How often have you sat up and said, “I can make a movie”? How many of you have tried? Did you find it difficult? Did you decide it was impossible? Did you finally say, “F**k it”? Well, for every one of you that picked up that camera and went balls out insane, have I got a brilliant film for you.
Director Justin Channell, fresh out of high school, has crafted one of the funniest and most irreverent DIY films I have seen in a long time. Raising the Stakes takes a look at two perpetual high school losers who dream of making it big one night in the dark spotlight of bloodsucking eternity.
“Stakes” follows the misadventures of Steve (Josh Lively) and Bob (Zane Crosby) two half-witted pop culture spewing icons, constructed of equal parts Kevin Smith and Trey Parker. In fact, Lively and Crosby are so steeped in throwaway film references that they’re very nearly speaking their own language cribbed together from an encyclopedic knowledge of Star Wars universe and the notorious career of one, Mr. Ben Affleck. These are the two guys who were deemed not cool enough to play Dungeons and Dragons, the two morons that never had a spot to eat in the cafeteria and were the daily recipients of swirlies administered on the 2nd floor bathrooms of high schools all across this great segregationist land of ours – The losers.
The tale of our anti-heroes is one of woe. Unable to terrify the denizens of small town USA with their plastic fangs and purple eye makeup, they make a deal with a strange man who lurks the video store isles in search of lonely teenage boys (it’s not what you think….or perhaps it is). After our mystery man, who harbors dreams of world domination (and who doesn’t), sells our intrepid imbeciles a potion to turn them into “real” vampires, our boys are about to find out that in the land of the undead, feeding isn’t the only part that sucks. No less idiotic, and no more brawny, Steve and Bob morph into two pasty vamps with a serious need for blood and no viable options for getting it. With their demise looming, the pair have less than 4 days to come up with four grand in order to secure the antidote and save themselves from certain death.
The whole of the film’s success lies in our identification with Steve and Bob. Sure they’re stupid and sometimes you want to strangle them, but damn if all that bright shiny optimism doesn’t just smack you right in the funny bone. With a budget that likely wouldn’t buy dinner for four at Taco Bell, director Justin Channell manages to paint together a collage of rapid-fire jokes into a cohesive film. Yeah, the picture has more grain than a chicken coop and Channel somehow managed to make a vampire flick with zero bloodshed, but that’s not the point. All of the films shortfalls are completely erased when you consider the amateurish but arguably hilarious performances of Channel’s crew of miscreant actors. They flub lines and often look as if they don’t know the camera is on them, but overall the delivery of the witty dialogue is spot on and the characterizations echo with a sweet reality, too often missing in the over analytical post –Scream Hollywood fare.
Now, lets get a bit over analytical – If you contemplate for a moment that vampirism is the catalyst for the films realization, but discount the idea that vampires equates to horror, then it may just occur to you that the themes of high school alienation are as prevalent in this film as they are in Teen Wolf or Sixteen Candles or in any given episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In fact this exercise in maverick guerrilla filmmaking seems to be channeling the self-referential psuedo-reality that most teenagers are shuffling through, oblivious to the very fact that they are outsiders yet keenly aware of societies extreme interpretations of what is and is not “cool”. So taken for what it is, and with a proverbial grain of spilt salt tossed over my shoulder for luck, I would say that given the pretexts under which this film was made, the cast and crew deserve the highest marks for putting together 75 minutes of utter hilarity that cleverly disguises the universally acknowledged storyline of teenage trauma. Perhaps Raising the Stakes is a film that could only be made by someone as young as Channell, someone with that freshness, who has a finger on the pulse of the cynical and ironic jugular that is modern adolescent angst.
In the cinema of Weird Science comes to South Park, the troika that is Director Justin Channel with actors Zane Crosby and Josh Lively may have just born witness a new generation of slacker cinema and it’s about damn time.