The smashing success of The Blair witch Project has spawned its eponymous genre of films with its proprietorial low-budget production consisting of indie directors, unknown (or low-profiled) actors/actresses, limited gadgetry, simple scripts, and straightforward plot to evoke an arch of Realism in Reality in touch with the everyday life of the ordinary. In European films, this neo-realism has already been constituted by the works of Lars von Trier in Dancer in the Dark, the Dardenne Brothers in Rosetta, and Vittorio de Sica in The Bicycle Thief. Maybe it’s because the New World is innately rebellious to anything coming from the Old World for the reason that it is simply too sophisticated to appreciate its artistic sensibilities developed through the flight of times. Whatever it might be, now is different. American Cinema Paradiso has never been so teeming with many an ingeniously creative realistic film made by ambitious directors who are not shy to translate their imagoes or imaginative world on screen in a way that makes it look real as impressively illustrated in Nigel Bach’s Bad Ben–The Mandela Effect.
The genre of the film blurs on the boundary of comedy and horror. In fact, it delivers the sensuous kicks of laughing and shuddering, putting the viewer on the pleasure roller coaster ride. To begin with, the undeniably irascible bold-headed “Tom Riley,” played by Nigel Bach, who also produced and directed the film, with his thick southern New Jersey accent and the accordant “don’t mess-with-me” attitude is a great subject of comical caricature resembling none other than himself. Then there are the possessed satanic dolls that are more irritable than horrible because they get on Riley’s nerves. Even the profane language Riley employs to covey his frustration and to provoke fear in the evil dolls is not offensive but risible. Besides, the setting of the house, which is also the actor’s real house, renders the plot of the film a sense of verisimilitude, an illusion of watching a non-fiction documentary film based on a real event.
The real gem of this strangely attractive film is how the plot is unfolded with a wicked deception of the eyes and the ears of the audience even without special effects or ingenious editing. How a man like Tom Riley – the porky bald-headed fiftyish curmudgeon- can commend a screen presence would have been a challenge, had it not been for Bach’s natural way of delivering his lines without overtly dramatic emotions and his elliptical plot of a plausible story of an everyday man experiencing the supernatural in everyday life. In fact, from the moment Riley gets to his new proud and really beautiful house of dream bought at a sheriff’s sale, we take the plot of the film for granted with a foregone conclusion until it gets us to the surprising denouement thereof with the kind of sensation and sensibility that Riley experiences over and over again. In this manner of empathy, we are in Riley’s parallel universe whether we like it or not during the whole film, come what may.
It is both fun and worthwhile to watch this one-man act without boredom for what is worth. It is a motion tessera elliptically put together by bits of Child’s Play, Paranormal Activity, and Twilight Zone studded with crude American sense of humor and practicality of the storytelling that does not impart preposterously and pompously supernatural ambiance. Other acerbic reviews of the film notwithstanding, this film deserves of applaud for its ingenuity to employ a modern theatrical version of ventriloquism, fusing Riley’s amusingly jagged story telling voice with the director’s own impetuous gushing of the realistically uncanny atmosphere he tries to create without elaborately intricate scripts or other fantastic cinematic bells and whistles.