Cinematic Releases: Restoration

Andrew reviews the directorial debut of Zack Ward

Donald Trump says you're here to
make me sammiches and cook
me bacon!
Zack Ward made his acting debut in the film business with 1983's A Christmas Story as the nefarious local teenage bully Scut Farkus.  Since then he's mostly remained a busy character actor with many television appearances including Maniac Mansion, Sliders and even CSI.  An avid fan of horror movies and one to almost always play the villain, Mr. Ward and director James Cullen Bressack recently formed their own production company, Grit Film Works.  The first two films in the company's library both prominently feature Ward in central roles with the second being the first venture for Ward as a writer-director: the unfinished business ghost story Restoration.  Not to be confused with the 1995 Academy Award winning Restoration starring Robert Downey, Jr., Ward's directorial debut is the story of a young female doctor finishing up her residency who moves into a new neighborhood with her husband who, like Stir of Echoes and The Changeling, uncovers a dark secret left behind by the previous homeowners in the process of remodeling.  Along the way the couple meets a pair of overbearing neighbors who are unusually friendly, maybe too much so.  As a first time effort, for the first two thirds of the picture it is quite good with strong central performances by Emily O'Brien, Adrian Gaeta and Sarah Ann Schultz.  Even Inherent Vice heavy Keith Jardine shows up in it as an orderly in a mental institution.  While Ward hasn't exactly fashioned an original horror masterpiece, he's managed to create an effective little chiller that should please the B-horror supernatural thriller crowd even if it steps on a whoopee cushion in conclusion.

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The first scene opens on a CGI title sequence with title cards flying at the camera as it careens through the empty floors of what appears to be a haunted house, not long before a sledgehammer crashes through a wall ala Ghost's opening sequence.  The film itself, being microbudget, is brilliantly photographed and edited despite the derivative content.  If I have any technical gripes, they concern a power line with overtly CG looking crows perched on the construct.  Otherwise when it relies on practical effects work, it's pretty effective and I was taken aback by a graphic image of a character with a knife sticking out of their mouth.  As previously mentioned, if you've seen Stir of Echoes, you can predict the framework of this thing scene by scene but at the same time Zack Ward clearly isn't trying to break new ground so much as he is attempting to get his foot in the door with a familiar supernatural yarn.  For the most part it's a lot of fun and there were scenes that actually did manage to elicit chills even though I could see it coming from around the corner.  Acting for the most part is solid with the central couple turning over convincing performances although everyone chews up the scenery in the last act where the film really falters.  Without spoiling anything, there's a part where a character is stabbed repeatedly and on the sound track you can hear the same stock sound effect being pushed on the soundboard over and over again, a distraction which unfortunately lifted me right out of the movie.  

Nooooo!!!! Not leftovers again!!!
Like me, most viewers will be put off by the film's dangerously close to ruinous final act for how hastily handled it seems but the first two thirds are strong enough to still recommend Restoration.  Overall, I was hooked and there are more than a few surprising scares in it I was not expecting that managed to evoke, believe it or not, some of the creepier moments of Christophe Gans' adaptation of Silent Hill.  This was a solid little number, that is until the shaky landing of the third act which is a shame because everything leading up to it, while cliched, was very well done for a veteran character actor first breaking into the business of directing a film.  Ward's effort also piqued me interest in the other offering of Grit Film Works, Bethany, and while some will write him off as a wannabe for simply recycling tropes we're already more than familiar with in his first movie, I enjoyed the Hell out of it and am eager to see what he has in store next in spite of the lackluster finale.  Much like Elijah Wood's SpectreVision, Ward clearly loves horror movies and his passion for the genre comes through loud and clear with his first time behind the camera.  One of those character actors who can go from being gentlemanly to terrifying at the drop of a hat, it is fair to say our villain we love to hate from A Christmas Story has grown up.


- Andrew Kotwicki