Carrie Sizemore as Dina, Chuck’s girlfriend, is horrible. Either laughing the moment before, the moment after or in the middle of a line or simply talking in monotone, she is not convincing as someone who is frightened for her life and, because of moments like this, the movie suffers. If you don’t believe in the characters, you don’t believe in the film. I understand the urge to put your friends in a movie, but sometimes it’s best to keep them as extras, not leads.
Tommy Thompson as the sarcastic buddy Randy does fairly well in his role. He’s the jackass friend your girlfriend hates — who doesn’t care. He will needle her at every opportunity, but, at the same time, he will have your back 100 percent. Thompson plays that role to a “T” and is completely believable. But, again, there are scenes where the lack of a script hurt his performance.
The standout is Jessie Welsch as Brenda. While she stumbles through some of her lines, she always manages to bounce back and she is a natural in front of the camera. She has a lot of charisma and, given time to develop, she could be a good actress. Thompson and Welsch managed to pick up the slack for the other two and made the movie more than watchable.
A nod should be given to Chris Prew, a production assistant, who played a jogger interviewed in the beginning of the movie. He was completely natural in front of the camera in the little bit of time he was there.
Which brings up another flaw. If the story is about a documentary, where are the interviews? Only two townspeople were interviewed, and briefly at that. The lack of information on Jasper Hagan makes me care less about the story. There is less suspense because you don’t know why you should care. Granted, Dina told a couple of yarns on the way to the deserted cabins, but they are not enough to evoke a feeling of dread when things start going wrong. Understandably, this is not a long film, but director/writer Jason Stephenson should have squeezed some more interviews in by cutting out some of the scenes of the group getting lost on the way to the town.
All that said, Path manages to be a pretty decent movie. With nods to both Blair Witch Project and Evil Dead, Path started slowly, picked up speed about 10 minutes in and, once it got rolling, sped down the highway. At no time did I look at the clock and I actually thought the film was about 45 minutes long until I checked the time on the disc. This could be because the last 15 minutes of the movie is an exciting ride.
Actors aside, the movie is pretty engrossing and enjoyable. There were a few times I was creeped out, and underneath the flaws, it is a good story. This is a movie that gets better with repeated viewings, because once you get past the acting, it does have some great moments. It is obvious Stephenson has a future in filmmaking.
Path had a great location when it came to the deserted cabins. What is it about camping and cabins that extracts some sort of primal fear from us? Dark, musty and, from the reactions of the actors, smelly, these are not the cabins where I want to spend my summer vacation. Add to that the freaky history, and I don’t want to spend any vacation there.
The bottom line is, with work, this decent movie could be great. Create a script and elaborate on the Jasper Hagan character more (before they reach the cabins) and you have yourself a great film.
Video and Audio:
Presented in 4:3 full-frame, Path is filmed half as a first person “mockumentary” and half as third person. The resemblance to The Blair Witch Project cannot be missed. However, Path separates itself from Project with the addition of the third person shots and Stephenson does a good job of interweaving the two.
The picture has very little grain and it must be noted that Stephenson does a great job using lighting to set the dismal mood. Far too often low-budget movies suffer heavily from poor lighting and it was nice to see Path using lighting to its advantage.
Presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, the movie is free from pops and hisses. However, there are a few times when I struggled to hear the actors, but it wasn’t often enough to be completely distracting.
- Deleted Scenes
- Behind the Scenes
- Miscellaneous Clips
- Gag Reel
- Split Screen
- Photo Gallery
- Production Notes
- Official Trailer and Internet Teasers
With over an hour of extra features, this disc is loaded. Every one of the features is worth a watch.
The production notes are a must-read, and I recommend reading them before you watch the movie as they mention some things that may affect your impression of the film. If I had known the actors were not trained going into the movie, I would have been more impressed with the good acting and less irritated with the bad.
Another must watch is the miscellaneous clips feature, as it has Jessie Welsch speaking gibberish (you have to see it to believe it) and a faux commercial that is funny as hell.
The deleted scenes were great, and I can only wonder why they were cut — in particular, the original opening. The original opening built character development not only between Chuck and Dina, but Randy and Dina as well. Plus, Randy has some great lines regarding Chuck being “whipped” that you miss out on.
The only thing missing from the features is a director’s commentary. It’s too bad one wasn’t recorded as it is sorely missed.
|Movie:||– A flawed movie, but a decent one.|
|Video:||– A flawed movie, but a decent one.|
|Audio:||– Nothing special. This movie could have used a 5.1 track during the scenes in the woods.|
|Features:||– A well packed DVD.|
|Overall:||– A crammed DVD and a decent debut.|
While there are problems with the story and the acting, the movie as a whole is not bad. For $15.95 shipped, it’s worth the purchase. Granted, you can get a Hollywood blockbuster for the same price, but Path is a labor of love, and it is a nice addition to the collection. The special features alone are worth the price, as they are highly re-watchable. I hope Stephenson will one day revisit this story with a bigger budget and a tighter script.
(Reviewed in April 2004 on a Sony 27" WEGA with a Sony DVP-CX850D DVD player and Sony STR-K750P HTS.)