With almost every film released, a director (or writer) will infuse his/her thoughts, ideas and mentality into the picture. That small spirited touch grows into the heart, mind and spirit of the feature, giving the film a powerful soul for which it can voice its own opinion. Not all films have a strong voice ("Strange Wilderness," for example), but those that do are well heard. The only tragedy is that sometimes, the loudest of these films are independent features--injected with the passion of the director and writer, the turmoil of making the film and the love of the cast and crew. More often than not, unfortunately, these films are skipped by most mainstream viewers.
"Schism" is indie filmmaker John C. Lyon s latest film, his first feature-length endeavor. It details the very personal story of a man who s losing his own mind through the rough turmoil of Alzheimer s disease. The story begins with Neil, a middle-aged man who s been hospitalized after falling and breaking his hip. He begins to heal, but for some reason, the hospital, and his family, won t let him go home. He befriends some of the other hospital patients and quickly learns that some sort of conspiracy may be under way. Of course, that s only what Neil thinks. Like many dementia and Alzheimer s patients, Neil s mind is not functioning properly. He can t remember as much as he used to and begins to see and hear things that just aren t there. In many ways, it s like the world is shrinking in on him and he can t seem to keep up with it.
Alzheimer s disease has been documented in quite a few features, the most recent film of which is "The Savages," but more often than not, the film is seen through the eyes of the children, grandchildren and other relatives involved. Lyons takes a vastly different direction, crafting a tale from the inside, through the eyes of Neil, who s experiencing the world in a very different way. Neil s family is only seen a few times in the picture, and it s extremely brief. The rest of the time, Neil is attempting to piece together who he is and what is happening around, and to, him.
This helps create a true sense of loneliness. Even though there are friends at the hospital, Neil is alone. His family has abandoned him, not intentionally, and he feels isolated--alone with his thoughts, which are quickly dwindling away. With this idea, Lyons is able to construct a deeply saddening view of what it s like to grow old--to go from a thoughtful, inspiring and intelligent adult, to an emotionally, mentally and physically weak elderly person. There is a sense of happiness and peace we must all reach with this thought, but the fight to stay the way we were is exhausting and tragic.
The film is intentionally slow moving, with a very dry first and second act. It was a little hard to get through, but necessary in order to construct the crux of the final act. Neil slowly begins to embark on an odyssey of his own mind. It s a terrifying ride, with numerous scares and jolts that are likely to unsettle some viewers. The film is crafted, in many ways, like "Jacob s Ladder" with horrifying imagery tightly packed within a simple, but increasingly complex story. Lyons uses the slow pace to build suspense, much in the same way David Cronenberg uses it in some of his own mind bending films like "Videodrome" or "The Brood."
The performances, for an indie, are rather solid. Terry Smith delivers a terrific performance as the increasingly unstable Neil. His eyes do a lot of the performing, giving the character a nice sense of sadness, melancholy and fear. Don Kirschs performance as Neil s friend Roger is also great. Despite his age, he gives the film a youthful spark that, when taken away, drives the picture into a suspenseful realm...(review continued at DVDFuture.com) --R.L. Shaffer, DVD Future
Too often in horror we get lost in the notion of death, that the loss of life is the worst thing that can happen, when in effect this is far from the truth. I can think of so many other instances where the thought of death would serve as a blessed release. The slow deliberate loss of one s grip on reality is paramount within the echelon of horrors born of the human mind, whether they be real or fictitious. All we have is this life, the people, and our experiences. No chainsaw or machete on the planet could compare to the unyielding madness that comes from such illnesses as Alzheimers and Parkinsons.
A purist may argue that a film like Schism has little or nothing to do with the horror genre, but they would be comprehensively wrong. The antagonist within Schism may not be a hockey mask killer, but it is just as relentless. The madness may not have its origins encased in prophecies of tentacle coated terrors from a void hidden between the stars, and yet its devastation is just as complete. Schism dances within the delicately tactile world of real horror. The realm of the fantastic in this type of film is that each and every day people actually have this happen to them.
The story centers on Neil Woodard, who is sent to live in a nursing home after he injures his hip. Accustomed to living alone, Neil is being forced into an alien lifestyle that affords him no control over the situation. He is a product, he is a number, he is just another old person in an extended care facility. Neil knows this and hates it. You can tell from the depth of the wounded he wears on his face that Neil was a strong independent person who never saw this sort of situation in the cards for him. He feels betrayed by the outside world. How could life do this to him? How did he get here? How long till he gets out?
Neil s solace comes from the others whom are in his same situation. They are similar souls living within the home. Intrusive at first, they are unwilling to let Neil stay hidden beneath his shell. Soon a bond is formed between Neil and another infirmed patient named Roger. The two soon become inseparable. Time passes, and as the days pass into weeks, Neil comes to begrudgingly accept his new life.
Yet things are not as they seem. Neil s family visits and calls sporadically, and when they do come, there is a distinct disconnect between them and Neil. His children have different lives, and eerily enough a different story as to what is happening within Neil s world. Neil is confused. In reaching out to his family, he is repeatedly shunned. The world makes less sense to him, a resentment grows, and his only recourse is to attach himself further to the new people and environment he is forced to dwell along side him.
Director John C. Lyons uses Neil as our narrator without voiceover. We do not literally hear the inner mechanizations of Neil s mind, but we do see every thought and feeling vividly play out across his face. Terry T. Smith is amazing in his flawless portrayal of Neil. He uses his ever emotive eyes and face to speak volumes. Under Lyons direction, the skin and age of Neil is so vividly photographed and depicted, that we are able to almost feel his aging as our own.
Remove the hyperbole of Bruce Campbell s Elvis from Bubba Ho-tep and you get the core idea of what we are dealing with here. One of my favorite things with the Coscarelli film was the natural, deep connection we felt for Jack and Elvis. As cartoony as their characters may have seemed, the friendship evolved and was presented strongly via the character and the conversations that defined them. Schism presents this sort of idea without the supernatural, hypernatural world of Bubba; good friends face down an unimaginable horror that they are unable to ignore or escape from..(review continued at DreadCentral.com)
3.5 out of 5 --D.W. Bostaph Jr., Dread Central
The Guelcher Film Series at Mercyhurst College has consistently included titles representing a heavy dose of international filmmaking. Most aren't shown at Tinseltown, don't leap out at rental stores, and are easily overlooked on cable TV. On Wednesday, however, for the first time ever, the college will screen the work of an Erie filmmaker. "Schism," produced, written, and directed by John C. Lyons, tells the story of an Alzheimer's patient with a combination of accuracy and considerable artistic merit.
Lyons will introduce the film, and after the screening, he'll lead a panel discussion, together with the lead cast member and area medical people involved with Alzheimer's treatment. Lyons is familiar with "Away from Her," Sarah Polley's highly praised film on the subject. It played at Mercyhurst two years ago and brought Julie Christie an Oscar nomination.
"I liked it a lot," Lyons said. "But Polley's film dealt far more with the people around an Alzheimer's patient than with the patient herself. 'Schism' was a more difficult film to make, since it's less candy-coated and tries to deal with the harsher realities and the point of view of an institutionalized Alzheimer's patient."
With a minuscule budget of $8,000, the film was shot and edited in 50 days over a nine-month period that began in September 2006. Lyons' father, an Alzheimer's victim himself, died six months after Lyons completed shooting "Schism." Its principal location -- Harborcreek's Brevillier Village -- proves to be an excellent site for both interior and exterior photography. Intimate bedroom scenes at day or night, long hallways, offices and nurse's stations, as well as outside scenes revealing the Lake Erie background, all have the look of authenticity. Lyons has achieved a somber look by heavily desaturating colors in postproduction. Lighting by Michael Best and photography by Dorota Swies exhibit consistently high quality.
At the center of the story is Neil (Terry T. Smith), who breaks a hip and is admitted into a nursing facility. His slow decline is revealed through increasing confusions and hallucinations -- including a few episodes featuring his perception of faceless characters in business suits, identified in the credits as "the strangers."
In both physiognomy and body language, Smith has been perfectly cast for the lead role and turns in a commendably low-key performance. We learn little about Neil's earlier life. He's operated his own business, and he has two daughters (Courtney Mallen and Jennifer Hooper), a son-in-law (Scott Frisina), and an especially charming granddaughter (Karly Bender). Playing the younger daughter's boyfriend is Chicagoan Josh Werner, who traveled to Erie for three different shooting sessions.
As the film progresses, Neil exhibits anxiety when members of his family haven't called. They have their own busy lives, as we learn, and can't possibly maintain the contact Neil wishes to have. But he does receive some satisfaction from a group of four fellow patients, wonderfully played by Ruth Thoma Andrews, Dick Ropp, Jacqueline Johnson, and Don Kirsch. As Roger, Kirsch lends much poignancy to the sad plight of a man whose fortunes change dramatically.
The group is also seen with a number of other actor-patients, often engaged in various therapeutic activities. As Neil's nurse, Tammy, Charmalene Ulmer displays a highly believable balance of sympathy and brisk efficiency. The stunning penultimate scene of the film -- which presumably takes place in Neil's mind -- features an arresting use of light and sound. Viewers may assign one of a few possible interpretations for this sequence. In fact, Lyons' script contains other ambiguous moments that serve to draw the audience into the world of his protagonist...(review continued at GoErie.com) --Floyd Lawrence, Erie Times-News