Let’s take a break from big-budget movies. In fact, let’s pull away from the entire Hollywood machine as a whole and turn our eyes towards independent, low-budget filmmaking. Real low budget, as it turns out. Specifically let’s take a look at this year’s ‘Ezekiel’s Landing,’ a testament to the potential of micro budget features in the modern age.
‘Ezekiel’s Landing’ was a crowdfunded effort, produced in and around the greater Indianapolis area for a budget of only a few thousand dollars. It was directed by James Treakle*, a young and upcoming filmmaker in the burgeoning Midwestern Indie (literally Indy in this case) scene. And where as the stereotype for films with 4 or 5 figure budgets is that they consist of two guys standing in a room the whole time, Treakle has a far more ambitious story to tell.
‘Ezekiel’s Landing,’ is a science-fiction thriller with some action elements thrown in for good measure. It details a small group of people combatting a cult obsessed with extra terrestrials, all the while dealing with their own personal anguish from an alien abduction.
Of course I view those details as a surface level reading only; what the film is really conveying is the ways in which we grapple with the unknowns in our life. For the characters in ‘Ezekiel’s Landing’, it’s aliens; but for us it could be anything we struggle to understand: religion, philosophical ideas, love, life, traumatic events, etc. Some of us define ourselves by them; some of us fake them; some of us deny them; some of us lash out and attack them; some of us worship at the feet of them.
Ultimately, though, the message of the film, I’d say, is that we all must eventually come to accept them–whatever the things we struggle with are– as parts in our life; but we can also recognize that we are not alone in dealing with them. Rather, we can reach out to others as best as we can for help in bearing our burdens, and in turn we can offer to do the same for them. There are no easy answers, but the movie’s recommended approach of sincerity, humility, and community as the avenue for growth and healing is something I can certainly get behind.
This is pretty heavy stuff for a film produced on so small a scale, but Treakle manages to make it work. He tells his story mainly through dialogue and ambience, rather than through action and effects. Through some very well written moments, characters describing their views on alien encounters become authentic and empathetic to the viewer; it really works to sell a fascinating amalgam of mystery, paranoia, and (surprisingly) humanity early on. And while Indiana lacks the cinematic appeal of California or Toronto or even Michigan, its rural areas–where much of the film is shot– contribute surprisingly well to the feeling of isolation and wonder that permeates the story. It’s the same sort of juxtaposition of rural and science-fiction/fantasy elements that made ‘Signs’ or ‘Field of Dreams,’ so effective in their respective settings. Treakle also heightens this mystique with some strikingly potent camera work. Indeed, a unique sense of composition and lighting is on full display in this film, with night time cinematography standing out in particular. Many of the shots are real treats to view on their own; and as a whole they work well to maintain the eerie vibe of the picture.
There are some action and effects scenes in this movie; but in a limited quantity. The action is a little so-so, though that has to be expected to some extent given the circumstances; I will say, though, that one of their stuntmen–whose big moment involves him leaping from a second story building– is fairly impressive. The effects–digital and practical– get used sparingly, mostly at the end of the film; but when they are used, they do work well. Most of them appear to have been done using modern computer effects programs–oh how far we’ve come in the last ten years on that stuff–and they do feel credible and not hokey. The stand out effects shot of the movie, though, is the practical model work used to create an alien space ship in the finale; once again this approach proves its superiority in terms of tangibility to pure digital effects.
All of this is to say that ‘Ezekiel’s Landing,’ as a whole, mostly works; although it is not without certain issues. Some of these are just technical– at least in the version I saw, there is a bit of imbalance in audio where the music (which is well-written) occasionally over powers the dialogue such that you struggle to hear what the actors are saying. There are also some select outdoor scenes where noise from wind and cars was droning over the actors’ voices. Given the budget for the film I don’t fault it too much for this; but it nevertheless detracted somewhat from the experience. There were also a few moments involving story that I did view as slightly problematic: a few scenes get rushed; a few explanations are glossed over a little too quickly; a few characters feel curtailed in their growth; and while Treakle’s dialogue has good flow overall; a few bits of it here and there are rough around the edges. I would be interested to see a longer cut of this film if it exists, and how that might effect some of these issues. None of these problems, though, were enough to distract me in a serious way from the core narrative, which I still viewed as quite captivating.
Overall, it is genuinely impressive what has been done with ‘Ezekiel’s Landing.’ It is good to see that Treakle and his team did not let a small budget or an unconventional film location get in the way of the story they wanted to tell. Indeed, as new technology continues to make filmmaking more accessible to those outside of Hollywood; I hope other filmmakers look to this one as a reminder that not all low-budget features need be low-concept as well. Still, I find myself interested to see what this same team could do with more time and resources made available to them; and I hope that this opportunity avails itself. Put another way, I look forward to more from James Treakle in the future.
And if you’re interested in checking out this movie, it’s available here for $5.
*This is Treakle’s debut feature; though he has spent a number of years producing short films in Indiana.