When Joshua Licet wakes up with his wife missing he must decide whether to lock himself in his house for forty days and 40 nights of torture or to leave her to die.
99 Pieces is a grim psychological horror film which manages to sustain an excellent sense of foreboding from start to finish. Independent film director, Anthony Falcon, really put his all into this one and his passion for horror is just one thing that makes this film worth watching. Falcon himself stars in the main role and was dedicated enough to lose 20 pounds in 17 days by starving himself for the movie. The fast paced editing and decent acting (despite using relatively unknown, new talent) made for a very engaging, creepy horror film which managed to stretch its meagre budget very far indeed.
The story of this one is about a slightly dysfunctional couple whose relationship has already reached breaking point. After a row, Josh, a dentist, sleeps on the sofa only to wake up to find his wife, Rebecca, has been taken by some unknown assailant. Josh has been left instructions about how to get his wife back, which basically involves being forced to become a prisoner in his own home. He is put on a rather twisted ‘points game’ regarding his food intake and electricity usage, all the while being given pieces of a puzzle that he must solve within 40 days and 40 nights. As the film progresses, we learn more and more about this couple and their many secrets – a journey which is not at all a pretty one.
It is very easy to draw comparisons here with the Saw franchise, specifically Saw II, as the whole premise of the film revolves around ‘testing’ the main characters and getting them to solve a puzzle – a jigsaw, no less. In fact, when Saw II came out, Falcon, seeing the similarities in the script he had already written, spent six months changing it so that it didn’t feel like a rip-off. It’s good to see an independent director who is aware of their genre and that particular side of the film industry. However, it is important to note that 99 Pieces was actually very minimal with its gore and bloodshed, a move that I whole heartedly applaud. This meant that it relies on a solid plot and drama, as opposed to just out-and-out horror, limbs flying in all directions. I would also draw similarities to the Michael Haneke’s film Hidden, with the seemingly ‘happy’ family who start to get terrorised by some unknown person. Both Hidden and 99 Pieces take the viewer on a journey in which the fabric of that family is unravelled – leading to disaster, ultimately. Even perhaps films like My Little Eye (with its characters trapped in a house, isolated, and being watched) or Memento (with its non-linear narrative allowing little pieces of the plot to be revealed bit by bit) can be cited as possible influences.
On a negative note, a large portion of this film was in severe need of some decent lighting. I’m aware that it was done a micro-budget, but just a few extra lights would have made the world of difference. Even though this was brought up by the initial screening test (held in Sacramento California with approximately 30 people) and Falcon spent eight hours lightening the dark scenes to make them brighter, I still felt that more should have been done to address this issue.
Considering the scale of this movie, the plot was brilliantly complex – in places so complex that I scratched my head a few times though. The film jumps back and forth between flashbacks and Josh being trapped in the house, a switch that was dizzying at times. I personally found some of the flashbacks themselves a tad on the confusing side, especially at the beginning, where events seemed to bounce around an awful lot. Also, towards the middle, the back stories started to become really intricate and complicated, and I honestly started to get lost in the tangled web of connections. Perhaps this was the intention though, because once it got to the end, most of my earlier queries had been answered. Some of the instances where the flashbacks ‘bleed’ into the main story segments (by this I mean the sound of the two are played simultaneously) didn’t work too well, in my opinion, and almost seemed a bit sloppy in places. Sloppy editing is never a good thing!
On occasion, some of the shots, and even the music, were too jolting and really didn’t fit where they were placed. Similarly, the textual overlay was used too much for my liking, and this is one of the things that gave it away as being more on the amateur side of things. This is just me getting into nitty gritty details now, because overall, the film was very impressively made. The use of the muted colours throughout (beige, grey and even a green tinge on the outside shots) emphasized the hopelessness of the characters situation, and means that the few times that we see blood, that alarmingly bright red appears to be even more shocking and dreadful to witness. It’s interesting to contrast how mundane the setting is with the truly horrific events which happen to be taking place there.
Something that made me chuckle was the fact that this has to be the one and only horror film which actually features a game of Monopoly in it. Not just this, in fact, but a game of Monopoly followed by a making out session in the same scene – who knew that could happen!? This occurred in the more optimistic scene in the movie, and it was good to get a bit of light relief from the downright miserable events that were taking place. As well, just as in Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell, once I saw the cat I knew that no good can come of it. Whereas in Drag Me To Hell the cat just gets knifed to death, 99 Pieces decided to mix it up a little and put the cat in the oven instead. Well, we wouldn’t want it going to waste now, would we?
Despite being a fairly modest little horror film, Anthony Falcon’s sheer dedication and hard work have paid off massively, with 99 Pieces ending up being played at nine film festivals. A quote from the director actually states that, “We had an amazing screening of the film. By the end of the film every old person had left as did parents with children. A Horror Filmmakers Dream. You know you did your job when people can’t stomach what you show.” 99 Pieces was nominated for three awards and it also won Best Horror Film of the Year at Bare Bones International Film Festival. Nice one.
It’s always great to see a horror film that proves that it has the right level of sophistication, coupled with some good old-fashioned tension, in order to be a wonderfully gripping watch. If you’re a fan of independent horror, then this is definitely one worth checking out.
99 Pieces (2007)