ACTORS WANTED aka OPUS (2011)
DIR: Micah Levin
Starring – Lola Blanc, Demarkes Dogan, Carolyn Jania, Dylan Moore, Brian R Norris, Arielle Ramos.
Out May 12th in the UK on DVD from Warwick Films !
Although everyone from Agatha Christie to Mario Bava might lay claim to a share of the royalties, a group of young people, all unknown to each other, being brought together in a remote location by an anonymous host sounds like it could be a pretty solid set-up for a generic, murder by numbers slasher, right? Not in the hands of writer / director, Micah Levin, who manages to ruin his and co-writer, Andrew Bird’s own good idea.
The young people are auditionees who have answered an anonymous Craigslist advert looking for actors for a horror movie. The advert has been posted by someone only ever referred to as “The Director”. As we meet these characters, it becomes almost immediately apparent that Opus is going to drag; introducing them via their audition tapes should have been a clever, convenient and concise way of introducing everyone.
However, it soon transpires that the enigmatic “Director” has cast only the people who sent him interminable tapes of themselves harping on about their whole life stories. But wait; this is serendipitous, as the film relies on flashing back to these tapes; the characters have rambled on so much that each audition tape contains the relevant information to explain each individual’s actions in any given situation. That’s a bit of luck. We are particularly exposed to the thoughts, dreams, memories, shopping lists, etc, etc of couple, Kelly and Caesar, whose personalities and relationship oddly change beyond recognition between the start and ending of their audition films.
The clips of these auditions are intertwined with footage of the group being dropped off at a remote house in the middle of a desert, which looks exactly like it should be in Tatooine. Whether this is intentional is not clear. Our heroes are concerned that there is no-one else around. So they start doing shots of tequila and go walking in the desert heat. Of course. There is A LOT of disparate dialogue, much of which would appear to be improvised. Now, these sequences might be an attempt to build tension, but the improvised dialogue undermines this by contradicting itself and we are now about an hour in and NOTHING HAS HAPPENED!!!
Eventually some people do die and there are some attempts to drop in clues that a certain protagonist might be letting on more than they know, but these are heavy-handed and too little far too late. At one point it seems that the movie might redeem itself and take an April Fools’ Day type turn, but this never happens. A “post-story” sequence, explaining the fate of one character is incongruously stuck to the end of the film and seems like an afterthought. The big twist is that “The Director” is Levin himself.
Ultimately, credit to Levin and Bird for trying to come up with something original. But the execution is not good enough. The fact is that watching Opus is a boring experience and that is the worst thing that can be said about any form of entertainment. The performances are not strong enough to deliver the improvised lines with any weight and Levin does not keep enough of a rein on his actors to stop their improvisation interfering with the story. Cinematographer Elie Smolkin deserves an honourable mention for making the most of some breathtaking desert vistas.