Almost Sucks the Life Out of Itself

As much as I might not like to admit it, I really do enjoy a bit of plain old entertainment from the films I watch.  Yes, something like The Fountain or Perfume represents what I like most in movies: abstract, arty, personal, with some aspirations of profundity.  And yes, I am rather partial to documentaries as well.  And no, what I mean by “entertainment” does not mean “the movies that Hollywood tends to tell me are entertaining.”

No, for me, “entertaining” is what Friday night “movies of the week” used to be when I was growing up—or programs that remind me a lot of what Twilight Zone or Night Gallery used to deliver: unambitious, decently told stories that feature a mixture of well-known faces and fresh new talent… on budgets that don’t allow for 18 setups in 43 different locations, explosions, gobs of CGI, or stars whose salaries or personal baggage drag down the narrative in twelve layers of metaphorical self-reference.

And for my money, I’ve got to say that MTI Home Video’s slate of releases tends to offer the best of this variety of what we like to refer to as “B-grade” entertainment.  But these aren’t the major distributors’ loss-leaders; they’re films that managed by hook or by crook to barely muster up financing—and yet are substantial enough to have attracted industry professionals at every level… perhaps not yet doing what they “always dreamed of doing” (or perhaps finding that the industry thinks them past their prime), but nonetheless putting in an honest few months of work along the way.

Tracy Teague as Susan in Respire

Respire falls pretty much into this mold.  It tells the very intriguing story of a second-hand store owner who finds herself in possession of a box containing a long-lost and much sought-after vial… which in turn contains the soul of a brilliant scientist who once managed to develop a drug that would prolong life indefinitely.  Before long, the shopkeeper—who is herself desperately clinging to life—begins channeling the scientist, and finds herself, as they say, drawn into a web of intrigue.

Saying much more about the plot would kind of ruin the experience.  I will only say that, as is usual with MTI releases that I request, I was pretty much going with it the whole way… right up until the pack of zombies started ripping apart the neighborhood.  At that point, it felt to me like somebody wanted to make a zombie pic, but couldn’t get it financed… and so, naturally, shoe-horned some scenes into someone else’s movie.  Oh, well.  (You must remember that I just—don’t—get—zombie—movies.  Period.)

Director David A. Cross has been through the straight-to-video mill a few times, and Respire shows that he’s learned a few things along the way.  Everything looks right and feels right, and the story moves forward in a way that competently invokes really good memories of Night Stalker (even if such memories probably aren’t justified).  Tracy Teague, who’s had some bit roles on TV, carries the film as Susan, the shopkeeper, while Matthew J. Wright and Jessica Keeler—neither of whom you’ll probably recognize from anything else—make good impressions as Susan’s “client” and shop helper, respectively.

All in all, Respire isn’t quite up to snuff in comparison to the best of MTI’s slate.  In particular, Teague doesn’t make Susan appealing enough for us to care much either about her illness, her attempts to crack the professor’s secret, or her battle with zombies.

Still, if you’re looking for a Friday night film that doesn’t suffer from Hollywood bloat and at least feels a little fresh and inventive, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Respire is rated R for “some bloody violence, language and brief nudity”—almost all of which comes in the very late going, and much of which seems there simply to guarantee the “R” rating a film needs for credibility as “horror”… which this really isn’t.  It’s a thriller/mystery.  I can imagine a PG cut of this film that would actually be a much more satisfying experience.

Courtesy of the film’s distributor, Greg screened a promotional copy of Respire.