Posts Tagged ‘Pop Culture’

It Came From Toronto After Dark: The Pact

July 6, 2012

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been lurking at the Toronto After Dark film festival’s summer screenings (if you’re in the GTA there’s still a chance to catch the second night of screenings on July 11 – Detention and V/H/S).  Toronto After Dark is a horror and genre film festival oozing with gobs of monster and rpg inspiration.  Most of the films the festival showcases won’t see wide release – so in addition to extracting some rpg goodness from each movie, I’ll also give them a bit of a critique, so fellow gamers can know what they need to track down and what to avoid.  I’ll try and keep spoilers to an absolute minimum.
Roleplaying games helped foster an unhealthy love of monsters, which hooked me at an early age to genre films, which in turn help to inform my tabletop games (in a weird kind of feedback loop).  This ongoing series of articles takes these influences and mashes them together to create a strange hybrid I call It Came from the DVR (although I seem to be in the theatre more often than in front of the television, but I’m not complaining – they have better snacks).

The Pact

After their estranged mother’s death, Annie’s sister convinces her to return to the family home and help put the estate in order.  A reluctant Annie arrives only to find her sister missing and a growing, frightening supernatural presence.  Emotionally raw, with plenty of reminders of her painful childhood, Annie attempts to uncover the mystery of her sister’s disappearance.

Solidly Delivers on the Creeps

The Pact isn’t going to blow anyone’s mind with originality (and the most clever parts of the script are the things I thought were the weakest – more on that below) but it does what it does extremely well and that’s deliver an extraordinarily creepy atmosphere.  It’s got all the trappings audiences have come to expect from supernatural suspense films: eerie figures moving off screen from the corner of the frame, apparitions suddenly appearing behind the protagonist, a medium who goes into paroxysms of terror when she enters the house, spirit photography and, of course, a Ouija board that moves on its own.  Nothing ground-breaking.  Then again, those tropes are repeated so often in the genre because they work, and writer/director Nicholas McCarthy knows how to use them effectively.  For example, McCarthy does an excellent job letting the audience know that a certain door in the house is very bad, just through the use of composition, music and the reaction of Annie.  It’s a great technique that is hard to pull off well (the 1963 version of The Haunting is another great example), but one that is excellent at ramping up the tension.  That build-up is essential in supernatural suspense because the actual jump-out-at-you scares are sparse; you’re kept glued to the screen by the threat that something bad could happen at any minute – and McCarthy uses this to make a dated suburban bungalow seem as creepy as on old gothic manor.
McCarthy’s best ally is actress Caity Lotz in the role of Annie.  Lotz’s ability to project the character’s emotional scars, without tons of script exposition, gives Annie an unexpected depth that I found engaging and sympathetic.  She was also fantastic at supercharging her character with the kind of expressive fear that really sucks the audience in – you can get away with just standing there and hysterically screaming in a slasher (they’re supposed to be a bit cartoony) but suspense thrives on authentic emotion.  Lotz’s reactions felt real, and I almost cheered when during her first encounter with the supernatural, she reacts by blindly lashing out at her attacker and getting the hell out of the house as fast as she possibly can.  I really hope she continues to work in the horror genre.
While I was hooked into the creep fest that was the first three-quarters of this film, I felt that the last act of The Pact fell short.  Much of the creepiness of the movie flows from not knowing, but the inevitable reveal of the film`s mystery robs The Pact of its scariest elements (which is the inherent trap of any mystery – not revealing anything would have been even worse).  During the film’s climax when I should have been biting my nails, I almost felt kind of safe, since the sense of dread McCarthy had built up so well was completely dissipated (see more under the spoiler tag).  The Pact is not alone in making this kind of mistake; I felt that to a lesser extent even Insidious suffered from this, so McCarthy’s work is at least in good company.
Despite of my complaints, The Pact has enough going for it that I recommend it to those that like the suspense horror genre and don’t need a big scary ending to enjoy a film.  If you’re spending the evening in on a dark and stormy night, I think it would make a great double bill with Stir of Echoes.

As I mentioned previously, the big revelation in The Pact is the film’s most original moment, and is cleverly executed, but is also its weakest point.  Once you realize that the supernatural force is merely trying to warn Annie, and that the real threat to those in the house is decidedly human, the film got a lot less scary.  I might be in the minority, but a mundane flesh and blood killer is much less frightening to me than a haunted house with freaky ghostly manifestations where anyone who spends the night disappears without a trace.
I do have to give kudos to McCarthy for not cheating the plot though; everything about the revelation made sense without invalidating the first three quarters of the film (even the sounds made sense, an excellent little detail I really appreciated).  When I see so much lazy writing on film and TV, especially where any kind of mystery is involved, it’s very refreshing to see something thought through from the beginning.  I just wish it hadn’t sucked all the scariness out of the film for me.

RPG Goodness

The Pact is a great resource for DMs who want to inject some supernatural suspense into their games since it’s a veritable dictionary of the tropes of the genre – and more importantly – shows how to execute them effectively.  As I mentioned in my review (with the example of the sinister door), one of the ways that McCarthy creates suspense is through the use of indirect information.  Incorporating this trick into the DMs toolbox is a little counterintuitive in a game with a long history of ‘read aloud’ boxed text, but is one that can help to create a really creepy atmosphere for the right kind of adventure.  Continuing with the example of the door, a similar situation at the game table might traditionally go something like this:

“The door at the end of the hall radiates palpable waves of fear and dread.  As you move closer the feeling intensifies and you have to clutch your weapons tightly to keep from trembling.  You press on even as every instinct screams that there is something very wrong here…”

There is nothing wrong with running an encounter this way (and it’s a pretty good in-game cue that there’s some kind of fear effect in play without being too gamey), especially if it isn’t pivotal to the adventure.  However, if the door is central to solving a mystery, and if the party are going to pass by the location several times, it helps to build suspense by slowly layering indirect information to the players instead of coming right out and telling them the door is bad.  Here are some examples of indirect information using the aforementioned sinister door:

  • If the characters make a point of keeping the door closed, have them find it open and vice versa.
  • Familiars and animal companions won’t overtly freak out, but always move in such a way that they avoid the door (a Perception check might reveal this to observant characters), and won’t cross its threshold unless forced.
  • Characters walking by the door might get a sudden chill and see their breath in the cold pocket of air.
  • A character who makes a moderate Knowledge (engineering) check realizes the door is in an odd location in relation to the rest of the structure and isn’t something most architects would build.
  • Characters who put their ear up against the door to listen hear someone on the other side whispering things about them, but the room beyond is empty.
  • Instead of their usual effect, divination spells regarding the door result in ominous automatic writing.
  • Characters searching the area who succeed at a hard Perception check notice a single torn and bloody fingernail lodged between the stones of the door’s sill.

Inheriting a Haunted House

The Pact (as well as the Poltergeist series), has another great lesson for DMs – the best hauntings are by multiple spirits with distinct personalities and goals (something especially important in D&D given the way that ghosts work mechanically).  This keeps the PCs on their toes, sows confusion if they assume they are dealing with a single spirit, and helps to up the creep factor by having an in-built narrative (with more than one ghost wandering around there’s got to be some kind of story there).
The easiest (and most classic) way to introduce this kind of adventure into the game is to have one of the PCs inherit property that turns out to be haunted.  Alternatively, the party could be asked by an NPC contact to protect an inherited estate from wandering brigands while they put their affairs in order (and as payment they are welcome to whatever knickknacks and baubles are lying around).
To be a true haunted house, it should be the lair of at least two or more ghosts.  Perhaps in life, one was murdered by the other out of jealousy and the murderer, now a ghost herself, prowls her hard won acquisition to keep intruders out and her crime a secret (and won’t rest as long as her reputation is publicly intact).  The murder victim tries to warn those who spend any time in the house but as a ghost, his communication is limited to the frightful moan ability (and won’t rest until his body is retrieved from its shallow grave in the cellar). If you’ve seen The Pact, then the last quarter of the movie holds a further complication that can be recreated in a haunted house adventure (one that I think would work a lot better in a D&D adventure than it does in the film).

It Came From Toronto After Dark: Juan of the Dead (Juan de los Muertos)

June 29, 2012

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been lurking at the Toronto After Dark film festival’s summer screenings (if you’re in the GTA there’s still a chance to catch the second night of screenings on July 11 – Detention and V/H/S).  Toronto After Dark is a horror and genre film festival oozing with gobs of monster and rpg inspiration.  Most of the films the festival showcases won’t see wide release – so in addition to extracting some rpg goodness from each movie, I’ll also give them a bit of a critique, so fellow gamers can know what they need to track down and what to avoid.  I’ll try and keep spoilers to an absolute minimum.
Roleplaying games helped foster an unhealthy love of monsters, which hooked me at an early age to genre films, which in turn help to inform my tabletop games (in a weird kind of feedback loop).  This ongoing series of articles takes these influences and mashes them together to create a strange hybrid I call It Came from the DVR (although I seem to be in the theatre more often than in front of the television, but I’m not complaining – they have better snacks).

Juan of the Dead (Juan de los Muertos)

In Havana, ne’er-do-wells Juan and Lazaro find themselves in the middle of a zombie outbreak sweeping across Cuba.  Amid the chaos, Juan tries to make amends to his estranged daughter, survive, and if he plays his cards right, maybe even turn a profit while he does it.

Surprisingly Fresh for a Film about Walking Corpses

Juan of the Dead surprises on many levels – and keeps you laughing while it does it.  The first thing I noticed was how good it looks.  Cuba doesn’t export a lot of movies, so walking into Juan I had every expectation that a zombie flick from Cuba would out of necessity have to be put together with bubble-gum and stock footage.  It turns out my assumptions were completely unfounded (or Cuba has some pretty awesome magic bubble-gum).  The zombie make-up looks great, there is ample blood (some of it CGI but there’s enough practical gore to satisfy horror lovers), and filmmaker Alejandro Brugues manages to use the visual language of classic zombie films (machetes, baseball bats, and crouching undead feasting on the entrails of the fallen) while expanding the repertoire with some really creative and fun kills (both zombie and human).  The film had the support of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) so, in addition to the better than expected cinematography Brugues also had access to many of Havana’s most recognized landmarks which provided some beautiful visuals all their own.
The involvement of the Cuban government is surprising not just because Juan is a horror-comedy, but also because a lot of its humor is driven by political satire (in the film, government officials refuse to recognize the zombies as undead, calling them ‘political dissidents’ instead).  Perhaps the film’s political grumbling is palatable when mixed with a heavy dose of physical comedy, genre commentary (after they realize what they’re up against, the main characters have a great conversation about the nature of the undead), and general zom-com fun and silliness.  I find the context in which the film was made fascinating.  It adds a tension to the whole thing that works very well with the suspense and dread inherent in any apocalyptic tale (even a comedy).
The group of misfits at the film’s core are funny and instantly likeable, in spite of their sometimes despicable actions and questionable personalities.  In another context they might easily be villains, but the script’s humor and the actors’ charisma are enough to charm the viewer into almost liking the characters because of their failings (something viewers of Shameless will be familiar with).
After great movies like Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland and Deadheads, I was worried the sub-genre would run out of juice, but Juan of the Dead’s final surprise is that zombie comedies still have fresh things to say and new ways to entertain.  Sure there’s some overlap (and I caught a great shout out to Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive), but no more than between any given group of romantic comedies.  Juan of the Dead is more than just the Cuban take on the zom-com (although it is also very much that), it’s also a film about fatherhood.  Through Juan’s relationship with his daughter, Brugues explores the competing interests of being your own man, doing what you need to do to survive and transforming into the kind of role model our children want us to be (all while never taking itself seriously).
Juan of the Dead proves the zom-com is here to stay.  I highly recommend this film – there are plenty of brains yet to be eaten and laughs to be had at a crumbling civilization’s expense.

RPG Goodness

Plot twists (and back stories) involving the PCs’ parents are familiar (and fun) territory when it comes to ‘campaign complications’Juan of the Dead (and my own steadily growing age) got me thinking in a slightly different direction.  What if, like the main character of the film, the PCs’ lives are complicated by the appearance of an estranged child?
Of course this campaign complication comes with its own unique obstacle – the small matter of the child’s origin.  If the player is willing to have their PC begin the campaign a little older than most starting characters, then it’s easy to introduce the child as an established part of the character’s backstory.  If not, it’s easy to imagine the wild adventuring lifestyle producing an unplanned child or two at some point in a PC’s career (what with tempting succubi, charming assassins and amorous demigods running around).  When the campaign calls, settling down to be a responsible parent is not in the cards (and is about as fun to role-play as operating a fruit stand), and the friction begins.
The storytelling possibilities for this kind of complication are near limitless, and if the player is willing to go along with it, can provide a lot of drama, comedy, and fun at the table.  Here are a few possibilities:

  • After hauling chests full of a slain dragon’s hoard back to town, one of the PC’s is tracked down by their bastard daughter, who immediately demands her right to inheritance.
  • A larcenous and chaotic PC’s son is a devout worshipper of St. Cuthbert (or other Lawful deity), who checks up on his parent from time to time in order to make sure they remain ‘on the straight and narrow’.
  • The PC’s daughter has gotten herself involved in the Cult of Elemental Evil (or some other villainous organization).  Is she a lost cause or can the PC repair their relationship and convince her to abandon her wicked way of life?
  • One of the PC’s is confronted by their son, who has just married into a wealthy and powerful family.  He is embarrassed by his parent’s adventuring life and asks the character to retire or change their name.  If they are aren’t willing to do either he uses his newfound coin and influence to ‘convince’ them to do so.

One of the things I really like about complications involving children is that even in an antagonistic situation; combat isn’t always the easy choice.  I once pitted my gaming group’s party against a band of wild orphans, led by a sorcerous twelve year old (she attacked with animated toys).  It was obvious to the players that although they were suffering damage, the children were merely acting out, their leader in the throes of a fierce tantrum.  Since the PCs didn’t want to have the slaughter of children on their heads, subdual, diplomacy and bribery were the strategies of the day.

Variant Zombies for Pathfinder

Juan of the Dead isn’t just about parents and their kids; there are also quite a few zombies – the classic kind of zombie that doesn’t die unless you shoot it in the head.    I really like the zombies that are presented in the Bestiary for Pathfinder.  I think the fast zombie and plague zombie variants that are included go a long way to bringing the D&D zombie more in line with the tropes of horror cinema.  At the risk of setting off an edition war (not here please, I like both editions plenty) though, I think that the 4e Monster Manual may have done it better.  In this edition of the game, zombies are especially vulnerable to critical hits, which just screams ‘shoot it in the head’ to me.  Fortunately, it isn’t hard to bring that mechanic into Pathfinder via a variant zombie simple template.  I even think it’s possible to improve on the 4e design by emphasizing how hard the walking dead are to kill unless you destroy their brain.

Unrelenting Zombie

“Just shoot them in the head!  They seem to go down permanently when you shoot them in the head.”

Some zombies are possessed with a particularly relentless and evil will.  These creatures shrug off most wounds, and only complete bodily destruction or the obliteration of their putrid brain can stop them from their pursuit of the flesh of the living.
Defensive Abilities: An unrelenting zombie gains DR 10/-.  This ability replaces DR 5/slashing.
Weaknesses: An unrelenting zombie gains the following weakness.
Critical Vulnerability (Ex): A confirmed critical hit roll against an unrelenting zombie destroys the monster’s brain, reducing it immediately to 0 hit points.  Additionally, any attack against the unrelenting zombie with extra sneak attack damage applied, bypasses the zombie’s damage reduction.


When combined with the plague zombie simple template (minus the change to DR), I think you’ve got the perfect Romero (or Juan) style zombie for Pathfinder.  With both templates applied, add +1 to the creature’s CR.

Toronto After Dark, Now With Appetizers

June 22, 2012

I’ve got a lot of love for the Toronto After Dark film festival – last year the festival inspired a few months’ worth of posts, and scored me my first interview – so I was pretty excited by the news that this year the festival is getting even bigger (and the prospect that there are a lot more weirdos like me lurking in the shadows of old T.O).  Not only has the actual festival expanded to nine nights (Oct. 18-26), but two summer screening ‘appetizers’ have also been added to whet your genre appetite before the fall.
I’m a little bummed out that the festival is leaving the Toronto Underground Cinema to go back to The Bloor (now called the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema).  The Underground seemed like such a good fit for the festival, even if the Bloor is a lot nicer (especially after the renovations), has some really great places to eat across the street (Sushi on Bloor!), and is near my super-secret place to park for free in the Annex (OK it’s not that secret).  Then again, maybe returning to the festival’s birthplace isn’t the worst idea.
The summer lineup looks promising too: Juan of the Dead (a Cuban zom-com filmed in Havana) and The Pact (a haunted house flick with a creepy trailer) screen June 27; Detention (high school slasher comedy with Peeta from The Hunger Games) and V/H/S (an anthology film tied together by a great premise) screen July 11.  If you’re in the GTA check them out – buy a double pass and the tickets are less than a regular movie.  If you already plan on going, I’ll see you next Wednesday.


Lego Embraces Steampunk Horror

June 14, 2012

One of the advantages to being an uncle to a small army of nieces and nephews is keeping up on the latest toy news (it’s a nice excuse).  While flipping through the summer Lego catalogue I ran across Monster Fighters, the company’s latest series of themed sets, and I thought I would share.  The story that ties the Monster Fighters sets together has the evil Vampyre (admittedly a horrible name) gathering the world’s monsters in an effort to collect the mystic moonstones necessary to carry out a ritual that will forever blot out the sun (a plotline that should be familiar to D&D players as it was used in both 2e’s Illithid trilogy of adventures and 3e’s Second Darkness adventure path).  Opposing the monsters are a group of steampunk and pulp flavored heroes (dig that pith helmet and blunderbuss!), some of whom even have pneumatic looking prosthetics.  Check out this awesome collection of minifigs (click to enlarge)!

Lego has some pretty awesome sets – the Star Wars and upcoming Lord of the Rings series are things of beauty – but I am overjoyed to see the company embracing classic movie monsters.  Is Lego predicting a resurgence in interest in the monsters of old, or have Frankenstein’s Monster, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Wolf Man already begun to percolate back into the pop culture mainstream (and I wasn’t told)?  I embraced a similar monster mania revival in the 80’s, so I have high hopes it will catch the interest of one of my nieces or nephews… it’s a good excuse for a trip to the Lego store and a night of monster movies.  The only thing that Lego could do to make this cooler would be to follow it up with a Cthulhu mythos themed series next year (that gill man could stand in for a deep one pretty easily).  Then again, maybe Lego bricks aren’t up to the task of constructing the non-Euclidean geometry of R’lyeh.

Interview with Mike Flanagan

March 13, 2012

Mike Flanagan is the writer and director of the breakout horror hit Absentia, which swept the festival circuit and releases on DVD today (distributed by Phase 4 films).  The film’s numerous awards are well deserved – for my money it was the most frightening film of the Toronto After Dark festival and its creepy, character driven horror has stayed with me since that screening (you can read my in-depth review here).
Recently I spoke to Mike Flanagan, who was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about his film.

Q: Do you have any experience with role-playing games (computer or tabletop)?  Have they ever influenced your work, or the way you tell stories?

A: I’m afraid I don’t … my college roommate was heavily into D&D, though.  But then again, I don’t even have time to watch television since the birth of my son, so it’s probably for the best.

Q: The monster from your film is truly creepy (and very hard to forget, thanks to a certain Psycho worthy scene).  What was the inspiration for its design?

A: It’s funny, there really isn’t a detailed depiction of the monster anywhere.  We always knew we couldn’t afford to really show it, so it was more about conveying general characteristics than an actual design.  I always thought of it like a giant silverfish, but with some odd Lovecraftian touches.  If you slow a certain shot of the film down, you can actually see it has at least one tentacle.

Q: People have been telling stories about the monsters that inhabit the darkness at campfires since the dawn of time (an illustrious tradition that now includes Absentia).  Other than the creature from your own film, in your view, what is the greatest monster and why do you think it frightens us?

A: I think we’re frightened by monsters because they’re there, and they shouldn’t be.  Kids get that.  No one does monsters as well as kids.  The one under the bed, the one in the closet … nothing will ever be that scary.  Kids figured out that the scariest part about a monster isn’t what it looks like, or what it can do, but WHERE IT IS.  I think a lot of our monster stories are about putting an inexplicable element of danger into a place that should be safe.  For kids, the monsters that scare them tend to be vague things that live in the dark … we all have a genetically essential fear of the dark, and I think that the scariest thing about monster stories isn’t about the monsters themselves … it’s that they’re there at all.

Q: Actors Katie Parker and Courtney Bell did a tremendous job portraying a troubled sibling relationship, complete with the kind of baggage-laden button pushing we reserve for the ones we love.  Was this scripted or was this something organic that developed between the actors?

A: It was a little bit of both.  They stayed on script for the dialogue, but the dialogue was written with their relationship (which is very sisterly) in mind.  I wrote them the way I’d seen Katie and Courtney interact before, so it wasn’t a stretch.  They bring a lot of their own relationship to those characters.

Q: Seeing as you were able to fund Absentia through Kickstarter, I’m not sure that the size of the budget necessarily defines good horror filmmaking.  That said, if money were no object, what is the story you’ve been dying to tell but never had the budget for?

A: Since I was a teenager, I’ve wanted to adapt The Season of Passage by Christopher Pike.  It’s a really cool book about a voyage to Mars that turns into one hell of a vampire story.  I’ve always had that one kicking around in my head.  But if I had to choose one impossible dream, it would be to adapt Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.  I know that Ron Howard is giving it a shot right now, and I have really mixed feeling about that.  But that would be my dream project.

Q: What current projects are you working on?  Do you intend to return to the horror genre?

A: I do indeed.  I have two projects in development right now, both horror films.  It’s kind of a race to see which one gets made first, actually.  I’m very excited about both, and think that fans of Absentia will really respond to them.  They both have much bigger budgets, but will also be character-driven horror films.  Thanks for your support of our little movie, and for spreading the word … it really means the world to a little film like ours.

You can follow Mike on his website here.

Toronto After Dark: Just the Crunchy Bits

February 16, 2012

Wow.  Eighteen films, 34 000 words, and about two months longer than I thought it would take to write it all up – and that’s without even mentioning the great short films that played before the screenings or the cool people I spent a week in line with.  I had fully planned for the posts to be quick and dirty, but the films were just too damn interesting for me not to overdo it.  Based on the amount of ‘crunchy’ material the films of the festival inspired in me, I hope my fellow gamers are encouraged to check some of the movies out for themselves and be inspired in their own games.
But it wasn’t all just the movies.  I’m very proud of that crunch, so to give it its proper moment in the spotlight, I’ve created this catalogue that organizes the After Dark posts by game material instead of by film.

Dungeons and Dragons

Skill Challenge: The Great Race
Ward Characters
Falling Barbed Cage Trap
The Mother of Toads
Haemophage Disease
Random Fey-Pact Events
Adventure Outline: Castaways of the Sargasso Prison
Power Sources and Monster Traits
Alignment Complications
Haunted Location Trap

Gamma World

Frankenstein’s Monster
Romero Zombie
The Zed Virus
Romero Zombie Template
‘Borg Template

It Came from Toronto After Dark: The Innkeepers

February 16, 2012

These It Came from the DVR articles are going to be a little bit different.  As an early Christmas present to myself, I picked up a festival pass to the Toronto After Dark film festival.  So the first difference is that these are new movies, on the big screen, instead of old ones and niche programming on the small screen.  The second difference is that these are going to be short.  I’ve got eighteen films to see in seven days (as well as dressing up for the annual zombie walk), so I’m not going to have a whole lot of time to write, and I want post these while the blood is still fresh.
Toronto After Dark is a horror and genre film festival oozing with gobs of monster and rpg inspiration, but most of the films it showcases won’t see wide release – so in addition to extracting some rpg goodness from each movie, I’ll also give them a bit of a critique, so fellow gamers can know what they need to track down and what to avoid.  I’ll try and keep spoilers to an absolute minimum.

The Innkeepers

This film tells the tale of the last days of the Yankee Pedlar Inn, an old New England hotel with an illustrious past but dwindling clients.  For employees and amateur ghost hunters, Claire and Luke, the hotel’s closing weekend is also their last chance to finally capture proof of the Inn’s supernatural activity.  They will soon wish they had left the old building in peace.

Great Characters, Sub-Par Scares

I had high hopes for the screening of The Innkeepers.  A good old-fashioned ghost story felt like the perfect note to end an incredible festival.  Unfortunately, Ti West’s film falls disappointingly flat.  The shame is, it isn’t terrible and I can’t help but imagine the great movie it could have been.  The Innkeepers has a lot in its favor; it just seems that somewhere along the line West forgot he was making a horror film.
The film benefits from some great characterizations, especially by Sarah Paxton and Kelly McGillis, who are genuinely funny (and in spite of what some people may think, comedy is important in a horror film – it breaks the tension and allows you to sympathise with the characters).  If you’ve ever had to work a minimum wage job in the service industry, you’ll sympathize with Paxton’s character Claire who manages to capture that perfect blend of boredom, resentment, and lack of ambition that comes with the job.  There is a deceptively simple scene in The Innkeepers where Claire has to take out an extra heavy garbage bag to the trash that captures that feeling absolutely perfectly.  The banter between her and her co-worker is great, and helps to pull the viewer into their world.  The funniest lines in the film though are given to McGillis’ character, an aging, bitter icon trying to reinvent herself as a new age healer.  I’m sure she drew on her lifetime spent in film and television to provide the acidic edge that makes the character so memorable.
I appreciate the amateur ghost chaser angle to The Innkeepers, as it makes the film timely (as a comment on recent reality shows like Ghost Hunters), while at the same time linking it to such classic films as Poltergeist and The Haunting (and less classic films like Hell House and Amityville 3-D).  It’s a promising set-up and the back story of the film’s ghost is tragic and interesting enough to hook the viewer in and keep them watching.
The pacing is very slow, which isn’t bad in itself as the characters are interesting, and you definitely get the sense that the film’s energy is building for a big climax.  Unfortunately, West never delivers on that big climax and the buildup is wasted.  Sure, there are some creepy, tense moments in there, but it never culminates in the big payoff you would expect.  In the Q+A after the screening, West expressed that he wanted to create a film where the existence of the ghost was ambiguous, and that the audience could walk away with either a mundane or supernatural explanation.  That’s a pretty cool concept, but one I don’t think The Innkeepers accomplishes, or even tries to.  The film is shot in such a way that the audience sees more than the characters do (and this technique actually generates one of The Innkeepers’ better scares), so there is never a question whether the ghost is real or a figment of Claire and Luke’s imaginations.  Instead of making a psychological horror film where the audience questions their own senses and experiences the fear and doubt of the characters, West has made a slow moving ghost story that isn’t very frightening.
I’ve also got to call out The Innkeepers for its depiction of asthma.  As a person with chronic asthma, it’s always bothered me how the condition is depicted in film and television.  The Innkeepers is hardly the worst culprit (that’s probably The Goonies), but since I’ve lived with asthma for most of my life, I feel a strange kind of ownership of it, and it drives me crazy when filmmakers misrepresent the illness so badly.  First, asthma can be controlled with regular medication.  Attacks that leave you panicked and gasping for air are dramatic and scary, so I understand why storytellers want to make use of it, but should be (if you aren’t sick, and are taking you medication) relatively rare.  If I have several attacks like that in the same day (most movies have four or five), then something is seriously wrong and I’m going to head for the emergency room immediately (the equivalent would be a character with diabetes falling in and out of diabetic coma throughout the film).  That’s a plot point you should only hit once.  But it’s hardly surprising that Claire has so many asthma attacks in The Innkeepers when I don’t think I’ve ever seen a character with ‘movie asthma’ take their medication properly.  After using an inhaler, if you immediately breathe out, you’re expelling the medication from your body before it has a chance to act (which is why some asthmatics use a tube that looks like an ‘inhaler bong’).  I’ll admit that The Innkeepers isn’t entirely deserving of this ire, but West makes use of asthma enough that his film is far from exempt from my ranting.
The Innkeepers is not recommended as a horror film.  It’s not a bad movie, but if what you are looking for is a scary ghost story you’re much better off looking elsewhere (Absentia, Insidious and Paranormal Activity are all great choices).  If you are a huge fan of Ghost Hunters and have a hankering for an hour and a half episode with better acting and good dialogue however, then The Innkeepers may be what you’ve been looking for.

RPG Goodness

Ghosts are one of those creatures that are very hard to translate into D&D terms in a way that emulates how hauntings are depicted in film and television (including The Innkeepers).  Throughout its history, each edition of D&D has dealt with ghosts differently and used different mechanical approaches to representing the tropes associated with hauntings: tormented spirits repeating activity in a loop, unfinished business, and revenge.
Old-School ghosts can possess the living, but are otherwise just powerful monsters (although possession can be used by DMs as a way for ghosts to try and bring closure to unfinished business).  During the 2e era ghosts are given a much fuller treatment in the Ravenloft campaign setting, especially the Castle Forlorn boxed set, which features a castle that loops through different periods of time to tell the story of the tragedy that took place there.  3e reimagines the ghost as a template that modifies existing creatures, which means that the undead spirit more directly reflects its living self, with the same abilities and the addition of ghostly powers.  My favorite part of the template though, is that ghosts reform a few days after being destroyed – the only way to truly rid an area of a ghost “is to determine the reason for its existence and set right whatever prevents it from resting in peace”.  4e abandons the template idea and treats ghosts as straight monsters (which is fine – the ghosts of commoners should be just as scary as the ghost of an adventurer).  The Open Grave supplement for this edition also introduces the concept of using traps and skill challenges to mechanically represent hauntings in the game.  It’s a fantastic idea, but I feel the sample skill challenge in the book is too abstract for the action of a ghostly adventure, and the traps listed don’t give the same sense of unfinished business that the ghosts from 3e embody.  The haunted location trap is my attempt to bridge that gap.

Haunted Locations

Sometimes the location of an especially tragic suicide or gruesome murder becomes infused with the anguish of the spirit of the deceased, too tormented by its own pain to move on to the Shadowfell.  The location becomes a beacon for the undead, and until the tormented spirit is laid to rest, is a perilous place for the living to dwell too long.
A haunted location requires more work on the DM’s part than a normal trap or hazard.  The DM must determine ahead of time what tragic event caused the site to become haunted, what object or set of circumstances will lay the spirit to rest, and what triggers the spirit to become active.
The haunted location can take the form of anything from a single room in the dungeon of a castle to a dilapidated mansion on a lonely hill.  This trap works best when combined in an encounter with a group of undead creatures of the appropriate level.  These monsters are all that remains of the spirit’s past victims, now absorbed into the haunted location’s malevolence.

It Came from Toronto After Dark: The Woman

February 11, 2012

These It Came from the DVR articles are going to be a little bit different.  As an early Christmas present to myself, I picked up a festival pass to the Toronto After Dark film festival.  So the first difference is that these are new movies, on the big screen, instead of old ones and niche programming on the small screen.  The second difference is that these are going to be short.  I’ve got eighteen films to see in seven days (as well as dressing up for the annual zombie walk), so I’m not going to have a whole lot of time to write, and I want post these while the blood is still fresh.
Toronto After Dark is a horror and genre film festival oozing with gobs of monster and rpg inspiration, but most of the films it showcases won’t see wide release – so in addition to extracting some rpg goodness from each movie, I’ll also give them a bit of a critique, so fellow gamers can know what they need to track down and what to avoid.  I’ll try and keep spoilers to an absolute minimum.

The Woman

This is a disturbing film with a bizarre premise.  When a conservative, small-town family man encounters a cannibalistic feral woman in the woods, he decides to capture her and bring her home to his wife and three children so they can civilize her as a ‘family project’.  Chained up in the barn, the presence of the dangerous feral woman exposes a darkness in the family that quickly erodes its whitewashed, seemingly ‘normal’, façade.

Dark Social Commentary

I should preface this review – I’ve never seen the film that precedes this one, The Offspring, but the two films are only loosely connected.  The Offspring doesn’t contain any plot information critical to this film, and while the movies can be viewed as a series, The Woman also stands on its own.
The Woman cannot be easily classified.  I wouldn’t call it a horror film, though there are moments when it is truly horrifying.  There is humor in The Woman, but I’d hardly call it a comedy (even a black comedy).  I can’t say that I enjoyed watching the film, but I also think it is a movie that is worth watching.  Director Lucky McGee keeps the audience on their toes, playing with our expectations and throwing the audience a curve ball whenever you think you’ve got this strange tale sorted out.
Sean Bridgers’ portrayal of family patriarch Chris Cleek, as a sort of diabolical Ned Flanders who begins to lose control as his monolithic authority cracks, is so perfect for the film it was almost uncomfortable seeing him speak after the screening.  In the Q&A, Bridgers had a very interesting view of his character when asked about the role.  He said that although he was nothing like Chris Cleek, he was still able to draw on some dark, buried part of himself to fuel the role.  It’s the kind of observation that I think applies to the whole film and its relationship with the audience.  There is some pretty heavy violence in The Woman, including a few very uncomfortable scenes of domestic abuse and rape.  Given the way that the ‘torture porn’ trend changed the landscape of horror films a decade ago, I think that McGee is confronting the audience with the ugliness of our dark psychological bits, rather than titillating them the way other horror traditions do.  It’s a fine line between glorification and commentary, and everyone has a different sense of that boundary, but to me Lucky Mcgee accomplished his goals without crossing that line.
Even though her character has no real dialogue in the film, Pollyanna McIntosh gives an equally gripping performance as the titular feral woman.  I was impressed with her ability to occupy the physicality of the role, and her glazed, sullen stare into the camera infuses the character with the aura of a caged animal.   If Chris Cleek stands in for the controlled, oppressive violence that underlies modern society, then the feral woman reminds us of the uncontrolled brutality of the natural world.  Even if the audience is cheering for the woman by the film’s climax, I’m not sure that McGee is presenting her as a viable alternative to the Chris Cleeks of the world.  It’s a grim portrait of humanity that places us in a tug of war between these two poles, as savage hunters who have the choice of preying on our family units or of preying on everything not joined to us by family.
There was some controversy that came out of the Sundance festival regarding The Woman, including people walking out of screenings, which is understandable if the audience isn’t prepared for the content, but I think this has more to do with the context of Sundance than the film being too appalling to sit through.  After a week of seeing decapitations, blood, and zombie cannibalism, the shock of The Woman was blunted, even if I was probably just as disturbed by it as the Sundance crowd (as far as I could tell, no one walked out of the screening at Toronto After Dark).
The Woman is recommended, but only if you’re prepared to be confronted by some alarming scenes.  I can’t say that you’ll have fun watching it (and it’s about as far from being a date movie as you can possibly get), but The Woman is anything but boring and is sure to provoke a reaction.

RPG Goodness

Much like Father’s Day, the subject matter of The Woman makes incorporating material from it in an rpg difficult (unless you’re making use of a disconcerting amount of the ideas in The Book of Vile Darkness).  Once its more controversial elements are removed though, I think the conflict in The Woman can be viewed in D&D terms that highlight the game’s alignment system (I’ll be using the nine-pointed alignment system, since that’s my favorite, not the three alignments of BX or the five alignments of 4e).
I think that the struggle between Chris Cleek and the feral woman is a great example of how the Lawful Evil and Chaotic Evil alignments interact with one another in D&D.  It would be hard to argue one of the characters was more or less evil than the other, but it’s clear that each represents a very different kind of evil, as diametrically opposed to the other as good is to evil.  For me, this is why the nine-pointed alignment system (that is, an alignment in two parts – the good vs. evil axis and the law vs. chaos axis) works so well – it handles the evil against evil conflict in a way that makes sense and provides clear motivations for NPCs (which makes it useful, the litmus test for any game mechanic).  It also provides clear reasons why two good aligned characters might find themselves at odds with one another or why a good aligned party might make a temporary alliance with an evil creature against a common enemy.
Although many may disagree, I’ve never found the nine-pointed alignment system restrictive.  Instead, I find its two-axis approach a simple and elegant tool to encourage roleplaying by providing clear motivations for the thinking creatures of the game world.  Sure it isn’t foolproof and doesn’t cover every moral quandary a PC might find herself in, but working out the finer points of ambiguous situations is one of the exciting parts of a roleplaying game.
Taking inspiration from the film, here is a sample of practical alignment complications that can be inserted into any version of D&D:

The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend… For Now
Both Vault of the Drow and the Temple of Elemental Evil (two of my favorite classic adventures) make extensive use of this complication.  Warring factions of evil creatures will use any means they have at their disposal to eliminate one another, including a temporary alliance with good aligned adventurers.  As distasteful as it is, it might be in the PCs best interest.  The common enemy (the most powerful house of the drow, or an evil tyrant, secure in an impregnable fortress, for example) might be too tough for the PCs to tackle on their own, or the evil creatures might possess needed intelligence in order to proceed.
Chaotic Evil creatures will promise anything to obtain the cooperation of the PCs, and if they feel they can gain from it, will attack them as soon as the job is finished.  Lawful Evil creatures can be trusted to keep a bargain, but will only agree to terms that benefit them, and will constantly try to subjugate the PCs to their will.

Thanks for the Rescue, Sucker!
Just because an NPC has been imprisoned by the ‘bad guys’ doesn’t make them a ‘good guy’.  Obmi, the evil dwarf from the adventure Hall of the Fire Giant King (and reappearing throughout D&D’s history) is the quintessential example of this complication.  Sometimes, creatures are imprisoned by evil societies because they are so deviant or destructive that even the morally corrupt can’t stomach them.
The temptation in this scenario is to have the prisoner rampage as soon as it is freed (which is entirely appropriate in certain circumstances), but the complication works much better when the evil NPC cooperates with the PCs against his captors.  Later in the campaign, let the PCs discover the horrendous crimes the freed prisoner has committed – a great adventure hook since most players will feel at least a little responsible and will be driven to stop the former prisoner.
Try not to use this complication too often or the PCs will never want to free any captives again.

What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate
Sometimes different good aligned groups just don’t get along.  The different worlds of D&D are filled with good aligned churches that are generally tolerant of one another, but still clash over major philosophical differences (which is fairly optimistic considering how well the sects of Christianity or Islam have gotten along together on Earth).  If there is an established church or state religion in the area the PCs are adventuring in, they won’t appreciate the party’s cleric waltzing into their territory and performing miracles for a rival deity (or worse, actively trying to proselytize).  While good aligned organizations don’t immediately resort to violence, they will definitely make things as uncomfortable as possible while they are in town.  I used the church of St. Cuthbert in this manner in both the Temple of Elemental Evil adventure and its sequel.  In both cases the party contained no representatives from the church and was filled with non-lawful types.  Even though they wanted the same outcome (the destruction of an evil cult), the Cuthbertines viewed the adventurers as a bunch of rowdy troublemakers while the party viewed the church as a bunch of out of touch windbags trying to tell them what to do.

Rival Schools
Old-school D&D often included groups of adventurers in the wandering monster tables – a concept that Ed Greenwood greatly expanded upon in his Forgotten Realms setting (especially during the 2e era) with its predilection for rival adventuring companies.   This concept hasn’t been used all that much in modern D&D (with the exception of the excellent Shackled City adventure path by Paizo), but is a complication worth revisiting.  A rival adventuring company need not be evil to oppose the PCs – good aligned NPCs might pursue the same goals as the PCs (stopping an encroaching hobgoblin army, overthrowing an evil cult, or slaying a terrible dragon for example).  Rather than brining the two groups together, these similarities cause tension.  The rival adventuring company wants what the PCs’ want, only they want to do it first and they have no intention of sharing the spotlight (or the glory and treasure).
Good aligned rivals won’t necessarily attack the PCs, but they aren’t above sabotaging their efforts.  In fact, if they are less capable, their bumbling might make things much harder for the PCs (like a failed incursion into a dragon’s lair that makes the creature extra careful and paranoid).

The Long Arm of Justice
Adventuring often means transgressing laws and taboos (like breaking and entering, tomb-robbing, and murder).  That means that at some point in a campaign a group of good aligned NPCs is going to want to redress one of these transgressions.   There are many remedies these groups seek, but this complication works best if the NPCs aren’t immediately violent or threaten the PCs with imprisonment (they may seek compensation, ask for a favor, or challenge the PCs to complete a gruelling ritual of atonement).
If the PCs are strongly lawful aligned, then the reverse can happen.  A group of xaositects, followers of Olidammara, or tricky fey target the PCs to discredit them and take them down a notch.  They use pranks, rumours, and theft to spread chaos and vex the PCs.

It Came from Toronto After Dark: VS

February 3, 2012

These It Came from the DVR articles are going to be a little bit different.  As an early Christmas present to myself, I picked up a festival pass to the Toronto After Dark film festival.  So the first difference is that these are new movies, on the big screen, instead of old ones and niche programming on the small screen.  The second difference is that these are going to be short.  I’ve got eighteen films to see in seven days (as well as dressing up for the annual zombie walk), so I’m not going to have a whole lot of time to write, and I want post these while the blood is still fresh.
Toronto After Dark is a horror and genre film festival oozing with gobs of monster and rpg inspiration, but most of the films it showcases won’t see wide release – so in addition to extracting some rpg goodness from each movie, I’ll also give them a bit of a critique, so fellow gamers can know what they need to track down and what to avoid.  I’ll try and keep spoilers to an absolute minimum.


This superhero thriller jumps headfirst into the story, opening with former teammates Charge, Cutthroat, Shadow and the Wall kidnapped by their arch-nemesis Rickshaw.  The four heroes awake in a small town, their powers nullified by a mysterious injection and the populace tied to clusters of high explosives.  In order to save the trapped innocents, and themselves, they must complete a series of fiendish tests before Rickshaw detonates the bombs and obliterates the entire town.

Super Hero Action Meets Dark Thriller

VS is another ambitious indie film (I like this trend) that shoots for the moon.  It stumbles, but there is genius there, and its sheer ballsy-ness makes me want to overlook the film’s shortcomings.  Throwing superheroes into a Saw-esque thriller, is an idea worthy of the Joker (in spite of being a Marvel standard bearer, there are a few DC characters that I like) – so is writing, directing and starring in your film, but Jason Trost manages to pull it off without it looking like a vanity picture.
Because of the look of the costumes, it’s easy to compare VS to Kick-Ass.  They may share some similarities, but they are as different as night and day.  Both films draw on the ‘real-life superhero movement’ for aesthetic inspiration (hence the similar costumes), and both are a comment on the superhero genre.  However, Kick-Ass is a spoof that throws superheroes into our world to send up the inherent ridiculousness of the entire genre (that’s not a slam against Kick-Ass – I happened to like it quite a bit), while VS is a straight superhero tale that draws on the language of horror films to showcase a truly sadistic villain.
And what a great villain to showcase.  Veteran James Remar steals the show as Rickshaw, having fun with the role and making it crazy enough to be entertaining but keeping it this side of cartoony (a little over the top is fine – it is a superhero movie).  In the Q+A Trost revealed that Remar is an old family friend and did the film as a favor (he liked the script too), which is a good thing for VS; because in the hands of someone the film could afford, I’m not sure the character would have worked.
The tests that Rickshaw puts the heroes through are fantastically evil, and as I mentioned, are very much in the tradition of Saw.  There’s also a long tradition of these kinds of traps in comics, particularly the kind that involve difficult decisions that put the heroes’ morals in jeopardy – so the mixing of the two genres works perfectly and is the film’s real genius.  Convoluted traps and villains toying with their prey seem completely at home in a superhero film without straining credibility (in fact, the audience expects it), while the dark and gritty horror film trappings tell the viewer that the stakes are much higher than a traditional comic book film and that the body count likely will be as well.  This gives the characters’ actions a lot of weight and boosts the dramatic tension much more than you would expect from a film about superheroes.
VS’ second moment of genius, and the part of the film that makes it required viewing for any Hollywood director looking to adapt a comic book for the screen, is how Trost deals with the heroes’ backstory.  Instead of spending the first half of the film detailing how the characters acquired their powers, and formed their team, VS just cuts to the interesting part of the story (waking up powerless in a town filled with deadly traps) and trusts that the audience is smart enough to fill in the blanks as the story unfolds.  Through short flashbacks and character chatter we’re given all we need to know without lots of boring exposition and wasted screen-time.  With VS, Trost proves once and for all that it is possible to make an exciting superhero film right out of the gate.
With the low budget Trost wisely wrote out the costly use of superpowers, and relied entirely on practical effects and stunt work.  Normally I would have wanted to at least see someone fly or lift up a car in a comic book movie, but the low-fi look really fits with the dark and grimy atmosphere of the film.
Where VS stumbles is in the film’s pacing.  Each of the tests is timed, and the heroes must race against the clock to both overcome the challenges and find Rickshaw before the countdown expires and the whole town blows up.  That’s a great device to create natural tension, but unfortunately, every time the viewer starts to worry VS shoots itself in the foot by having its characters get into a drawn out conversations and arguments.  There were times when I felt like yelling at the screen, “at least walk and talk, you’re all going to die!”  I couldn’t help but wonder as the horrible consequences of the countdown unfolded, that it all could have been avoided if the characters hadn’t been so chatty.
VS is recommended for superhero fans, especially those that are ready for a fresh take on the genre.  If, like me, you‘re also a fan of horror films, then VS is happily a chocolate and peanut butter situation.  It isn’t perfect, but the high points of VS are well worth the lows.

RPG Goodness

If you play a superhero rpg and want to run a game with the grittiness of the Punisher, but prefer costumes to guns, then VS is the best guidebook you can find.  I can totally picture combining the D20 version of Mutants and Masterminds with the list of traps from the Dungeon Master’s Guide to create an adventure very similar to the scenario in the film.  Even though the movie doesn’t contain any supernatural elements, I think VS would also work as an introduction to set the tone for a mash-up of Palladium’s Beyond the Supernatural and Heroes Unlimited (I’m not sure if anyone has ever played that – but now that I mention it I kind of want to try it out).
Outside of the film’s obvious inspiration for superhero rpgs, I think that VS highlights an issue in D&D that has been dealt with very differently across the editions of the game – nullifying PC powers.  While I don’t think there are any adventures that feature the PCs getting injected with a potion that prevents them from using their abilities, many of the old-school modules are filled with walls that can’t be climbed by Thieves, damage that can’t be healed by the Cleric, and lists of spells that Magic Users are barred from casting to bypass an obstacle (the classic adventure Tomb of Horrors is big on this).  Starting with 3e, this kind of adventure design was frowned on and often criticised.  DMs were encouraged to work with a PC’s powers rather than work around them.  When it comes to this issue I am unapologetically in the camp of the new school.  Having your character’s abilities hamstrung just so an adventure can railroad your actions is not fun.  I would just as soon have choices I can’t use removed from the game rather than have the illusion of choice.
As strong as my stance is on negating PCs’ powers in adventure design, when it comes to monsters I feel differently.  I love the beholder’s anti-magic cone, a ghast’s resistance to turning and the thought eater’s special attacks against psionic characters -even though all these creatures nullify class powers in their own way.  This might seem hypocritical, but I think the difference between a monster and an adventure is that the monsters in these cases are rare (although if you had an adventure with nothing but ghasts it wouldn’t be much fun for the cleric – or anyone really), their powers are discreet, and rather than reducing a character’s options to a single path (you can’t pick that lock or use a knock spell, you have to find the magic key in room 18 to proceed), these monsters interact with each of the classes in a unique way that makes them frightening and interesting (a golem is immune to most spells, but a few thematic ones affect it in unique ways).
In 4e, which introduced the concept of power sources, this is the feature I expected to interact with those classic monsters, an exciting possibility I thought was wasted (as it turns out, power sources weren’t used for much of anything) – something I’ve lamented before.  To remedy this, I’ve created a sampling of traits that can be added to monsters that can transform them into ‘kryptonite’ for certain classes.

Power Sources and Monsters

The following traits can be added to a monster to modify the way the creature interacts with the power sources of the PCs.  These traits are minor enough that adding one as-is shouldn’t alter a monster’s level or experience value, although in certain powerful combinations you may instead use it to replace an existing trait or power.  Care should be used in placing these traits – there is little point giving a monster anti-magic shell, if there are no arcane characters in the party and the turning class feature will seem pointless if every undead opponent the party encounters has turn resistance.

Absentia Screening Thursday Night

January 30, 2012

As I said in my recent review, Absentia is an “instant indie horror classic”.  It’s frightening, intelligent, and a great source of rpg inspiration.  Unfortunately, if you don’t live in a festival friendly city, it was also difficult to find a screening.  Thankfully, that’s not the case anymore.  There are now a few more ways to catch this creepy gem, and I urge everyone to check it out.
The first, and most exciting option, is a special screening and Q+A with director Mike Flanagan on Constellation, a new online movie theatre platform, Thursday Feb. 2, 10:00 pm EST.  This is a pretty cool service that brings together the social experience of going to the theatre with the wide distribution of internet streaming.   You buy tickets for the film, just like a traditional theatre (tickets can be purchased here) for a scheduled showtime.  This may seem like the service’s weakness, but because viewers are watching the film at the same time, it allows filmmakers to appear via webcam, chat with the audience and field questions – just like a festival Q+A (which is exactly what Absentia director Mike Flanagan is taking advantage of).  Of course if you don’t care about seeing a movie with the director, you can always set your own time, host a film and invite friends to watch, whom you can chat with during and after the screening (a format fans of play-by-post and google+ rpg sessions will be familiar with).
I think this is going to become an invaluable tool for independent filmmakers to promote and distribute their work.  Nothing beats the fun and frenetic energy of a film festival, but the amount of people you can reach through festivals alone is fairly limited.  A site like Constellation broadens the audience and allows fans not just to spread the word, but to spread the films themselves, without the need for mainstream distribution.
If you’re not that keen on watching movies on your computer, Absentia will also be released on DVD by Phase 4 films, March 13.