The Other Side

other-side.jpgBack in late 1992 and early 1993 stories started popping up about some filmmaker in Texas who made a feature film for $6000, financed in part by money he earned from participating in sleep study program. The filmmaker was Robert Rodriguez and the movie was El Mariachi, both of which would become part of an inspirational fairytale of independent filmmaking that has endured all of these years. Other films and filmmakers have come along in the following years that have made names for themselves in the world of micro-budget indie cinema; but what separated Rodriguez from the likes of Kevin Smith and Ed Burns was that he had made a shoot ‘em up action flick, as opposed the sort of talking-heads movie most aspiring directors use to make their mark. Rodriguez defied the conventional wisdom that said the best thing a filmmaker with no money could do was shoot a conversation between two or three people, all seated around a table. It takes a certain type of talent, and hefty set of balls to do what Rodriguez did with El Mariachi. And by that standard, Atlanta-based filmmaker Gregg Bishop has some really big balls.

Bishop’s feature film debut, The Other Side, made the rounds of the festival circuit in 2006, where it earned a well-deserved reputation as being a stand-out movie. And if the filmmaker-with-no-money story hadn’t been done to death a decade ago, then maybe we would have heard more about Bishop and The Other Side. But as it stands, even without the hype of Hollywood, it is safe to say that Bishop has managed to take the “you made that for how much” crown that Rodriguez has worn comfortably for 15 years. Now, all that remains to be seen is if this guy can catch a break, and show if the talent exhibited in The Other Side was a once-in-a-lifetime deal, or if he really has the goods.

Effortlessly mixing several genres, including supernatural thriller, action, mystery and romance, The Other Side kicks into a high gear with a terrible car accident. Bishop then goes back in time just far enough to introduce us to the accident victim, Sam North (Nathan Mobley), a recent college graduate who is returning home to Georgia to be with his long-time girlfriend, Hannah (Jaimie Alexander). Having  set a romantic candle-lit dinner by a picturesque waterfall, Sam waits for Hannah to show up at their reunion. But when she is late to arrive, Sam, sitting in his car, starts to worry. Suddenly, from out of the darkness, a van emerges, slamming into Sam’s car, pushing it over a cliff into the river below. And this is where things begin to get interesting.

Although he doesn’t realize it at first, Sam was killed in the accident, finding himself in Hell. As he struggles to make sense of what is going on, he is caught up in what amounts to a prison-break from the underworld, and he awakes to find himself in the hospital. Sam isn’t the only one to escape, several other souls, including Oz (Poncho Hodges) and Mally (Cory Rouse), who commandeer bodies from the hospital morgue, have made it out of the pit of damnation, looking for another chance in the mortal world. The problem is that all the escapees are being pursued by a trio of Reapers, super-powered bounty hunters from Hell determined to retrieve all of the runaway souls. With the Reapers hot on his trail, Sam teams up with Oz and Malley to find out who it was that killed him. But things get more complicated when Sam discovers that Hannah is missing, and that whoever killed him is most likely responsible for her disappearance.

From the very beginning there is never any doubt that The Other Side is a low-budget film. But that doesn’t stop the film from being impressive in and of itself. Bishop sets up an interesting premise early on, and executes it with enough competence and efficiency that the film effectively captures your attention from the start. But once Sam awakes in the hospital, having returned from the dead, only to be followed by a great moment in the morgue where a gang of escapees from Hell all sit up in unison, The Other Side pretty much has you hooked. All hell breaks loose—literally—when the Reapers arrive at the hospital and proceed with their killing rampage; and it is hard to believe the film will get much better than that. That’s when Bishop throws in the mystery of what has happened to Hannah, and how it all plays into the bigger picture. And, of equal mystery, is the question of what a seemingly innocent guy like Sam was doing in Hell in the first place.

other-side1.jpgThe Other Side would have been an impressive film if it had been shot on digital video for a budget of around $50,000. But, as is revealed in Bishop’s tell-all audio commentary, The Other Side was shot on Super-16 millimeter film stock, at a cost of $15,000. That right there, given the scope of what Bishop and his cast and crew pull off, makes The Other Side all the more impressive. The fast-paced story is engaging enough that even though there are a few plot elements that could be called into question, all is pretty much forgiven. This is a film that you want to like, and that counts for a lot.

Since the emergence of Robert Rodriguez, and the ascension of digital video as a viable medium for filmmaking, we have all seen micro-budget films that strive to impress with their ability to do something with practically nothing. Most fail—some more so than others. But Bishop has managed to do more than just something with practically nothing, he has done something special. For what The Other Side pulls off  in terms of special effects and stunts alone it deserves kudos. The running leap off a third-floor walkway of a motel into the back of a moving pick-up truck is especially impressive. And in a film with this much action and effects, a less-than-competent cast is almost always a given. But again, Bishop works some serious magic, assembling a solid cast that gives great performances, especially Mobley, Hodges and Rouse, who make an unlikely trio, but have enough individual charisma and group chemistry that they keep the film moving.

By the measure of independent films made for very little money, The Other Side is a good movie. When you study the film, and understand exactly how much was really pulled off and executed, and what the cost actually was, The Other Side goes from being more than just an entertaining little supernatural thriller, and emerges as an incredibly impressive achievement in the world of indie cinema. Clearly, Bishop and his talented cast and crew put a lot of time and energy into making this movie something special, and they succeeded.

By the nature of its horror genre roots, The Other Side may not appeal to some audiences. Likewise, the love story that informs Sam’s harrowing escape from Hell and quest to find Hannah may not appeal to horror fans. But the film balances itself well, and delivers enough entertainment that it truly deserves consideration. However, for die-hard fans of micro-budget independent films, as well as aspiring and established filmmakers, The Other Side verges on being required viewing, standing out as movie that is entertaining, impressive, and most important, inspiring.

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2 Responses to “The Other Side”

  1. snake_plissken Says:

    dave-
    on your recommendation I managed to find a copy and viewed this film last night. And while it certainly is no “El Mariachi”.. I can see why you make the comparison.. since there’s not much else to compare it to.
    The thing that’s interesting about this film is that at first it feels like your watching bad CW/WB genre tv show.. like superman,buffy angel.. you name it… I was actually just about ready to turn it off when the main character wakes up in the hospital back from hell. It’s at that point the action starts and the film, plot, characters are able to hold your attention through the rest of the film.
    I’ve watched a lot of terrible low-budget films in my life. And while I was watching this film.. I was thinking “boy, it’s been awhile since I have enjoyed any newer low-budget b-movie’s like this”. No one has made a film like this in a long time. I have to wonder if Digital Video is doing our film makers a disservice some how. I can’t think of any low-budget action films I’ve seen shot of DV that are even half as good as this film is. I wonder if film makers were able to put parameters on their film making.. if they might make better films? like they only get two DV tapes to make a feature.. and that’s it! Maybe shooting on film makes you plan your shit out better… 🙂

  2. David Walker Says:

    My initial reaction was pretty much the same. The first few minutes of the film had me doubting whether or not I would even enjoy myself. But once the action got going, I was engaged.
    I just finished watching another feature called Splinter (see review), that was also shot on Super 16 for relatively little money. As I was watching that film, I had some of the same thoughts you addressed. I still think DV is an incredible tool, but it has leveled the playing field without raising the bar. The problem with many DV filmmakers is they don’t understand the importance of story. Without story, you have nothing. You might as well be making a porno.

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