We say it over and over: today is a golden age for independent filmmakers. Stories need to be told, and the tools and resources are available for almost anyone to make their own movies. Vicky L. Neal and Richard Poche’s noir/grindhouse thriller, The Lioness, is the perfect example of no-budget DIY filmmaking.
Megan (Lacy Hartselle) is the titular lioness. She’s come to a dead-end in her life—dreams of owning her own nail salon replaced by the harsh realities of surviving alone in the world. Megan finds herself dancing as a stripper to make it day-to-day.
Other young women join Megan in similar hopeless situations. Linda (Giuliana Gutierrez) is a single mother who needs money for the legal expenses to get her daughter back. Goldie (Gabriele Orebaugh) is driven by the thrill of stealing for no reason other than the high. Then there’s Anna (Desi Ivanova), who runs the strip club and finds herself in too deep with the wrong “investors,” but still enjoys treating the ladies like dogs nonetheless.
It’s so simple: the strippers dance and make money. But nothing is ever simple in the movies. Goldie impulsively steals the night’s deposit and goes on the run. Megan follows her, and the two discover the deposit is way too big for a strip club to make each night. So the two decide to go on the run and live new lives far away. Meanwhile, Anna has to explain to her “backers” why the club’s money is missing and threatens Linda to go after Megan and Goldie.
“…dreams of owning her own nail salon replaced by the harsh realities of surviving alone in the world.”
So, let’s not kid ourselves. When you watch The Lioness, its lack of money and formal filmmaking training is instantly apparent. There’s a lot to pick apart with the film—cheap sets, less than Oscar-worthy performances, extensive use of obvious ADR, and a script that could have used two or three more rewrites.
There’s also much to like and admire about the film. First, Neal and Poche set out to make a thriller, and that they did. The Lioness has all the essential elements of intrigue, sympathetic characters in pathetic situations, sex, double-crosses, threats of violence, and breaking of the fourth wall like any good noir.
Also standing out is Lacy Hartselle, as Megan, who is exceptional in her role. She is the one breaking that fourth wall and she makes it feel natural. She’s strong, troubled, and probably the most complex of the four main characters.
Lastly, the filmmakers make a fantastic choice that others may not have. The movie is only fifty minutes long. They could have easily padded the film, created extra bits on the fly, or added scenes they removed from editing. Instead, they had fifty minutes of good footage and a story that has a beginning, middle, and end—giving us the best film that could have been made. That shows discipline and respect for audiences.
The Lioness is a bad B-movie at best, but there’s a low-budget DIY spirit emanating from these independent filmmakers that make it worth giving a bare recommendation. If you manage your expectations right, you’ll have a good time.
"…there’s a low-budget DIY spirit emanating from these independent filmmakers..."