In my high school drama class, the teacher would spend the last few weeks of each school year on film. We went over the early history of cinema, delved into favorite genres by decade, and analyzed editing techniques from the likes of Kurosawa. We did other movie-related work and research, of course, but the most important thing we did during that time was make short films.
Of all the ones I made, the most prominent that stick out in my mind are the silent films, the documentaries, a twisty mind-bender where I was a devil of some sort, and a drama about two siblings. However, even before this teacher took the initiative for a film class, my friends and I were making our own little shorts including one about a superhero and supervillain fighting in the forest.
Don’t Go Under The Stage is directed by Alex Conn and written and starring Conn and his schoolmates JP Keith, Zach Rogers, and Tariq Greene. These kids are playing versions of themselves as they meet up to investigate a haunted building. While searching the place, Zach finds an object underneath the stage, and he picks it up. He is now compelled to kill his three friends. Is there a way to stop the evil at large? Or is everyone on the chopping block?
“Zach finds an object underneath the stage, and he picks it up. He is now compelled to kill his three friends.”
Looking back at those movies I made over a decade later, I remain steadfastly proud of most them (though not all) in spite of their obvious flaws and lack of resources. I get the distinct feeling that the four gentlemen involved in the production of Don’t Go Under The Stage won’t have such fond memories of this six-minute short. The most glaring issue with the film is its dialogue. Mind you, the lines themselves might be perfectly serviceable, but they are unintelligible. For the vast majority of the film, the characters are constantly speaking over one another.
The opening shot of the movie is one of the four (whose name is never given) calling his friends to meet him at the library. Once everyone gets there, he shows them the abandoned building he wants to explore. Each friend is talking at the same time, so whatever is being said by any of them does not come across to the viewer. This issue happens in every scene that requires more than one person to speak. The movie is a headache to follow because of it.
Not that there is much here to try to follow. The object found under the stage maybe possesses Zach to become evil, or it kills him and replaces him with an evil doppelganger; or it is compelling him against his will. It is never made clear. The story is not well thought through whatsoever, to the point that early on, one of the friends (whose name is not stated) says he would love to explore the abandoned house. This film had such little thought put into that even the actors aren’t sure where it is meant to take place.
“…the screen turns red in a very Giallo-inspired moment.”
Sadly, Conn’s directing does not help. I can overlook the grainy footage and lack of kineticism for a variety of reasons. However, this is a supernatural slasher flick that does not even try to build atmosphere. After Zach grabs the object, the screen turns red in a very Giallo-inspired moment. After the others vow to get help, there is a quick scene of something written in colored gaffer tape; a warning of sorts. This shot should have been part of the (very truncated) exploration of the auditorium, foreshadowing the dangerous situation they find themselves in. It helps the audience feel like there are stakes before the real horror begins. But no, instead there is such a quick shot that the warning can’t be thoroughly read and it is after the first taste of something creepy.
In terms of good qualities, there is only one. The acting from all four, even when talking over themselves, is not too bad. The friends are clearly having fun and bring a certain energy to the movie. Those who have a death scene do a decent enough job at dying to sell it. The killer dons a menacing smile that in a more mood-centric piece would be genuinely chilling.
Don’t Go Under The Stage is not good at all, even by the very lax standards of school kids making a movie in one afternoon. On a technical level, the film is substandard, chief among its sins is the overlapping dialogue and should have been reshot. It lacks any sense of fun, and for a horror movie, it does not even bother to set up any atmosphere.
Don’t Go Under The Stage (2014) Directed by Alex Conn. Written by Alex Conn, JP Keith, Zach Rogers, Tariq Greene. Starring Alex Conn, JP Keith, Zach Rogers, Tariq Greene.
3 out of 10 Gummi Bears