Back in 2016 I found myself at the May Day Film Festival in Evansville, Indiana where one of my films was screening and two of my good friends were being inducted into the festival’s hall of fame. Since I planned to be there for most of the day I asked the promoters which films I should check out if I had the chance. One of the two films mentioned was “Margo”, a post-apocalyptic drama and the feature length debut of Illinois director/writer Matthew Packman. Sadly, “Margo” was playing early in the day and I arrived too late to see it. Luckily, I had the chance to meet Packman at the show and was able to hang out and talk with him and shortly after he sent me a link to watch his film. Which, I might add, took home the top award for Best Picture that weekend.
Margo was a wonderful debut film that had a lot to say and I found Packman to be very genuine, humble and a talent that was not to be overlooked. His new film is titled “Morbid Colors” and he sent it over to me this week to get my thoughts on it.
While they say movies are a collaborative medium and it takes a team to make one, at the end of the day film is usually being driven by the vision of the director with the team servicing that vision. But with Morbid Colors, Matthew decided to let go of his full control—not an easy challenge for any artist—and experiment in a different way of making a film. Here he found himself allowing the film to be shared directionally by his two lead actors/producers, Kara Gray and Lanae Hyneman. The trio would intimately work hand and hand in every facet of the final product from story to editing. They treated Morbid Colors as a band treats the music they compose together.
Morbid Colors is a fresh look at the vampire tale but focused more on the humans in the story rather than the monsters we are used to seeing on screen. Horror in many ways takes a backseat here in exchange for a portrait of two foster sisters, Myca (Gray) and Devon (Hyneman) struggling with the trials of their young, yet hard road lives. Myca is the reckless older sister who has returned home from I believe some sort of rehab and is picked up by her younger, introverted little sister Devon. Devon seems to be the only person in the world who seems to care about Myca and everyone in her life, even her own foster mother, seem to want to force a wedge between the two girls.
Devon is the guitarist of an all-girl rock band who want nothing to do with Myca upon her return but when their drummer falls ill they relent and give Myca a chance. But at the end of their first number at an important show, the troubled young woman suddenly becomes sick on stage, vomits what appears to be blood and runs away. Devon and Myca are fired from the band. It is also revealed that due to an event in her past, Devon has a condition that causes her to black out in moments of anxiety.
Myca reveals to her sister that she believes a wealthy woman she encountered has infected her with vampirism and that she now has an insatiable thirst for human blood. Devon wants to help but Myca insists the only thing that can cure her is to find the woman who did this to her and kill her. So the two hit the road in hopes to save her life and their relationship.
Morbid Colors is a low budget film—under ten thousand dollars—but in some ways it serves the film for what it is. This film is an intimate story and a lot of it is shot in close-ups but when it goes wide, Packman gives us some pretty vistas. He noted westerns as only one of his many influences on the film. The independent feel and sound of the film kept reminding me of Larry Fessenden’s “Habit” at times, one of the great indie films from one of it’s leading artists. The film may not be the casual horror fan’s tastes as there is very little horror, very little blood and spends most of it’s 100 minute runtime dealing with the inner turmoil of two damaged young women trying to support one another in a hopeless, desperate, bleak reality. It takes a good twenty minutes to really find its direction and the audio gives it more of a video vibe which may turn some off.
The strength of the film is its script and the performances of Kara Gray and Lanae Hyneman. I found them both very believable and heartfelt. The fact that both actresses were so involved in the project as much as Packman really shows that they were giving this project as much of energy and love as anyone involved. This was no work for hire gig but a passion project for both. Gray gets to go through every extreme while Hyneman has the tough duty of handling the silent performance as an observer of Myca’s descent into finding her demons, facing or embracing them. Another highlight of the film is Packman’s collaboration with filmmaker Jakob Bilinski (Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh) who not only pulls acting duty in Morbid Colors but was the colorist on the film. His ways with color have always impressed and that continues here on this picture.
While technically a vampire film, I in many ways can’t totally define it as one because Morbid Colors is at its core a road movie about two damaged young women with a bond that is shaky but perhaps will stabilize throughout their journey to find resolution. Packman told me the two films he watched the most while shooting the film in 2018 were “Near Dark” and “Sid & Nancy.” I can see influences but make no mistake, this is not some homage as Matthew strikes me as a filmmaker looking to find his own voice. It’s a good voice. It may not be the one you’re listening for but in the world of low budget filmmaking in his neck of the woods, it’s refreshing to see someone choosing poetry over excess. Matthew Packman’s “MORBID COLORS” is currently making the festival rounds. You can pick up his previous film “MARGO” on dvd over at amazon.