“You’d be directing a god damn student film on a fucking iPhone!”
— Bob Moseby, producer of (the film within the film) The Sleep Experiment
As the diabolical Moseby dug his Norma Desmondesque claws into Jack Archer, the desperate, struggling director chosen as his murderous pasty, I was reminded of poor Jack’s entertainment industry neo-brethren in screenwriter Joe Gillis from Sunset Boulevard (1950), Michelangelo Antonioni’s neo-trapped photographer in Blowup (1966), and Brian DePalma’s Hitchcockian-twisting sound effects technician in Blow Out (1981).
Yes. Although this noir low-budget film from is from a first time director and an unknown screenwriter, Greenlight illuminated with the same excitement I felt when I watched the ‘90s neo-noir trifecta from the genre’s master, John Dahl, with Kill Me Again (1989), Red Rock West (1993), and the crowned jewel, The Last Seduction (1994).
“Horror films don’t win awards, but psychological thrillers do.”
— Bob Moseby
Let slip the red herrings and neo-dogs of noir. Get ready for your close up, Mr. Archer.
And so begins Jack Archer’s maddening descent as his Hollywood dreams smudge n’ smear into an ouroboros nightmare when, instead of a Ms. Dietrichson dangling an anklet, our neophyte director is Walter Neff’d by a femme fatale in the form of an attractive, complement-showering actress dangling the old “I know a producer looking for a director” carrot. Oh, Jack. You can’t be that neo-naïve. . . .
And there’s Moseby’s wife, the “star” of the film. And what McGuffin is she hiding?
Then, once the once-great Moseby has his mook on hook, he blackmails Jack into pulling a “Brandon Lee” on one of the actors—as a “marketing gimmick” for the film. Yep, the dead body is already set up. And so is the DNA. But it’s never just about the “gimmick,” is it, Bob?
Screenwriter Patrick Robert Young earned his Final Draft stripes with a pair of damsel in distress flicks for Lifetime: My Teacher, My Obsession (2018, aka Dad Crush)* and Pretty Little Stalker (2019)*. Now we all know that Lifetime’s female demo-skewing thrillers and psycho-chick romps are hit-and-miss, but after watching Young’s superb turn of a phase and multilayered psychological plotting in Greenlight, it seems seeking out those two Lifetime flicks are in order.
Young’s screenplay is wicked smart, rife with fun filmmaking references and horror film nods that, even if you’re not in the industry and just a movie goer (well, streamer these days), you won’t feel left out. He scribed great dialog that displays a bard’s skills for balancing darkness and humor—and that realistic dialog is brought across the finish line by Chase Williamson as Jack Archer and, especially, Chris Browning as the egotistical Bob Moseby: both are absolutely stellar. And lead actors are only as good as their supporting cast—and they deliver as well.
Pulling together the great script and solid cast is Graham Denman, an actor who’s obviously learned his craft across an array of shorts and web series and directing four shorts before being given his Jack Archer-shot at the big time—and Denman nails it. It is my sincere belief that there’s a major studio development team out there watching a copy of Greenlight right now—and they’ve placed Denman on their shortlist as a director to greenlight.
And kudos on the casting, as Denman could have easily gone the put-a-star-name-on-the-box route to put bodies in the seats. He could have easily cast Eric Roberts—who excels at diabolical, ulterior motive characters like the smarmy Bob Moseby (as his work in the radio station-set neo-noir Power 98 and the political-noir Lone Star Deception proves). But Denman opted to give unknown, under-the-radar actors a shot. And it was the right choice.
While under-the-radar, you’ve seen the cast of Greenlight via their starring roles on network TV series and support roles in feature films: Chris Browning appeared as “Gogo” in Sons of Anarchy, along with Will Smith’s Bright, Cowboys & Aliens, Let Me In, and Steven King’s Mercy. Shane Coffey was in Pretty Little Liars, Craig Stark appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, Victor Turpin in Ma, and Chase Williamson made his leading man debut in Don Coscarelli’s John Dies at the End. And you’ve seen Nicole Alexandra Shipley in Guardians of the Galaxy, Caroline Williams in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and Brian Cousins goes back to our Charles Band VHS rental favorites Mandroid and Invisible: The Chronicles of Benjamin Knight.
A rousing success on the festival circuit, Greenlight was acquired for distribution by The Horror Collective specialty imprint after the film’s world premiere at the Los Angeles Shriekfest Horror Film Festival, where it won a deserving “Best Thriller Feature Film” award and a “Best Male Performance in a Feature Film” win for Chase Williamson. Rolled out on all VOD and digital platforms this past February, you can find Greenlight on Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, and You Tube Movies.
You can sample both films with their trailers, below.
Disclaimer: We didn’t receive a screener copy of Greenlight from the PA firm for the film’s distribution company. We discovered this movie all on our own and genuinely loved it.