A Low-Budget Gem: “The Recovered” (2006)

“The Recovered” (2006) Trailer; Directed, written, and produced by: Jay Bauman & Mike Stoklasa; Edited by: Jay Bauman; Lighting: Jay Bauman; Still photography: Niki Rose, Scott Winklebleck; Music: Nathaniel Levisay; Starring: Tina Krause, Douglas W. Rose, Benjamin Budd; Genre: Horror / Psychological thriller; Runtime: 81 minutes

The one thing that strikes you more than anything in “The Recovered” is the restraint with which it was made. Usually, low budget movies in the horror/thriller genre are a bit excessive when it comes to gore, nudity, or violence (or all three of them). Here, we find no nudity, very little violence, and the goriest scene (which is also very effective) comes in about halfway through the movie, and lasts maybe less than one minute. It must be said that for a shoe-string budget movie, it does not look cheap. And, from a technical (and a storytelling) standpoint, it is miles better than any other current very low-budget productions.

A young woman named Beverley Sloan (played by Tina Krause) receives a phone call telling her that her mother died. She returns to her hometown, to make arrangements for the funeral. While staying in her empty childhood house, her confused, heavily medicated mind begins to play tricks on her, and she decides to throw away her pills. The title of the movie refers to the repressed memories that Beverley recovers when she gets back home. The real memories (seen in flashbacks) begin to mangle with the fantasies of a mad mind. What is real and what is not? What was so terrible that needed to be buried so deep into her mind, under such a heavy dose of medication? The plot revolves around the woman’s psychological struggle in dealing with these traumatic memories. Yes, it is a thin plot, but this movie is more about style and atmosphere, than story.

The movie puts the viewer into the girl’s head, we see everything through her eyes, her perception of reality – confusing and lethargic – in the first part of the movie she is on medication, so everything is dulled out, her mind is anesthetized, while in the second part, when she stops taking her pills, she comes back to life, in a way, and her memories, her psychosis, her fears, her hallucinations take over.

Low budget filmmaking has a great tradition in the history of cinema. Directors had to struggle all the time with a low budget or no budget at all, and this forced them to be more creative. This is how the art of filmmaking evolved over the years – through the directors overcoming such obstacles. This is how such very influential films as “Cat People,” “Detour,” or “The Evil Dead” (1981) got to exist. These films are no longer seen as low-budget movies, but as movies, pure and simple. For that reason, “The Recovered” shouldn’t be judged as a low-budget film, it should be judged as a film. We shouldn’t think “Does the movie work as a low-budget feature, compared to other low-budget features,” but “Does it work as a movie, as compared to any other movie?” And the answer is, yes it does.

The script is pretty simple, leaving the directors free to visually create a haunting and disturbing world that is Beverley’s mind. The dialogue in “The Recovered” is scarce, the characters saying very little and only banalities. In fact, it makes you wonder whether Bauman & Stoklasa wanted to make a small commentary about what can be lurking behind the seemingly ordinary words and behavior (but that’s probably reading too much into it). Beverley Sloane seems normal to everyone – she certainly speaks and acts normal in front of everyone else. Her boyfriend seems at the beginning of the movie to be the only one who really knows her, but she hides her true madness from him as well. Only the audience gets to see the “real” Beverley, with all her traumatic memories and nightmarish hallucinations.

The acting is decent, Tina Krause proving that she is capable of carrying out a more dramatic part than her usual ones (this being, probably, the best movie she’s ever been in). The music is effective in creating a haunting atmosphere, blending well with the photography and the editing.

The movie has its flaws. The cinematography and the lighting are not always great. “The Recovered” does have some creative shots, but not enough. The pacing is sometimes too slow (especially in the first half), and the ending is unsatisfying to say the least.

There are two scenes that I found to be unintentionally funny. One is at the beginning of the movie when the main character gets her pills, and just starts to line up never ending bottles. The number of pill bottles seemed a bit ridiculous – I’m not a doctor, but I’m willing to bet that if a person took just one pill (not two or three like our heroine did) from each of those bottles, that person would be comatose in five minutes. The second one happened during one of Beverley’s flashbacks/hallucinations. This is not the filmmakers’ fault; it’s just my personal experience. I have seen their horror comedy, “Feeding Frenzy,” before seeing this movie. Both films use the same hardware store and the same back room in certain scenes. The back room in “Feeding Frenzy” hides some creatures that are, basically, hand puppets. So when I saw Mike Stoklasa tied up to a chair in the same (or a very similar) back room as in “Feeding Frenzy,” I was expecting the puppets to jump out and bite his head.

With that being said, this film shows more talent and competence than about 95% of the mainstream releases. They could have gone in the sexploitation direction very easily, but they didn’t (there are very few “sexy” shots of Tina Krause in this movie) – and that shows a level of artistic integrity that we just don’t see very often in today’s moviemaking world. Fortunately, for every Brett Ratner or Michael Bay there is a Bauman & Stoklasa. They showed that for them, movies are more than a way to make a quick buck. They care about their films, and that makes us, the audience, care.

Over the last few years, Red Letter Media has been focusing more on producing comedy… But if they ever decide to make another “dramatic” movie, I, for one, can’t wait to see it.

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