The Samaritans is an award-winning* indie horror film releasing in the U.S. & North America on April 16th, courtesy of VIVA Pictures. The film was written and directed by Doug Bollinger, and was based on a story by Keith Collins. Both men star in the film, and have worked on a number of other films together, including 2012’s The Meat Puppet, 2013’s Gravedigger, and 2017 The Evangelist. Rounding out the cast are actresses Timothy Laurel Harrison as “Daisy” and Annelise Nielsen as “Rosie”. Both actresses appeared in 2018’s Rock, Paper, Scissors, a 2018 film also directed by Bollinger.
Together, this is the entirety of the cast. There are no extras or bit players. Just the four actors shooting scenes in only two rooms. 4 + 2 = 6, which is coincidentally the number of days that it took to shoot the film. However, while some indie filmmakers may bemoan these limited resources, The Samaritans uses these “shortcomings” to its advantage.
The development team of a new mobile party app (i.e. for lonely people) have agreed to meet at the home of the project manager, Frank (Collins), in order to give it final testing before release, as well as to celebrate their accomplishment. The app, essentially an online “spin the bottle”, is clearly something that none of the team really care deeply about, other than its possible financial return. However, as none of the four have actually met outside of emails and Messenger, it will give them each a chance to meet face to face.
The first of the team to arrive is Rosie, the project copywriter. She is soon followed by Daisy, the social media “guru” whose job is to make the app seem “cool” and “popular” with the young adult audience it is clearly intended to target. The last to arrive is Eddie (Bollinger), an aging marketing expert with a surfer-meets-frat boy personality. Oddly, there seems to be no programmers or developers on this project.
The celebration portion of the meeting begins quickly, with the team cracking open some beers that Eddie brought with him. However, the party crashes abruptly… and so do the party-goers! After hearing a few banging noises emanating from Frank’s basement, Daisy begins to feel an “unease” move through the house. Within seconds, all four slip into unconsciousness.
All simultaneously regain consciousness an undefined period of time later, but are shocked to find themselves strapped to chairs in the basement of Frank’s house. Frank included! Despite there being no tangible physical restraints holding them down, they all confess to being bound to the chairs by some form of immaterial force. Unable to move, they find themselves seated around a makeshift table, an empty wine bottle tipped over upon it.
Pleasant demeanors and friendly banter is replaced with blame and accusations as each of the team members is quick to point the finger at one another for their predicament. Well, as much as people who can’t really move their wrists can point. However, as if to answer just who (or what) is behind this situation, the bottle begins to spin of its own accord. It finally comes to rest pointed at Daisy. She mentions feeling a chill before falling into a brief trance-like state. When she “comes to”, she glares over at Eddie, before rising to confront him about a past date that seemingly went very wrong, all in an accent drastically different from how she had previously spoken. Daisy slugs Eddie in his face before returning to her seat. As quickly as the moment began, she just as quickly “regains her senses”.
When questioned, Daisy recalls nothing of what she said, nor does she remember punching Eddie. She apologizes profusely, but she is just as confused as Eddie as to why she would have mentioned a date that never happened. Daisy also has no explanation for how she was able to stand, an act she swears she can no longer duplicate. There is no time to further discuss the matter before the bottle begins to spin again.
This time the spin ends with the bottle pointed at Frank. Much like Daisy, he also “trances out” before rising from his chair. However, his focus is squarely on Rosie. He makes a few threatening comments before shoving his hand down her blouse and fondling her in front of the others. He too returns to his seat before returning to “normal”. Like Daisy before him, Frank remembers nothing of what happened, but apologizes emphatically when told about his sexual abuse of Rosie.
In short order, the same thing happens to both Eddie and Rosie. While Eddie quietly takes his anger out on Frank’s face with a toolbox, Rosie shows severe homicidal tendencies towards Daisy, but also warns the others that they will not leave this room alive. Sounds like an awesome party, huh?
After some discussion, they discover that each are in turn becoming “possessed” (for lack of a better word) by a different angry spirit, all of which are REALLY pissed at one of the living souls in the room. With each subsequent possession, the spirits become progressively more violent, with wrenches, ropes, and knives coming into play. However, the team soon learns that they can help pull each other out of these possessed states by use of positive reinforcement. Ya know… stuff like, “You’re so smart!”, or “You’re a great employee!”, or “I would totally have sex with you!”. No, really. That last one is kinda important.
As might be expected, the team uncovers that they have more in common than just their work on the app. While this helps explain why they find themselves in their current predicament, there is also an attempt to connect them all to the town in which the events are taking place. Ultimately, this aspect feels forced, but is quite secondary to the overall plot. The connection between the spirits is a much bigger deal here, and works fine enough as the main story element.
The Samaritans is built entirely upon the strength of its characters and of the actors portraying them. This becomes even more pivotal when you consider that each of the four actors is essentially playing 2 different characters throughout the film. There are no special effects, and very little blood spilled. Other than the opening set-up, the entire film takes place in one room. What there is, however, is a whole Hell of a lot of dialogue. So, if you just aren’t a fan of watching people talk, chances are The Samaritans may not win you over.
If you are like me, generally not a fan of modern supernatural thrillers (i.e. I ain’t ‘fraid of no ghost!), you might be inclined to pass The Samaritans over as well. Well, not so fast! Other than the idea that these people are being possessed by the spirits of vengeful dead, the supernatural elements of the film are considerably slight. There is little to none of the stereotypical items moving by themselves, unexplained noises, or cheap jump scares. Instead, respectable performances by the cast and an equally respectable show of restraint by the filmmakers takes the spotlight.
Each of the cast members gives a quality performance, or arguably “performances” as they portray both their character and the personality of the invading spirit. To this degree, the actresses tend to give the better performances. That’s not to say that the men are lacking in any way. In fact, I found Bollinger’s “Eddie” to be my favorite, most relatable character. However, as both male characters already seem a little sketchy and questionable before being taken over by an undead evil, their personality shifts don’t feel as drastic as they do with the women, in particular “Rosie”.
It’s not all coming up roses for The Samaritans though. As pleasantly surprised as I found myself with the first hour of this 72 minute film, I did not love the ending. While it does provide an undeniable sense of absolution, the finale may be a bit rushed. Sure, there is more than enough argument that the proceeding 60+ minutes was more than adequate lead-up, but I still found myself a touch underwhelmed. There are some hints at the very beginning of the film towards why these things are occurring, but they are insanely vague and will only make sense after the film is over. That said, most viewers will probably forget that they ever saw these images. A rewatch will also further reveal that at least one character definitely knew more than they were letting on from the very beginning.
The biggest complement that I can give The Samaritans is that a brief plot description makes the film sound like something that I, a person who generally doesn’t like modern ghost movies, would avoid like the plague…. but that I surprisingly quite enjoyed watching. The film is not the next-big-thing in indie horror, nor will it revolutionize the ghost movie sub-genre. What it will do, however, is provide 70 plus minutes of solid acting, a decent plot, and a tense, but fun ride.
* The Samaritans won Best Feature at 2019’s London Independent Film Awards and 2017’s Atlantic City Cinefest, where it also picked up awards for Best Cinematography and Best actor. The film also won the Best Suspense Thriller and Actress awards at 2018’s Jersey Shore Film Festival.
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