“You’ve got to get out of here by morning.”
— says the ski-masked clad man with a shotgun pointed at you
Nine years ago, actor, writer, and director Chris Levine wasn’t an actor, writer, or director. He was a marketing director for an online company, living large on the beach in Boca Raton, Florida — and one day, woke up unhappy. A set of headshots and a few film school shorts and indie shorts six months later, his wanderlust-infection was complete. Hollywood was calling. (And he didn’t need a ski-masked clad man with a shotgun pointed at him to tell him to get out by morning.) So Levine did the most sensible thing a person could do: move to the town that chews up and squeezes out the tinsel-tainted dreamers on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in steaming piles at two and three at a squeeze.
Only the monster of Hollyweird didn’t count on Chris Levine blowing into town. Look out, Oscarzilla. Monstervine is here to kick your arse.
Teaming with experienced film editor and visual effects artist Landon Williams (in the producer’s and director’s chairs), Levine wrote, produced, and starred in the obsessive tale about a young man’s quest for the perfect body in Anabolic Life (2017), which starred the familiar Daniel Baldwin (TV’s Cold Case Files and Hawaii Five-O) and Sharon Lawrence (Showtime’s Shameless, TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles). The film received five nominations at the 2017 Orlando Film Festival, with Levine walking away with a “Best Actor Award.” (He’s also worked on the award-winning short film, concerned with a traffic stop gone bad, The Ice Cream Stop and is currently starring on the currently-in-production indie-actioner, The Handler.)
Encouraged by the film’s reception, the duo created the Van Nuys-based London Levine Pictures as Chris Levine set out to write and produce his next feature film, the horror-thriller No Way Out (formerly known as Cryptid), which shot in the wilds of Alaska.
Trying to salvage their romantic-personal relationships, two couples go on a weekend camping trip in the Alaska wilds — only to discover that they aren’t alone in the woods they’ve found themselves lost in. And the others don’t know the cabin they’ve squatted sits on land that once belonged to Blake’s (Chris Levine) family. And these woods are the source of his childhood trauma-hang ups about “the woods,” which triggers nightmares in quick succession. Of course, when spoiled city kids vacation in the woods (instead of Hawaii, as one character laments) and squat cabins and a hunter’s unattended campfire, Chris’s tweaks are the least of their worries: they’re just asking for the ol’ Happy Valentine’s Day-chop n’ stab from a masked deep-breather.
No Way Out has a sharp opening credit sequence on par with any A-List film in the horror oeuvres and the soundtrack is effectively creepy when it needs to be, and fairy tale-like when the mood calls. The same holds true for the cinematography (the prologue before-the-credits introduction of our gas-masked friend encourages viewing) that’s crisp and moody. And there’s a welcomed restraint in the editing suite. Oh, the B&S crew can’t tell you how many indies we’ve watch (we’re nice about it) meandering towards a patience-trying two-hour mark (my pet peeve) or lacking in narrative structure and woefully short, with extensive end credits to pad the short running time to a distribution-acceptable 80-minutes (Sam’s pet peeve). Team Levine-Hamilton know that they’re not a proven commodity and that they’re asking a lot for us to purchase a stream — so they keep the narrative down to a tight 78 minutes. Perfect. So kudos to production designer Joe Hamilton, in his directing-producing debut, for giving us a product that’s above the horror-streaming norms.
However, when the Blair Witch POVs started as we first meet the sides of our romantic rectangle, there was a fear that we were venturing into the twisted Myrick-Sánchez-Raimi wood with another found-footage after-the-fact cabin slaughter narrative. (Or a Bigfoot would show up, ugh. More Bigfoot analogies, later). But that’s not a deal breaker, as we enjoyed the not-a-trope POV handheld rollout with the intelligent alien-horror romp Case 347 by Chris Wax and Fabien Delage’s somewhat No Way Out-similar, quality wooden-romp, Cold Ground.
What’s appreciated is that Blake’s (non-found footage) madness-descent isn’t driven by drug abuse or demons or detox-intervention — but by his psychology. And the possibility that his “weird family” is still out there. And that Blake may have serious Sybil-issues compounded by a gas mask fetish. And that there’s really no one out there: only him.
Now, you might yawn and say “we’ve seen this all before,” but you have to cut respectful slack with indie films. Unknown actors trying to develop resumes, frustrated at their lack of castings, need to take matters into their own hands (which we discussed extensively in our review of the radio-dramedy Loqueesha). So, to that end, you can’t go into No Way Out (or any horror streamer) expecting an A24 or Blumhouse shock-scares romp with Tobin Bell or Tony Todd or Lin Shayne buoying the show. Off-the-radar actors, as well as directors, want to create and want to share their skill sets with the world. And you have to shoot ’em cheap. And the woods are a great, non-permit method of storytelling. The Halloween-cum-Friday the 13th slasher ’80s thrived on it. But while No Way Out has an ’80s slasher vibe, it’s shot better and scripted smarter than an ’80s slasher flick. (Case in point: Go back and watch the ’80s Halloween rips Slaughter High and Don’t Go Into the Woods, spotlighted during a recent Drive-In Asylum Saturday Night Double Feature Online Watch Party for evidence of that fact. BTW: Saturday’s at 8 PM on Groovy Doom — shameful plug.)
From the watch parties, and Bigfoots, and shameful plugs departments: During the course of preparing this review for No Way Out, Bill Van Ryn of Groovy Doom and Sam Panico of B&S About Movies hosted another Drive-In Asylum Saturday Night Double Feature Online Watch Party (Sorry, Chris!) and screened Shriek of the Mutilated, Michael and Roberta Findlay’s 1974 shaggy-dog bigfoot version of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians (aka 1939’s And Then There Were None). And (probably to Chris Levine’s chagrin) my analog memory cores critically connected the two.
Does that mean Chris Levine saw Shriek of the Mutilated? No. Personally, I never saw that semi-inept drive-in ditty until the Van Ryn-Panico Borg assimilated me into the Groovy Doom collective. (And I’ve watched an insane amount of movies across the UHF and VHS spectrums. See? You can’t see ‘em all.) So while I’ve critically scribbled a Findlay-Levine throughline in my review notes, there’s no mistaking No Way Out is the winner in the wooded-betrayal sweepstakes.
Sure, Shriek is an over-the-top, emulsion-scratched ‘70s oddity that offers us good ol’ cheesy fun. But No Way Out offers us a digital clarity of intelligence and craft that informs you — and Hollywood — that LevineFoot has arrived. And he’s not a goofy shaggy-dog Bigfoot. Chris Levine is a skilled actor and filmmaker on the way to a sidewalk star in the city of dreams: a dream that will become reality.
The bottom line is that Chris Levine and Joe Hamilton have the skills. And we look forward to their next films. And they’ll be reviewed here, first. And we won’t need a ski-masked clad man with a shotgun to encourage us.
Currently rolling out on the film festival circuit and film markets, you’ll be able to stream No Way Out in the coming months. You can currently stream Anabolic Life via Gravitas Ventures on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Vudu, and You Tube Movies. So look for No Way Out on those platforms as well.
Update: You can now enjoy No Way Out on Amazon Prime through Gravitas Ventures.
You can learn more about Chris Levine’s acting and filmmaking endeavors on Facebook and London Levine Pictures and watch the company’s short film projects on You Tube. And our thanks to Voyage LA for their assistance by introducing us to Chris Levine in the preparation of this review.
Disclaimer: We were provided a screener for the film. That has no bearing on our review.