A wild exercise in experimental filmmaking, The Nobodies is worth the challenges it presents
Champions of the found-footage genre, faux-documentaries, and the film-within-a-film premise will be instantly drawn to Jay Burleson’s The Nobodies, a fictional documentary that showcases a fictional horror film and depicts the downfall of its director and his girlfriend.
The documentary portions of the film are wonderfully authentic and well-acted, and at times it was easy to forget that what I was watching was entirely made up. Pumpkin, the much-maligned and no-budget horror film that the documentary examines, is certainly intriguing — but also presents the entire package with its greatest set of problems.
Filmmaker Warren Werner (Burleson) is a young, soft-spoken, and hopeful man who longs to make an impact in the world of cinema. With the aid of girlfriend Samantha (Samantha Dixon) and a group of friends and actors, Werner puts his heart and soul into the deranged Pumpkin, a horror film shot on VHS camcorder that chronicles the bizarre journey of an aging serial killer (Bill Pacer) and his maniacal perversions.
Pumpkin is, for the most part, a terrible film, and Werner pays the price when he screens the movie at his local civic center where it bombs. Werner and Samantha commit suicide a short time later. The documentary includes footage from Pumpkin along with interviews with its cast, Werner’s family, and his friends.
Pumpkin may be intentionally bad (Pacer is its sole redeeming quality; his performance as killer Taboris DeWitt is disturbing and downright bizarre), but that doesn’t mean that it’s that enjoyable or entertaining to watch. As expected with an inexperienced director behind the camera and a shockingly small budget, the film-within-a-film is poorly shot and edited.
It’s interesting at first, but as the film goes on the low-grade quality begins to irritate (however, one sequence that involves a homicidal clown and a man dressed as a horse is truly haunting in its horror and blood-soaked grime).
It’s a tricky balance that The Nobodies courageously attempts to strike: in order to enter into Warren Werner’s world, audiences have to endure Pumpkin, which presents the viewer with a genuine dilemma. Do we care enough about the fate of Warren and Samantha to sit through the movie they have created?
Because we know from the beginning that Warren and Samantha met a tragic end, we might just be willing to trudge through Pumpkin in search of answers. It’s here where The Nobodies really comes off as genuine; the ways in which the characters in the faux-documentary respond to their suicide (especially Warren’s mother) are sad and moving.
Their comments speak to the tortured soul within Warren Werner, and perhaps in all artists who kick and claw and scream to communicate their visions, however twisted, to the world.
The Nobodies captures this theme well. Perhaps if Pumpkin had told a better story, the film as a whole would have been stronger. But, again, had Werner’s film been good, then he and Samantha might not have killed themselves, and there would no reason to make the documentary. When The Nobodies reaches a wider audience (and it definitely deserves to), it will be interesting to see how viewers respond to this dichotomy.