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DRAWING FLIES

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Jason Lee, Jason Mewes, Renee Humphrey, Carmen Lee, Martin Brooks
Directors:  Matt Gissing and Malcolm Ingram
Audio:  Dolby Stereo
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  IndieDVD
Features:  See Review
Length:  76 Minutes (Director’s Cut approx. 81 Minutes)
Release Date:  February 26, 2002

“Don’t EVER touch my f—king map!”

Film ***

So you love Kevin Smith movies, do you?  Me, too.  Ever heard of Drawing Flies?  Me, neither.

It’s nothing to be ashamed of, according to the press info from IndieDVD, who are releasing this film to disc for the first time.  Drawing Flies has been called the “lost View Askew” film.  It was written and directed by a couple of young indie filmmakers, Matt Gissing and Malcolm Ingram, who got the green light and the money through Kevin Smith, who liked the idea so much that he had Miramax include $80,000 in his annual budget just to produce two inexpensive independent films per year, a la his debut movie Clerks.

Chronologically, the picture came between Mallrats and Chasing Amy, and Gissing and Ingram managed to corral some of the castmates from those films into their production.  You’ll see Jason Lee and Renee Humphrey from Mallrats, Carmen Lee from Chasing Amy, and Jason Mewes from ALL of Smith’s films, along with some fun surprise cameos along the way I wouldn’t dream of spoiling for you.

Drawing Flies has its own life and vitality…save for a scene that discusses which character was really the hero of the Scooby Doo cartoons, this doesn’t have Kevin Smith’s stamp on it.  It’s the story of a group of twenty-something slackers in Canada who end up on a rather bizarre adventure in the wilderness.

“Welfare Wednesday”, Donner (Jason Lee) calls it.  The day when happily unemployed wayfarers like himself and his friends show up and collect their allowance from the government.  And just think, if the government had simply handed the checks over this time, we’d have no movie!

But faced with no cash and the prospect of losing their measly living quarters, Donner hatches a plan…he and his friends can stay at a relative’s cabin in the woods.  It will involve a few days’ hiking, but what else are they gonna do?  Soon he, Az (Mewes), Meg (Humphrey), Cassidy (Carmen Lee) and Jake (Brooks) are all reluctantly following their pioneering leader.

However…is Donner telling the whole truth?  Or has the whole system become too much for him, leading him to taking a desperately insane way out, and taking his unknowing friends with him? 

Let me put it this way…Donner believes he can find Bigfoot.

His friends, blissfully unaware at first, simply go along for the ride, stealing food here and there, smoking plenty of grass, bickering and discussing any transient thought that crosses their somewhat empty lives, but each becoming more and more convinced that their fearless leader may not have all of his faculties intact.

I should point out, in all fairness, that if you don’t generally like independent films, you probably won’t get into Drawing Flies at all.  If you have a comfort level that relies solely on big budgets and polished productions, then don’t let the names sway you.  Jason Lee and other cast members have since established themselves as viable stars, true, but they weren’t stars when they made this film, which was cheaply shot, recorded and edited.  It’s not quite as tightly focused as movies like Clerks or The Blair Witch Project, but for people who enjoy indie films, the lack of visible money is really part of the charm.

Gissing and Ingram are both very promising directors.  They have a good eye for lighting, camera placement, and detail.  Many of the shots in the film are decidedly beautiful, and very well constructed.  I’m guessing both of them know their Kurosawa, because more than one sequence actually reminded me of the great Japanese director’s uncanny sense of creating spatial relations within a shot by layering scenery in foreground and background to create a sense of depth.  One shot in particular stands out, as the cast walks across a very long, very high rope suspension bridge.  The steadicam work is impressive, and whoever had to hold that camera and walk backwards across that bridge to get that shot is a much braver man than I.

As far as writing goes, there is some talent there, but one gets the feeling it’s not as fully developed as it’s going to be.  The script is amusing, but there aren’t many genuinely big laughs.  The dialogue is acute, but given the nature of the characters, rarely says anything of substance.  The cast is all good, and as Smith points out in the introduction, this movie helped him decide to cast Jason Lee in a more dramatic role in Chasing Amy.  He goes a little mad here, but not over the top…it’s a quiet, introspective kind of insanity.

Or maybe it’s not insanity.  Is the ending a cheat?  I can’t decide, but you’ll have to agree, there’s only two ways the picture could have really ended, and frankly, I couldn’t tell you which one would have been the better choice.  Maybe the underlying point is that insanity is no more or less grounded a reality than sanity itself.  Or maybe it's that a man deserves some kind of validation for stripping down to his shorts and smearing himself from head to toe with dirt and feces. 

I don’t know…all things considered, I think I’ll pick the former.

Video **

You don’t get Janusz Kaminski for $40,000, so don’t consider my two star rating a condemnation.  Considering the low budget and the obviously inexpensive high contrast film stock, it’s not a bad looking disc.  The problems are expected ones…a bit of softness here and there, a bit of grain in low light settings…but overall, I’d say nothing about the film’s look either A) can be blamed on the actual DVD transfer, or B) detracts from the overall effect of the picture.

Audio *1/2

The audio sounds about like what you’d expect for a cheaply made film…dialogue is generally clear, but with one or two moments where the mikes don’t quite pick up as well as they should.  There is minor noisiness throughout and one or two dropouts here and there.  Though the box says both stereo and Dolby Surround tracks are included, I only noticed one track, and as best as I could tell, it was a simple stereo mix.

Features ***

There are two commentary tracks, a more “serious” one with creators Matt Gissing and Malcolm Ingram, and a more “fun” one with them plus Jason Lee, Jason Mewes, Renee Humphrey, Carmen Lee, Scott Mosier, and Kevin Smith.  The latter is definitely the better listen…more participants mean more aspects get covered.  It sounds like a group of friends unwinding at a party after a few beers, and you’re an invited guest.

There is also about 10 minutes of deleted scenes and/or outtakes, a look at three additional titles from IndieDVD, and a five minute introduction to the film by Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier.  A director's cut viewing option also exists, with an additional five minute scene that neither adds to nor detracts from the film.  It's not exactly seamless branching...the disc goes to another spot for the extra footage, and then back again when complete.

Summary:

Drawing Flies never got the big theatrical release enjoyed by other movies under the View Askew banner, but thanks to IndieDVD, fans of Kevin Smith’s movie company can get a look at this modest, independent film.  It won’t please people who don’t like independent cinema, but for those of us who do, this picture is an entertaining diversion with a good cast and spearheaded by a pair of promising young directors.