Directed by: Alec Ybarra
Written by: #AlecYbarra
The second movie of #filmmaker Alec Ybarra's I have had the pleasure of reviewing this year, When I Held The Key shows a similar level of filmmaking to his other 2019 movie, Prism of Light. The storytelling has shifted, however, with the aforementioned short focusing on high school tragedy and his even earlier movie Unmarked centering on bullying, the plot of this piece is more melodramatic.
Adam J. Cahn and Batya Cruz play a married couple hoping for a pleasant weekend reunion with their old school friends. However, their stay at a local B&B sees them at the mercy of the owner's (Tami Nichols) odd and startling behaviour. With locks being placed on the doors once the guests are inside, separate bedrooms for the spouses, and some strange concoction involving a frozen block of chocolate, this is one guesthouse doomed for a one-star TripAdvisor review.
It is always inspiring to see filmmakers getting out there and making movies with whatever resources they can cobble together. Telling stories in 2019 is very much a free-for-all industry because the technology has become so easily available yet actually getting films fully made is still a considerable ambition. What Ybarra seems intent on doing is throwing himself into the form and testing his capabilities in an intensive manner. With When I Held The Key, he works out his thriller/evil muscle groups showing potential but with still a lot to learn.
The performances are uneven across the board and Ybarra seems unable to strike the right balance between intrigue and melodrama. Nichols in particular has a wild and unpredictable character yet the turn seems more like cartoonish villainy than genuine threat. Our couple are completely unbelievable, going along too easily with the bizarre antics and raising the alarm way too late. T.O.N.E-z plays a handyman and is utterly confusing in his motivation. Which brings me on to one of the biggest disappointments with the film itself, which was the promise of some wonderful twist which never arrives.
Throughout the film we are presented with obvious signals that this is not your average Bed & Breakfast and the atmosphere is shaping up to be a horror in the woods genre flick. However, little hints are dropped that our perception of evil and human nature is often skewed to assume the worst and with this viewers are likely to begin to hope for a shocking twist or reveal that turns the overly familiar plot on its head. Sadly, like the couple's plan for a lovely weekend, it doesn't arrive. Instead, the story goes through the usual machinations of #horror filmmaking and barely bucks the trend except by getting one of the couple onside at one stage which is then quickly reversed. Given that the premise was fairly intriguing, a couple go to a barmy B&B and assume the worst, it seems sad that something more unique did not emerge.
Like Prism of Light, there are some garish visual effects coming into play here which felt unnecessary yet some of the filmmaking was decent. A thrilling car chase at one point was a nice addition and the atmosphere of the film through low lighting and eerie music ensured the audience knew what type of film they were watching.
Much like a newbie at the gym, Alec Ybarra seems eager to get his hours in and try as much of the equipment as possible. With this outing there were solid gains made and some notable high points, however, a lack of originality to the routine and a going-through-the-motions approach to the performances have left it a rather forgettable session. I'm still totally eager to see the improvements in the young filmmaker which are on the horizon and hoping he finds his stride with a better genre fit.