21st May2015

‘Pieces of Talent’ Review

by Mondo Squallido

Stars: David Long, Kristi Ray, Taylor Kowalski, Barbara Weetman, Jon Stafford, Nate Panning, Joy Merrow, Shane Callahan, John Marchioni, Simon Crist, Shaun O’Rourke, Johnny Blanton, Patt Noday, Donna Stamm | Written by Joe Stauffer, David Long | Directed by Joe Stauffer

pieces-talent

Those who know me personally within certain circles know that I have something of a distaste for a lot of the underground horror films released over the past couple of years. Especially when it comes to “extreme” underground horror. If I had a penny for the amount of times I have been coaxed in to watching an effort that’s been hyped or included in one one of those tedious “MOST EXTREME HORROR FILMS!” slideshow videos on Youtube (You’re always going to get a lot of views doing one of those lists by the way!), only to be completely disappointed and bored out of my skull, I’d have been able to finance my own bloody film! Forgive me for generalising here, but why are so many clearly talented filmmakers within the scene producing so many uninspired August Underground and Vomit Gore clones?

I won’t name any names because I smell a potential shitstorm in the air as it is! I just find these loud and childish shocking for the sake of shocking films to be so mind numbing! Where is the intelligent shock? Where are the films that are trying to actually say something? You may argue that I’m shouting on my soap box to the wrong crowd, but come on, I can’t be the only one right? Anyway, I will refrain from repeatedly kicking the hornet’s nest. A film that has popped up time and time again is Joe Stauffer’s (Dream) feature length debut, Pieces of Talent. Stauffer is a jack of all trades it seems as he wrote, produced, edited, scored, shot and directed the film. Will this be the film to help change my mind a little?

Kristi Ray (Because You’re Too Nice) stars as Charlotte, your archetypal down on her luck struggling actress living with her equally down on her luck alcoholic mother. To pay the bills, Charlotte works as a waitress in the friendly neighbourhood grotty strip club. Understandably, she hates it! One night she witnesses the club;s bouncer (a guy who if he says it’s Wednesday, you better believe it’s Wednesday!) being very heavy handed with a seemingly Average Joe who has had a tad too much to drink. Taking pity on the unfortunate patron, she decides to bundle him in his car, get him a cup of coffee, tend to his wounds and let him sober up. This sparks a rather unlikely friendship. It turns out that our Average Joe is actually a director by the name of David Long (played by David Long himself!). Once cleaned up and after exchanging the usual awkward pleasantries, Charlotte gives David her headshot (leave your filthy brain at the door!) in the hopes of potentially finding some work with her new industry friend. The pair eventually get the ball rolling on a project, but maybe Charlotte shouldn’t be counting her blessings too soon. You see, David has a dark secret and an even darker personal project that he is working on. Yep, our director is a psychopathic serial killer in the making! What does he have in store for the innocent Charlotte? Will their professional relationship be of the likes of Scorsese and De Niro or more along the lines of Polanski and Dunaway?

The first thing that struck me about Pieces of Talent was just how gorgeous the film looked! You tend to find films of this nature to be shot really poorly and cheaply, but this actually felt cinematic… The cinematography is just beautiful! To compliment that is an actual musical score. Yeah, I know it’s such a shallow observation, but when you have a film that looks and sounds as nice as this, your attention is kept even when some parts of the film tend to drag. Thankfully, those moments are few and far between as this an extremely well written and paced film. Both Stauffer and Long were involved in the writing and they did a splendid job. I won’t lie, some of the dialogue, especially between Charlotte and David does sound quite silly in places, but that’s just a minor gripe. Everyone puts 100% in to their roles and there are strong performances throughout. I have heard some argue that David was a tiny bit too over the top to take seriously. I would counter that argument because his character is a cliché, plain and simple.

Pieces of Talent is also very satirical. We have the typical young and in someways, naïve woman looking for acting jobs (thankfully, we venture nowhere near I Spit on Your Grave 2 stupidity), the maverick director who is also a serial killer in the making who wants to be remembered. There’s also a great dig at Hollywood talent who think they are bigger than the film projects they have top billing in. The satire (and I say this with no knowledge of Stauffer’s intentions with regard to this) is spot and works brilliantly. At this point, you’re probably (not) wondering about my thoughts on the “extreme” elements of this film. I have to say, I was relieved that the film was actually as reserved as it was in terms of graphic violence. It never goes over the top or outstays its welcome and the practical effects from Tony Rosen (The Conjuring) are executed brilliantly. If you’re looking for a good character study, there are also some really well done fantastical elements that help paint a vulgar picture of David Long.

Overall, I really enjoyed Pieces of Talent. It was satirical, darkly funny at points and tense when it needed to be. Everyone involved did a fantastic job, especially Joe Stauffer. I believe a sequel is in the works and I would happily give it a watch. It’s refreshing to see some form of intelligence being used in this oversaturated branch of horror cinema. The film isn’t perfect, but it a debut feature that I think anyone would be proud of. Definitely give it a try and keep a look out for Stauffer and any future projects. Has this film changed my overall viewpoint? I already feel like the Morrissey of indie horror as it is so I will just keep my mouth shut… I don’t actually know what that means.

**** 4/5

Pieces of Talent is available directly from the film’s website, as well as Toetag.

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