Brant McCrea as Sonny Ray
Lily Horn as Yvonne LeMay
William J. Norris as Leander Humes
The opening credits begin with this quote: “A ghost is someone who hasn’t made it – in other words, who died, and they don’t know they’re dead, so they keep walking around and thinking that you’re inhabiting – let’s say, their domain. So they’re aggravated with you.” – S. Browne
That’s basically all you need to know as you head into Restoration, which was run as a feature at last week’s 2nd Annual FilmQuest. It was nominated for Best Actor (Brant McCrea) and Lily Horn for Best Supporting Actress.
It’s a spry 47 minutes, and while film festivals have their own rules as far as running times and how a film will be presented – in most circles, this would be considered a short. Why even on its IMDb page, it’s listed as such. But since I only review features – then that is what we will call it. Savvy?
God help me, but I’m going to paraphrase Marie Osmond here (which is even weirder given the tattooed and body shop world of the film), but the picture is a little bit Stephen King’s Christine and a little bit Discovery Channel’s Fast N’ Loud. You get that awkward Marie Osmond reference now?
Sonny Ray (Brant McCrea – also contributing music for the film) works in a chop-shop, and one day discovers an ad for a free 1950 Fleetline Deluxe – located somewhere in the rural sprawl on the outskirts of Chicago. The old dude offloading the car – Leander Humes – played by William J. Norris (my favorite performance in the film) tries to offer fair warning of the car’s dark history (a la Roberts Blossom in Christine), but Sonny’s too jazzed by the car, and thus waves off the potential issues the classic car may bring. Sonny takes it back to the shop and soon thereafter, the ghost of little Yvonne LeMay (Lily Horn) begins to wreak havoc. In the beginning of the film, we are given her backstory – she died in the trunk of this car during a game of hide-n-seek and now that the vehicle’s been removed, her ghost is pissed (see the quote above).
With such a short running time, there is/was a lot of extra space for more character development. Unlike Yvonne’s intro (what more do we need on that character?), we get very little to dig through as far as Sonny. I’m not suggesting that I have all of the answers to fill in his character gaps, but something to make us love him more would be in order. This solves the running time issue as well as the sympathy issue. McCrea’s great and we certainly don’t dislike Sonny – he’s just under-developed.
Let me dig through the tool-box and hand off some compliments. The picture is sleek, clean and beautiful. Director Ryan Oliver and cinematographer Marcel Morin have a firm grasp on lighting and picture composition. One particular shot had me marveling at the depth. As Sonny leans in to the trunk to examine its contents (a blanket and a dried-up flower), behind him is a vast amount of space in the shop. It’s so well lit and so detailed – you can’t help but look around behind Sonny – wondering what might pop up there. It’s nice that Oliver sets you up for that with these gorgeous shots, as he will use it later to great effect as Yvonne is practically hidden (a potential series of “Where’s Yvonne?” books?) – just before she makes her presence truly known.
Speaking of letting the shop-keeper and other mechanics and their eventual “getting to know” Yvonne – the gore and make-up effects in Restoration are absolutely stunning, gag-worthy and ultimately, very fun. These aren’t necessarily the most well-drawn likeable characters (although the long dialogue scene just before Sonny wheels in Yvonne’s car is fabulously entertaining – making me believe that Oliver just rolled camera and let the two actors shoot the shit), so we don’t really know any of these folks before they face their fates. Yvonne’s a strong little ghost-girl, using so many of the body shop’s tools of the trade to practically write on the wall (in blood), “Yvonne was here.” And how.
Again, this could be a full-on feature. Just because FilmQuest’s rules allow it to compete as a feature, doesn’t truly make it one. But Oliver and company (see that?) have a good eye, a fun concept and a few bucks to back up their vision. A history of Sonny and perhaps some of Leander – trying to offload the car – could prove to be beneficial and easily make for an (at least) 80-minute film.
As it is, however, Sonny’s a fun guy, and McCrea’s performance is solid – certainly as he begins to see – and react to – Yvonne in every mirror of the car and the shop. But we don’t really get to know him. Although, the ending has Sonny dealing with the fall-out of what happens at the shop, and in those moments, we feel pretty bad for the s***-storm he finds himself in. It also suggests that Sonny’s got some kind of criminal past – the way the phone calls are portrayed and certainly in how he quickly leaves the scene (once he properly deals with Yvonne). With all of this heat, he does what anyone else would do – and that is where it would be nice to find out more about the old dude who originally possessed the car (or did it possess him?).
There’s a vintage jukebox in a corner of the shop (I love the first sight of it in the film – during the opening credits), and it lends itself to some classic-sounding songs to further engage us. The soundtrack is a very big highlight of the film – both the score and the chosen songs. All of the tunes enhance the feel of this particular group and this grease-monkey location.
I don’t know what the future holds for Restoration, but I hope you get to see it. It’s short, so not a huge time commitment, but frankly, it left me wanting a little bit more – not in quality, just more time in that world – with those characters, that music and those incredible gore effects. And how was this left off the list of nominations for make-up effects for the FilmQuest awards? Put me on that jury!