By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Jeremy Gardner, Brea Grant and Henry Zebrowski
Directed by Jeremy Gardner and Christian Stella
Written by Jeremy Gardner
Rustic Films/Kavya Films
Writer/co-director Jeremy Gardner might well have chosen the title for his second feature to reflect the fact that his movie with a monster in it is not really a monster movie. For about 90 percent of its running time, this isn’t horror, it’s…something else. But that 10 percent does contain one of the biggest scares I’ve had in a theater in recent memory.
Like Gardner’s debut feature THE BATTERY, SOMETHING ELSE (a world premiere at the current Tribeca Film Festival, having its final screening this Sunday), uses a traditional genre subject as the framework for an often comedic while also fully felt examination of the human condition. Once again, Gardner also takes the lead role, this time playing Hank, a bar owner in rural Florida who is first seen introducing his girlfriend Abby (Brea Grant) to the fixer-upper family manse they’ll be moving into. Their relationship seems blissfully perfect—and then the film jumps forward 10 years: Abby has abruptly departed, leaving behind a note with no explanations, and Hank is stewing in depression. His attempts to contact her, by phone or via her policeman brother Shane (Justin Benson, one of the producing team with his RESOLUTION/THE ENDLESS partner Aaron Moorhead and David Lawson), have been futile.
And to make matters worse, a mysterious creature has begun turning up late at night, clawing and pounding on his front door.
In THE BATTERY, a world infested with zombies was merely the backdrop for a two-hander in which the details of survival were more important than the ghouls threatening the pair of protagonists. SOMETHING ELSE is about a different kind of survival: How Hank deals with the brightest light in his life being extinguished, while…something else has come out of the darkness to terrorize him. Is the monster a metaphor for the personal demons haunting Hank? His friends, also including Wade (Henry Zebrowski), seem to think the unearthly entity is all in his head, and the physical evidence can be attributed to a wild animal. And anyway, the more important thing is that Hank reconcile himself with the love of his life taking off, and recognize the reasons why she left.
That portion of the story, incorporating numerous flashbacks to Hank and Abby’s life together, is the far greater one in SOMETHING ELSE, and it’s written and performed with a depth of feeling that would be remarkable in a movie of any genre. Gardner, as a guy with an easygoing attitude toward life and a corresponding lack of ambition, and Grant, whose Abby increasingly yearns for…something else, are terrific and share a chemistry that charges their romantic as well as their tense moments together. Some of their best moments are unspoken: Grant’s reactions as a dinner-table discussion turns to the subject of raising a family tell us everything we need to know about Abby’s frustrations. The pièce de résistance is a single-take shot that lasts around 14 minutes, fixed on Abby and Hank as they hash out the state of their relationship (though she does most of the talking). Like THE BATTERY’s final-act car sequence, it demonstrates that in Gardner’s hands (he shared directing chores here with cinematographer Christian Stella), minimalism backed by honest emotion can be absolutely riveting.
There’s a good amount of humor, too, quite a bit of it delivered by Zebrowski as Hank’s best bar bud; he’s hilarious as he natters on about aliens and other theories regarding Hank’s late-night visitor (as seen in the clip below). That beast, while relegated to the sidelines for the bulk of the running time and largely unseen, does make its presence explicitly known at a handful of moments, including that aforementioned Great Big Jump. This moment, and the others involving the creature, work so well because Gardner and co. get us so invested in their people, so that SOMETHING ELSE can movingly fulfill that old cliché: You’ll laugh, you’ll cry…and you’ll jump right out of your seat at least once.