An aspiring feature film directed is given the opportunity of a lifetime when he meets a Hollywood producer with a script, studio, and the money. But what price is he willing to pay in order for his dreams come true?
Billed as being “inspired by De Palma’s Blow Out and Robert Altman’s The Player“, Graham Denman’s debut film Greenlight (2019) is a movie with the message of being careful about what you wish for. Starring that guy who is in everything, Chris Browning, and Chase Williams (John Dies At the End), Greenlight was an emotional horror film that evoked a feeling of my back being against the wall as I was pulled into the drama surrounding its artistic protagonist and his executioner/mentor antagonist.
Jack (Chase Williamson) is an eager LA filmmaker with a lot of heart and potential but no opportunities, hindered by the old catch 22 of no one letting him make a feature film until he actually has a feature film. When he meets Sarah (Nicole Alexandra Shipley), a sexy young actress who liked his short-films and offers to pass along his information to a producer, Jack jumps at the opportunity to interview for a directorial position. In the office and studio of Bob Moseby (Chris Browning), Jack finds that his new boss has a film in his pipeline called the “Sleep Experiment”, and after agreeing to work together, Bob has Jack celebrate by firing a gun in honor of their impending shoot. With the help of his best friend/director of photography Sam (Shane Coffey), and with the support of his long-time girlfriend Shantel (Evanne Friedmann), Jack begins the daunting task of bringing Bob’s movie to fruition. His excitement, however, soon begins to crumble as the thriller moves from the production into his real-life when Bob tells Jack that he wants the final kill in the movie to be real, in order to get rid of a rival and build hype to draw in audiences.
According to Bob in the film, “Horror films don’t win awards, but psychological thrillers do”, and that does seem to be the case as Greenlight has picked up two awards: one for Best Thriller and one for Best Actor at the 2019 Shriekfest. Chase Williams runs the full gamut of emotions, essentially showing the five stages of grief — plus an initial stage of happiness at the beginning — in the film’s 83-minute runtime; Jack is relatable and believable as a down on his luck artist who just needs one chance and is at the mercy of an industry where one has to grease the wheels of non-artists, even if it means greasing said wheels with blood. It is not surprising that he won the Best Actor award at Shriekfest for this performance.
His counterpoint, Mr. Moseby, played by Chris Browning, is as unassuming but sinister as always, and horror goddess Caroline Williams (Tales of Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) as Mrs. Moseby was vulnerable but strong in her role as his aged trophy wife and failed actress. The film had some ever so slightly comic relief, but Greenlight was mostly a tense thriller within the making of a tense thriller that succeeded in building suspense, mystery, and mounting pressure from the threat of a looming demise. Greenlight played with neon and dark lighting throughout the film, which gave a disorienting feeling at times, and since death comes out of nowhere for many of its players, the viewer stays unsettled in anticipation until its surprise ending. Greenlight is a smart horror film, and though it could have used more blood, the blood that did appear, most notably upon the chest of the beautiful Nicole Alexandra Shipley as Sarah, made for some striking shots on film and spoke to the many other great aspects of the film’s cinematography.
Greenlight has red herrings, double-crosses, a McGuffin, and foul play, but it is not a murder mystery of olden Hollywood days. Think of it as a neon-neo-noir of modern times, and yes, it is much like The Player (1992) as we get to see the entrails of Hollywood productions and movie sets in a thriller setting. It is an impressive movie as director Graham Denman’s first feature-length film, who I’m sure drew from personal experience in crafting the story of this film. His artistic choices seem to be influenced by Orson Wells and Hitchock while framing close-ups and overlapping images against shots to show and not tell in emotional scenes. Greenlight asks ‘what, or who, would you sacrifice in order to have your dreams come true?’ in the setting of a film within a film, having one’s dreams turn into a true-life nightmare. For fans of murder, Hollywood, and possibly snuff-films this would be one to watch.
Adrienne Reese is a fan of movies - the good, the bad, and the ugly - and came to the horror genre by way of getting over her fear of... everything. Adrienne also writes for the Frida Cinema, and in addition to film enjoys cooking, Minesweeper, and binge-watching Game of Thrones.