I’ve seen scads of films. Seriously. Big budget. Low budget. No budget. I suspect HAZMAT probably is one of those that falls in somewhere the ‘no’ and ‘low’ budget categories. (My usual resource – IMDB.com – lists no financial data.) One of the things that personally frustrates me with motion pictures of this type is that there’s often a germ of something great in them. It may be the plot or one element of it. It may be the performance. Occasionally, it’s something else less obvious about the greater production, such as the lighting, sound, or practical effects. (I’m a bit of a junkie on those things, especially in B-movies features.) And HAZMAT is no different – there’s a nugget of honest storytelling genius wrapped up in there. Most folks probably won’t see it, much less appreciate it, but it’s the kind of thing that (usually) had the producers a bit more cash to throw at the thing it really could’ve made a difference.
One of the downsides to no/low budget filmmaking scene is that, in order to play alongside the big studios, the cast and crew are usually quick to wage their own private little media war with social media and/or the greater Internet at large. That’s the only explanation I have for a largely forgettable flick like this having (presently) an 8.1 (on a 10 scale) at IMDB. It isn’t just “that” caliber, folks, no matter how hard you try to convince yourselves or us. A little intellectual honesty goes a long way.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Here’s the skinny from Uncork’d: “It’s been years since a chemical plant accident killed 138 employees, including Jacob’s father – which has left Jacob obsessed with the plant ever since. Jacob’s friends lure him to the plant to play a prank, hoping he will come to his senses and realize the plant is not haunted. When Jacob discovers he has been duped, he snaps, picks up an ax and goes on a rage-filled, killing spree. Now, everyone trapped in the building, pursued by this disturbed ax-wielding maniac, must fight for their lives.”
There’s a bit more to the story than that, but the general gist stands correct. What’s left out is that HAZMAT is far more about the media and how the media fuels on these local legends instead of being a character study of Jacob. Also – for those who might be curious – yes, the film is much more of a classic slasher story than anything else; it’s given some contemporary packaging by way of involving a reality program which specializes in pranking dupes or rubes with a little help from their friends … and that’s the ‘genius’ inspiration I sited above. That’s where this story works – indicting the entire subculture of folks who are more inclined to tune in and watch the antic of the Kardashian family – as opposed to being a stone cold chiller thriller. It helps to think of this as an 80’s picture: other than the technological improvements, this is a ‘locked box’ tale where everyone is hell bent on getting out alive … and that’s it. The ending? It may or may not leave you wanting more.
Otherwise, the players are fairly nondescript in any individual estimation. No one really stands out – a sad phenomenon that tends to go hand-in-hand with many of these small releases. Jacob and his friends (perhaps ‘frenemies’ is a more logical descriptor given what they put the man through) could’ve been played by anyone with the proper credentials, and it would’ve been nice to see someone real stand out here. In fact, I think it would’ve only helped the picture.
Also, the plot description provided by Uncork’d does a bit of a disservice to one of the larger elements within the film’s overall arch: it would appear that there in fact WAS some truth to the chemical plant causing workers to go berserk. I won’t spoil it any more than that, other than to say that there’s clearly a thematic reason for the picture to be called HAZMAT other than the benign fact that everyone becomes involved in a hazardous situation.
Lastly, I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t point out that the film won “Best Horror Film” at the 2013 Massachusetts Independent Film Festival as well as played as an official selection of the 2013 Bram Stoker International and 2013 Shriekfest Film Festivals. Those audiences tend to know more than a thing or two about some quality terror, perhaps much more than I’ve even forgotten.
HAZMAT (2013) is produced by White Lotus Productions. DVD distribution is being handled via Uncork’D Entertainment. As for the technical specifications, this is a fairly smartly assembled low budget thriller, so the sights and sounds are very good, though I had some trouble with the audio in a few short sequences (nothing too critical). If it’s special features you’re interested in, then methinks you’ve gone bust: Uncork’d provided me with a screener with no main menu so I’m guessing that means there are no extras available with the release, but sometimes there are. Unfortunately, you may know better than I as my copy had nada.
(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED. Unless I’m being too cynical (it’s happened before), I suspect nine out of ten folks who stumble across HAZMAT from their local video stores shelves will watch it and immediately dismiss it as garbage … should they finish it at all. That won’t be because they disliked the story; rather, it’ll be that they probably have no real cinematic appreciation of what a truly independent feature with an extremely low budget (if any) looks like. For my tastes, HAZMAT isn’t great, but it certainly has that germ of an idea that – were it properly cultivated, nurtured, and financed – had the possibility of being more than the sum of its parts. In its current incarnation, it’s passable but not by much.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Uncork’D Entertainment provided me with an advance DVD screener of HAZMAT by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.