The Brilliant Terror, 2021.
Directed by Paul Hunt and Julie Kauffman.
Starring Mike Lombardo, Jeremiah Kipp, Ashley Thorpe, Heidi Honeycutt, and Julie O’Connor Ufema.
A documentary about the grassroots horror phenomenon, the filmmakers, the fascination and the brilliant terror.
It’s easier than ever today to make your own movie, with the lowering prices of “pro-sumer” video hardware and the democratisation of online video platforms allowing filmmakers to send their visions off into the world.
But even the typical definition of “low-budget” cinema is orders of magnitude beyond truly grassroots micro-budget filmmaking, made not for “only” $1 million but mere thousands or even hundreds of dollars – often from the director’s own pocket.
Paul Hunt and Julie Kauffman’s affectionate, warts-and-all documentary The Brilliant Terror offers a boots-on-the-ground look at a horror filmmaker, Mike Lombardo, as he attempts to bring his genre dreams to life on a shoestring budget, roping in as many willing pals as possible to complete his new short film, The Stall.
Lombardo, a filmmaker who yearns to make more “serious” films, confesses upfront that he turned towards sillier horror fare because it’s “hard to fuck up,” and even when something doesn’t quite work, it can often be saved by the cushion of (unintentional) comedy. Despite his obvious frustration as an artist working within strict production confines, he makes for an affable, easy-to-root-for subject, as Hunt and Kauffman chronicle his highs and lows both personally and professionally.
This documentary ably captures the stresses of independent film production without an expert crew and generous budget; Lombardo has to wear many, many hats himself and is forced to return for stressful reshoots to complete his short, while also battling tiredness, depression, and the anxiety of worrying for his ill mother.
Despite this, Lombardo remains an enthusiastic subject for the most part, unable to hide his love for filmmaking even when it threatens to overwhelm his day-to-day existence. His euphoria at a blood squib going off exactly as planned is strangely heart-warming, conveying the can-do spirit of a director out in business for himself.
Hunt and Kauffman also speak to a variety of other low-fi horror filmmakers attempting to will their own work into existence, providing worthwhile perspectives on the agony and ecstasy of making a movie no matter the price point.
The doc may not have much of a clear structure – cutaways to experts discussing the psychology of fear feel like they’re playing for time – and it could’ve definitely done with a few more prominent figures in the micro-budget filmmaking scene, but still elucidates a clear picture of what it’s like to be a true indie director today.
An inspiring in-the-trenches documentary about grassroots horror filmmaking, The Brilliant Terror proves to be at once informative, entertaining, and heartfelt.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.