Movie Review: “The Resonator: Miskatonic U”

   I haven’t talked about a Full Moon Feature film in a while, be it a new release or something in the company’s heyday. I think it’s, in part, because the exploitative, mediocre viewing experience I have had with a lot of their newer releases, and the twinge of low-effort exploitation that radiates off of them. Singling out the awful Corona Zombies may feel like low-hanging fruit, considering it is a film released in the midst of a pandemic, but dubbing over a bunch of old films and marketing it as an original feature is poor taste in itself. Be it Full Moon Features, Troma, or a Corman-produced film, exploitation and b-movie shlock are something we have grown accustom to, but, as documenting in my review of Chopping Mall last week, it shows that a nonsensical and absurd concept can make for a fun film if it the right hands and given the right amount of effort. Given the amount of talented filmmakers creating great films over the years with microbudgets, it can be difficult to make excuses for veteran Charles Band and the Full Moon crew.

   Let’s be clear and say, I am not punching down on Full Moon Features for the sake of it. I have a lot of good memories with Full Moon Features’ films prior to the turn of the millennium and a handful afterward. I own more than my fair share of physical media, I’ve actively subscribed to the Full Moon streaming service, and I’ve contributed funds to their Indiegogo campaigns at times (like Puppet Master: Axis Termination and Killjoy’s Psycho Circus). Sometimes when I watched it was for the careless escapism, like with The Creeps or the Killjoy series, appreciating them either as absurdist b-movies or mystery of the week series’, akin to an episode of the Goosebumps television series I watched in my youth. Other times, I genuinely enjoyed them, like with Re-Animator or Head of the Family. Full Moon Features’ latest film The Resonator: Miskatonic U is a celebration of the latter amongst them.

   Dedicated to Stuart Gordon (the late-director of Re-Animator and From Beyond), The Resonator is a film I let myself look forward to with cautious optimism. I don’t mean to be cynical – but I let myself look forward to a lot of Full Moon Features’ over the years and have found myself disappointed on more than a single occasion. I was excited when I found out William Butler directed this film, although I was not immediately aware of why that excited me like it did. I think it’s because, in part, seeing a director other than Charles Band attached to a Full Moon Feature may feel like a good sign. Not in a derogatory kind of way, but in a new blood kind of way. In fact, that’s a lot like what Stuart Gordon was for Full Moon for a while – directing both films mentioned earlier, I’d add Castle FreakThe Pit and the Pendulum, and Dolls all as films I went out of my way to watch because Stuart Gordon was attached to them. Unfortunately, Butler does not have the same track record, but maybe I will look into his catalog more thoroughly someday.

   Set in a fictional college campus set in Arkham, Massachusetts called Miskatonic University, the film lands itself squarely, yet vaguely in Lovecraft lore. The film follows a young scientist named Crawford Tillinghast and his mad pursuit to build and utilize a machine, aptly referred to as the “Resonator”. Meant as a tool to experience multiple dimensions at once, navigating the plethora of creatures dwelling within them, Crawford hits a roadblock when the prototypes’ instability leads to newfound, sometimes fatal results. The Resonator sees Crawford and a group of friends interacting with the resonator, discovering some of its untold secrets.

   The Resonator was released in peculiar, inconclusive fashion. Charles Band and company have started a new habit of releasing feature length films and dubbing them as miniseries’ on their streaming service. They did it with a film called Trophy Heads in 2014 and two years later with Ravenwolf Towers, and I am not exactly sure why they do it. First and foremost, they aren’t at all miniseries’, but your typical seventy or eighty-something minute features you’ve become accustom to. The way the episodes cutout is abrupt, unnecessary, and shoehorned. I assume it is some kind of financial decision, meant to build immersion with paid subscribers, but I find it more odd than anything else.

   The acting in The Resonator is par for the course. Other than beady-eyed Jeffrey Combs and the charm of familiar faces like Jacqueline Lovell and Barbara Crampton, Full Moon Features has never been known for show-stealing performances, relying more on the concept and absurdism (Oh, and Tim Thomerson from Trancers). The cast here about aligns with a lot of standard Full Moon fare, not anyone you’ll particularly remember, but sometimes in these films, the ones you remember aren’t always for the right reason.

   The film engages on occasion, and, really does offer that “Full Moon magic,” that you either understand what I mean by or don’t. It is the type of charm that is not usually measured in an analysis or some kind of review, and it’s why, even though I have watched a lot of Full Moon Features’ over the years, I haven’t reviewed a whole lot of them. It’s a simple likeability and charm, and it’s stupid, but I’m still watching, and not in a “it’s so bad, it’s good” kind of way.

    I think, as well, I appreciate an absurdist b-movie best when it does not rely on meta-humor or self-awareness as a crutch, instead going shoulder’s deep in the concept. Like in Chopping Mall when you see the little robot security guards shooting laser beams. We all know it’s ridiculous, but I appreciate the film for keeping a straight face with it. That’s what this film does, and I like that about it.

   The special-effects aren’t great. Full Moon’s never been about hiding budgetary constraint or camera trickery to better a viewer’s immersion. In this instance, I feel like it takes away a lot.

   When The Resonator’s up and running, purple jellyfish fly around, and it feels like a wacky mess, whereas I think if they would have done away with that and cranked up the purple blinding lights, it would have added to the mystique of the Resonator, kept the film from looking cheaper, and relied more on the viewer’s imagination instead.

   There’re a lot of instances where, had it been shot better (I realize a lot of their decisions are likely deliberate), scenes would have been more effective. Like, the creature, for example. As a figure, I think she looks pretty cool. But, in normal daylight, or worse, bright lights, the fact that that’s a rubber mask on her head becomes a lot more apparent, whereas, with darker cinematography, you can hide said blemishes more easily.

   In addition, some of the set-design photographs I saw showed a lot of the creatures looked far better onset than they did with the purplish, gooey tint layered over them.

   The lighting was on-point in general, but, yet, problematic.  Something about a lot of modern Full Moon Features is the way they all have a general professionalism to their aesthetic. They always look like they’re shot with topnotch camera-equipment and on a real film set. That’s a double-edged sword though, I think, because you have instances where you’ll be in a decrepit basement or someplace else, and the lighting is still bright and clear, when I think a dimmed aesthetic would offer more immersion. It might seem like a nitpick, but I’ve held it in this long and it has bothered me a while.

   The Resonator is not a great film, nor is it a good film. In fact, it’s fairly dull and generic. The characters are cookie-cutter and simplified, and I felt shortchanged by the mystique of the resonator itself, which was little more than bad effects and flickers of on-screen nudity. All the same, like I said, it did have that little bit of charm to it that I liked, and certainly, I think I could be behind Miskatonic University as a series hereafter. Although it’s nowhere near Re-Animator or From Beyond, it is the best film I’ve seen from Full Moon Features in somewhere around a decade. Hopefully, this, alongside their gestating Deadly Ten lineup can bring some new Full Moon fun for the roaring twenties.

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