We at Really Awful Movies are not big fans of most of what passes for mainstream horror these days — the horror by committee, big-budget films that studios cynically churn out to cash in on the audience’s desire for something scary, original and fun. The problem is most of these films lack anything remotely scary, original or fun.
That’s why we turn to the indies. Those scrappy, low-budget films made by people who make films not to fulfill a quarterly dividend but rather because they are fans of the genre. A Grim Becoming by Adam R. Steigert is one such film. While not exactly scary per se, A Grim Becoming is funny and original, and it has those indelible qualities that so many of its larger budget brethren lack: heart and passion.
Set squarely in Buffalo, NY, which really is the sister city to our headquarters here in Toronto, Ontario (Go Bills!), A Grim Becoming tells the tale of reluctant reaper Raphael. Seems that Magoo the Reaper King has long grown tired and stressed by the demands of being the only soultaker, so to enjoy a little quality of life the old-guy did what any sensible superior would do: outsource and delegate.
Rafael is a hotshot executive on the cusp of either closing or losing a major deal and is none-too-happy to learn that his nephew was taken from the world too soon. He returns home to pay his respects, but swerves to avoid a homeless man and hits a tree. Soon, a familiar dark-hooded figure with a scythe appears on scene and the domicile-challenged gentleman dies where he stands. Next the hooded one collapses and dies himself.
Raphael enters the funeral home and spots his nephew’s grieving girlfriend Jamie (Devanny Pinn). He wants to offer his support and condolences, but voices in his head overwhelm him. Suddenly, he’s inside a dark, smoky room and makes the acquaintance of Magoo, a portly, cigar-smoking man in a suit with black nails that could use a manicure, eyes that wouldn’t mind a drop or two of Visine and skin that could use a couple of days out in the sun. Magoo introduces himself as the Reaper King and explains the rules of the soul taking business. Namely, if one witnesses a reaper in the act of taking a life, that person must then take the reaper’s place.
Poor Raphie doesn’t want to be a reaper and finds it most inconvenient when he inadvertently takes the life of his bratty niece, October. She returns as a zombie, even more incorrigible than before, and with rot and decay setting in fast, Raphael enlists Magoo’s help to find party-girl Life (a fun turn by Jessica Cameron) to bring the little brat back to the land of the living. Life also informs Raph that if he is to rid himself of the death curse, he must find someone else to give it to within 72 hours.
A Grim Becoming is lots of fun. The makeup and gore effects are cheap yet charmingly effective and the game cast all acquit themselves well. Devanny Pinn is quite good and Brandyn T. Williams as Raphael gives a hilarious performance. But all pale next to Michael Sciabarassi as Magoo who appears to be having the time of his life as he swallows chunks of scenery whole. Also of note is the illustrious Lynn Lowry of The Crazies, Score and Shivers who plays a rather ribald hotel guest.
A Grim Becoming isn’t perfect. At 115 minutes, the film is overlong and does seem to meander at times. But the exuberance of the cast and crew is quite evident and infectious. A Grim Becoming is an impressive indie effort that we would rather watch over your umpteenth Paranormal Activity sequel any day of the week, and that includes our day off on Sundays.
***1/2 (out of 5)