Monday, February 8, 2010

'Toe Tags' is far from DOA

Toe Tags (2003)
Starring: Darla Enlow and Marc Page
Director: Darla Enlow
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A serial killer is knocking of the residents of Valley Creek Apartments. This knife-wielding maniac targets victims not only because they are a tight-knit group of apartment dwellers, but also because they all have ties to homicide detective Kate Wagner (Enlow). Even stranger, the killer is a trophy taker... he steals the toe tags from his victims out of the very morgue. Can it be that the killer is as close to the investigation as possible, that the killer is detective Wagner herself? Or maybe her new partner and friend, Detective Mark Weiss (Page), who is also found to have prior a prior relationship with some of the victims? Can the killer be stopped before the entire apartment complex is one big crime scene?

"Toe Tags" is a film that should be lauded for its excellent story and sparse filmmaking. These are two elements that too few indie filmmakers seem to be able to successfully manage in their works.

I've seen more detective movies and slasher films than I can count, and the script here kept me guessing throughout. Just when I started to roll my eyes, groan, and assume this would be a Four-tomato or worse movie because of the obvious nature of the killer's identity--and yet the characters couldn't figure it out--a twist was thrown in. It did this twice in its just-over-an-hour running time, something that few movies manage to do with this very jaded writer, and the ending also managed to surprise in a satisfactory way. (I have some issues with the police procedures portrayed in this film, but I doubt the average viewer would notice--I've spent too much time around real-life cops, in addition to having watched way too many movies.)

I also congratulate director Darla Enlow for not padding her movie with useless scenes. Every scene in "Toe Tags" is there to forward the story rather than pad out the running time. We have no overlong establishing shots, no dragged out "mood establishing" scenes that don't go anywhere, and no boring conversations that are being passed off as "character development" but are really just badly executed padding attempts.

Another technical strong point is the way the various murder scenes are shot. They combine quick cuts and well-done sound effects to make up for the films limited budget, and they give the viewer just enough to make the deaths horrific. (In fact, the sound design on "Toe Tags" is better than on many low-budget films where it seems to be an element that's ignored entirely.)

In most aspects, "Toe Tags" a well-done, taut thriller that script-, direction-, and editing-wise measures up against similar big-screen releases with ten or one-hundred times the budgets that this was made on.

Unfortunately, the movie is weak in the acting department. Even by low-budget, indie standards, the performances are universally stiff and the dialogue sounds very unnatural as it is delivered. The weak acting is brought all the more to the forefront by the way everyone politely waits for each actor to finish their lines before starting their own, even in arguments. I've never had a heated discussion where the person I was arguing with waits a beat before giving their response, yet that is what everyone in the world of "Toe Tags" does.

Still, the story is well-told and the filmmaking craft on display so solid that I can forgive the weak acting. It's an enjoyable film, and I think fans of both the thriller and the slasher genres will like it quite a bit.

(Oh... on a minor casting note, permit me to also congratulate Enlow for putting naked bodies on display that are actually pleasant to look at. No bad boob jobs or flabby male guts are waved in the viewers' faces here, and I appreciate that immensely. Too many people who appear in films at this level of production and funding really should keep their clothes on.)

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