A rollicking good time with a game cast that hits every mark, “Everybody Dies By the End” is so much better than expected; an absolute treat.
Everybody Dies By The End is the tale of a documentary crew and cult film director, and the final film he makes. As this is the final film of director Alfred Costella, he promises a few tricks and twists as he completes his final all-practical effect masterpiece.
Going into this, based on the trailer, I had certain expectations of what was about to unfold. The faux-documentary approach is nothing new to us in terms of genre fare, and I honestly expected this to be middling entertainment.
However, this is a film that truly surprised me and made me glad I took time out to give this indie treat a chance.
The directing team of Ian Tripp and Ryan Schafer (with a script by Tripp) handled every aspect of this film with ease and expertise. They manage to create something engaging and entertaining without having to drench the screen in blood or resort to a cliched masked maniac chopping through a bunch of no-mark thespians.
Everybody Dies By The End is a careful, sometimes manic, but always gripping journey into a filmmaker desperate to find the truth behind their art and leave a lasting mark.
The story starts with an introduction to director Alfred Costella via a talk-show appearance.
The host is an incredibly dry but direct Mr. Willy Wilson (Bill Oberst Jr., who nails it with deadpan delivery). He manages to unhinge Costella (Vinny Curran, with a show-stopping performance) as Wilson’s questions and comments seem to get right under Costella’s skin, making him feel personally attacked and leading to a very public outburst, which causes him to pull back from the public eye.
Contacting a documentary crew from out of nowhere, Costella personally invites them to cover — warts and all — his latest, and more importantly, last film.
We are gradually introduced to the players, and there is a genuine warmth amongst all involved. The characters are likable without having excessive backstories. You accept, without question, that these are his crew members, these are our two lead actors, and this is the set that is going to be our home for the next 24 hours.
This translates into an easygoing journey where, little by little, things happen that are common to any set, i.e., line delivery, motivation, ego, and that balancing act that those who serve the director must observe at all times. Meanwhile, Calvin and Mark (Ian Tripp and Joshua Wyble) are ever-present with camera and boom filming every minute.
It takes us into that inner sanctum where, slowly but surely, Alfred is unraveling because of his weight of expectation, and there are some surprisingly tender moments between Calvin and him.
A script read through by the two main actors, Theo (Seton Edgerton) and Alison (Iliyana Apostolova), is just painful until the multi-faceted Alfred starts to cajole and tease a better performance from them. Seton, in particular, is effective as he projects that air of being better than his surroundings, making him a natural target for the audience. Iliyana is more sympathetic and honest in her motivations.
The documentary manages to get one-on-one with the actors, and we get a better idea of who they are, which feels organic.
It all feels so well thought out that even in the moments where you are waiting for something to happen, it keeps you engaged because it is played so well.
I know we have seen the manic director caricature, but he’s played so well as you watch his ebb and flow from one situation to another, sometimes forgetting the camera is on him, other times playing to it, especially the validation he seeks from Calvin as a fellow director.
This carries over into the actual direction we witness, which I assume may or may not be based on famous directors who would use every trick at their disposal to get that ‘right’ shot, no matter the cost.
Of course, there has to be a change in this. After all, it’s not being sold as a treatise on the auteur.
Within the set, there is a secret area, a red room where only those recognized as the Children of Celluloid may go. It’s this that is the catalyst for the darker tone as the film reaches its conclusion.
To talk about it any more than that would spoil not just the end but the journey to it. Having watched it with no idea until it becomes apparent, it would ruin the film and the point it is trying to make.
All of the actors are completely onboard, and all of them pull together so well.
Seton Edgerton (Theo) has that cocksure swagger that comes from someone who thinks he is better than he is and thinks that he holds the best cards. Unfortunately, he’s not playing the same game as Alfred.
Iliyana Apostolova (Alison) plays her role well as someone who is there to restart her career, and this is the only saloon in town.
Ian Tripp as Calvin and Joshua Wyble as Mark acquit themselves as modern filmmakers, unafraid and initially cool whilst knowing that this could send them into the stratosphere.
Finally, Alfred, with superb energy from Vinny Curran, plays the messianic director as sometimes all-knowing and all-powerful but always on the brink of collapse.
Let’s not forget Bill Oberst Jr. as Mr. Wilson with an inspired turn who unwittingly sets the whole thing rolling.
None of this would work if any of these performers were not so committed; even those with scant screen time make sure they do what is required to make sure the story flows.
The trailer doesn’t do this justice. Yes, there are moments of gore, but this is not a typical found-documentary-footage tale; it’s far better than that.