Chicago Horror: Touring fests at the Music Box for the Chicago Critics Film Fest as well as Motor City Nightmares in April from Deathblow Productions!
Directed by Ryan Oliver
Written by Ryan Oliver
Starring Lily Horn, Brant McCrea, William J. Norris, Norbert Caillouet, Billy Favata, Molly Brennan, Brent Fatava, Denis McQuinn, Joel Rabb, Helena Buckley, Brian Connelly, Brian James Dickie, Christine Jennings, Ryan Oliver, Angelina “Pocalypse” Horn, Enrique Rico, Kiko Rico
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
There’s not a lot in terms of horror for gearheads. The only one that comes to mind is CHRISTINE, and while RESTORATION has a lot of the same qualities as the Stephen King/John Carpenter classic, the film manages to distinguish itself by immersing itself into gearhead culture–not focusing on a nerd looking to get back at bullies, but from the perspective of the noble cause of making something old and tarnished new again. Though this film is a tight and quick 45 minutes long, it still packs in a lot of scares, thrills, and good looking cinematography into such a small amount of time.
RESTORATION begins in the 1960s as a little girl (the adorable Lily Horn) plays hide and seek with her friend in a cornfield. Finding an abandoned car at the edge of the field, she gets in, thinking she’s found the perfect hiding spot. But when the trunk closes, she’s unable to get out and suffocates in the back of the car. Jaunt forward fifty odd years later and we find Sonny Ray (Brant McCrea) shuffling around a car garage where he works. Happening upon an ad in a car magazine for a free 1950 Fleetline Deluxe, he leaps at the opportunity to pick it up and races out to the Chicago suburbs to check out the dilapidated vehicle. While the old man who greets him want to warn him about something off about the car, Sonny Ray stops him and tells him he will take it no questions asked, thinking he can restore the sweet ride and be the apple of his gearhead brethren’s eyes. But once the car is in the garage, weird things start happening: Sonny Ray sees a little girl in the mirrors of the car and people start getting perished pretty gorily. It all leads to a confrontation between Sonny Ray and the little girl who is wreaking havoc on his life.
This is a pretty straightforward haunted house story in terms of structure. There’s a cursed item (in this case an old car), and someone with high hopes to renovate it, but the past sometimes likes to stay un-renovated. What sets this story apart is that it really does pull back the curtain on gearhead culture and casts it in a light not often seen in films. As I mentioned before, in any other film, the gearheads are the bad guys, all tattooed and surly looking. But as I’ve found out interacting with these folks in bars and concerts (some of the cast members of this one have been friends of mine for years), they are just like you and I and this film tries to shatter that bad guy stereotype by telling a compelling story with a gearhead in the lead. Casting Sonny Ray, who if this were a typical Hollywood film would be the lead baddie, as the protagonist here makes for an interesting shift and it’s enough of a shift to make the entire film feel fresh and different. RESTORATION humanizes a culture which is often stereotyped, showing them at work and at play in a light we usually don’t see.
Another aspect that makes this film infectiously watchable is writer/director Ryan Oliver’s eye for making the mundane beautiful. Through stylistic slo mo shots, we see the mechanics soldering metal with a torch or going about the usual garage humdrum in a manner that makes it all feel like a gorgeous dream. Oliver does some fantastic stuff just capturing the mood of this garage, and when the little girl begins her bloody rampage through the various areas in the garage, it does so in a manner I haven’t seen before. And while Oliver is great at setting up tension, atmosphere, and mood, he also isn’t afraid to let loose the red stuff in some really tasty scenes of gore and carnage.
RESTORATION is a fantastic little ghost story with an adorable little ghoul in the lead with Lily Horn, who maintains a creepy and emotionless stare throughout. Seeing bars I frequent like Exit in Chicago and the gearhead culture represented so well in RESTORATION makes my cold, black heart all warm and squishy. RESTORATION is a low budgeter of the highest quality. Everything looks gorgeous, even the grime on the tires and the blood gushing from various opened wounds. Oliver is currently working on a feature film, and if his work on RESTORATION is any indication as to what it will look like, I can’t wait to see it.