A painter who specialises in abstract art escapes to a private estate to work on his newest collection, but life soon imitates art as his fantasies of love are interrupted by nightmarish delusions in Joel Ulrick O’Neal’s horror The Abstraction.
The Abstraction was made in 2015 and according to his notes was the first film that director Joel Ulrick O’Neal made. Shot over 10 days using a DSLR camera, The Abstraction cost just under 10’000 dollars, and Ulrick taught himself how to edit his footage together during post-production. He then went on to self-distribute the movie via Amazon. It’s a fascinating journey, one that has been made by many a would-be filmmaker, but whenever people make those journeys they are always interesting. As a stand-alone horror movie, The Abstraction does have some flaws, and a few technical issues but no more than you would expect to see in any other debut feature film.
Opening at an art exhibition for the work of a reclusive artist, we meet confidant gallery owner Steven played by George Gallagher, and James the artist whose work is on show (Alxander Jon). After the successful exhibition, where all of his paintings sell out, George invites James to join him at his secluded family home where he can work on his next exhibition in peace and quiet. While here James meets George’s loner son Sam (the intense Ian Lerch) and spends time with his life model Natalie (the spunky Jessica Miano Kruel). The performances of the actors are all completely different; the opening exchanges between Graham and James flow quite naturally with Gallagher’s controlled smugness offsetting Jon’s soft distant delivery. Jon himself makes some interesting choices for his character, there is an ‘airy’ quality to his work here and mainly his voice which reminded me of Crispin Glover’s offbeat performance as George McFly.
With it being the story of an abstract painter, O’Neal uses this as a jumping-off point and allows his cinematographer Brian Bon to experiment with the camera. While also using different colours and sound design techniques. We have a number of Dutch angles that give the film an off-kilter feel, leaving us a little imbalanced. The images switch from colour to black and white throughout the film, while the sound design is a mixture of music and static sounds and helps with some of the scares. The major issue with the sound is the dialogue during some external scenes, it’s as if Ulrick only had one lav microphone to share between the cast. When one character is saying their lines we can hear them perfectly, but the other actors in the scene have no volume when replying. Another issue is with the story, O’Neal classes The Abstraction as a horror and, although there are some horror elements, his writing is more in the vein of a psychological drama. The film also takes a long time to get going, from the start there are lots of opening and closing of doors with people meandering through halls and talking to each other. There is no pace or urgency to the film and this lack of excitement may cause certain audience members to switch off. The film starts to pick up around the 45-minute mark when we finally get to see some horror, but for some reason, these evil characters seem to appear from nowhere, and because we have had no prior warning or foreshadowing their appearance doesn’t really add up. Despite this though they are quite a memorable part of the movie.
The Abstraction has some clever ideas and an added edge of plausible realism, but it doesn’t really come close to being scary. Yet, despite it not succeeding as a horror film it does succeed as a film worth watching, and that from a first-time filmmaker is no small achievement.