Threshold [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Arrow Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (5th July 2022).
The Film

Tabloid Witch Award (Best Horror Feature Film): Powell Robinson and Patrick Robert Young (winner) - Tabloid Witch Awards, 2020

When his mother calls him in the middle of the night with news that she has tracked down his estranged sister Virginia(Madison West), Leo (Joey Millin) reluctantly drives out of town to retrieve her. Nearly knocked over by a figure in a red cloak in the hallway of his sister's apartment building, Leo discovers Virginia seemingly in the middle of a withdrawal-induced seizure from which she quickly recovers, claiming to be perfectly fine. Virginia willing goes with Leo but her continuing odd behavior including fugue states and self-mutilation unnerves him enough that he insists on taking her to rehab instead of home. Virginia claims that she is not on drugs, and that she was able to kick her habit with the help of a cult; however, she had to participate in a ritual in which she was psychically-bound to a man she had never met (proof of it being her ability to feel his pain when they slashed his chest open). She claims that she can still feel him and begs Leo to help her find him since his behavior is becoming as detrimental to herself as to him. Leo disbelieves his sister who left a promising law career to check out on painkillers and harder drugs but even he cannot explain some of the stranger things he sees. As they cross the country and the other man's presence gets stronger knowing that death (hers or his) can only break their bond; only then do they wonder if they are actually being lured into a trap.

A virtual two-hander with only one other substantial onscreen role, voice-only bit parts, and a pair of extras who bare some and all for their craft, Threshold is intimate in scope and scale in spite of some state-hopping, having been shot entirely on two iPhone smart phone cameras in 4K inside cars, motel rooms, B&B's, parking garages, as well as empty stretches of country road and parking lots. The plot would not seem so frustratingly vague if the structure did not feel so monotonous, in spite of the efforts of leads Millin and West the former particularly as he is allowed to respond "naturally" to the inexplicable to build their rapport beyond a sort of sitcom rhythm that seems to result from the attempt to bring out character via light banter. The scares are rather routine in conception and staging, with the film overall feeling like it was built upon a template along the lines of what the filmmakers identified on the commentary of a temp score of tracks from Stranger Things and House of the Devil. The final twist seems more cheeky than clever. While the "limitations" of iPhone photography are easy to forget thanks to coverage that seems mostly static and functional until one of the film's reveals. While the increase in the presence and influence of horror film festivals has reshaped the genre and the boom of streaming venues has flooded the market with a range of low budget and no-budget features, in the case of Threshold the sophomore effort of co-directors Powell Robinson and Patrick Robert Young following Bastard which was one of Lionsgate's "8 Films to Die For" these factors provide and encourage experimentation that is discouraged even for the genre's major players.

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Video

Shot in 4K on iPhones in largely static setups, Threshold's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.00:1 widescreen Blu-ray image looks fairly crisp, clean, and colorful in its brightest scenes given the lower latitude for grading of iPhone video. Noise is not distracting in saturated hues and the increase in underexposure noise in some of the darker location scenes is part of the film's texture while some scenes atmospherically dependent upon revealing and obscuring sights in shadow were probably shot brighter and darkened in post.

Audio

The sole audio option is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that boasts clear dialogue (some ADR'd) and does the usual in terms of modern horror film surround tracks with directional front channels and the rears giving spread to rumbling and the lurching score. Optional English SDH subtitles are free of errors.
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Extras

The film is accompanied by a pair of commentary tracks. The first audio commentary by directors Powell Robinson & Patrick R Young, and editor William Ford-Conway is very frank in discussing the influences of recent genre highlights, accepting the limitations of the iPhone in shooting, the heavy use of Pulp Fiction-esque cross-cutting in the many dialogue exchanges between the two leads, and overall admitting that their "lack of urgency" following the shoot was as much a challenge to editor Ford-Conroy as the shooting notes they gave him that often did not document the changes as they shaped the improvised performances during the shoot, lacking the words to convey or disagreeing about the intended tone of sequences, and finding some solutions in the guesswork the editor did in attempting to put together a first cut. In the second audio commentary by directors Powell Robinson & Patrick R. Young, producer Lauren Bates & lead actors Joey Millin and Madison West, the quartet reflect on the non-chronological shoot in which some scenes had interiors in Los Angeles and exteriors in Utah or Nevada, stolen shots, how ADR altered some of the performances, abandoning some of the more flashy shots they thought they would be able to achieve by mounting the iPhone to provide unconventional views (including their intention to tape one of the phones to the steering wheel), as well as trying to match the location lighting to reshoots and pickup shots.
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"Crossing the Threshold" (88:25) is a documentary that is longer than the feature, starting with co-directors Powell and Young recalling their frustration with the starts and stop of various projects following Bastard which had a full script, crew, cast, and shooting schedule and their decision to do something looser and smaller with Robinson's savings and Young's paychecks from a pair of Lifetime movie scripts after seeing the Steven Soderbergh's iPhone-lensed Unsane and developing a "voyeuristic" style with the phones that suited the film. Actors West and Millin along with supporting actors and (not that one) discuss improving and riffing off each other, sleeping in the film's car, and concerns over lack of space. The co-directors also discuss the location scouting for the AirBNB houses and national park backdrops in contrast to other scenes where they just stopped the car at an interesting-looking setting and shot guerilla-style and concede that the ending was created on-the-fly with a goal not so much revelatory as being "just weird and batshit as possible."

"Elevating iPhone Footage: Color Correction Breakdown" (2:57) is a brief piece looking at how the iPhone 8+-lensed footage shot using Moment lenses and the Filmic Pro app in UHD 4K with the flat curve setting was graded in Da Vinci Resolve, offering before and after shots with the image softened, a simulated film curve applied, and grain added. Owing to the small sensor of the phone and the flat profile which captures with lower contrast but not the latitude of actual raw video the changes are not drastic but the increased contrast and warmer colors do suit the mood of the finished film.
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"Something from Nothing" (61:50) is a remote indie genre director roundtable moderated by critic and filmmaker Scott Weinberg with Threshold's Robinson & Young, We Follow You's Brandon Espy, Coherence's James Byrkit, The Den's Zach Donohue, and Witch Hunt's Elle Callahan focusing on tips for stretching your micro-budget, the "anybody can make a movie now" perception, the public's greater interest in films outside the mainstream since the pandemic started, as well as the reshaping of the genre through framing devices of found footage, social media, and other technical innovations. "The Power of Indie Horror - Acting for Unconventional Film" (44:00) is another roundtable discussion moderated by realqueenofhorror's Zena Dixon with the Threshold's West and Millin, Followed's Kelsey Griswold, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones' Gabrielle Walsh, and The Gallows' Ryan Shoos who discuss atupical filming styles involving found footage, phone cameras, social media apps, and improv acting without a script.

"The Sounds of Threshold" (24:14) is the full soundtrack by Nick Chuba track by track while the original outline script is a gallery of the twenty-three page document that is indicative of the amount of planning and development that went into the project before the cast and crew took to the road for their guerilla shot. The disc closes out with the film's theatrical trailer (1:52), teaser trailer (0:37), and an image gallery.

Packaging

Not provided for review were the reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Coffee and Cigarettes or the illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by Anton Bitel (the latter only included in the first pressing run).

Overall

While the increase in the presence and influence of horror film festivals has reshaped the genre and the boom of streaming venues has flooded the market with a range of low budget and no-budget features, in the case of Threshold these factors provide and encourage experimentation that is discouraged even for the genre's major players.

 


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