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Sella Turcica - Toetag Inc. Print E-mail
User Rating: / 9
Written by Ray Casta   
Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Directed by: Fred Vogel
Written by: Don Moore, Fred Vogel, Shelby Vogel
Produced by: Fred Vogel, Shelby Vogel
Cinematography by: Gabe Spangler
Editing by: Jason Kollat
Music by: Mike Hammer
Cast: Camille Keaton, Damien Maruscak, Jade Risser, Harvey "Freestyle" Daniels, Sean P McCarthy, Allie Nickel, Sarah Thorton
Year: 2010
Country: USA
Language: English
Color: Color

Studio: Toetag Inc.
Facebook: Sella Turcica

"Only the dead have seen the end of war" --George Santayana

The new film from Toetag Inc., "Sella Turcica" reminds me of the above quote in many ways.  What does it mean?  The famous quote can mean different things to people, but it can be rather simple.  To those who experienced it firsthand, war will stay with you long after you return from the battlefield.  You sign up for the military to fight for your country.  You are sent to a war ravaged foreign land.  You are far from home,  separated from your family.  You may witness violence and war atrocities.  You are taught to use deadly force -- if necessary.  When you return home, nothing is quite the same.  Your family is glad to see you, and they give you a particularly warm welcome.  However, they do not fully understand the magnitude of your combat tour.  As time goes on, you fight to get rid of the bad memories.  The pain and trauma rages on.  You may not see "the end of war" until the day you die.  Until the memory fades away.  Until you no longer envision the troubling images when you go to sleep at night.  As the War on Terror continues to turbulently affect our country and the world altogether, Fred Vogel and Toetag Inc. bring us an important film.  As a work of true horror, "
Sella Turcica" is timely and relevant.

War in a foreign country, whether Afghanistan or Iraq, is only the beginning.  "Sella Turcica" is about the war at home.  It opens to the loving, close-knit family of Staff Sergeant Bradley Robak (Damien A. Maruscak), who is a war veteran returning home from an Afghanistan tour.  Not long ago, the Robak family received terrible news Bradley was missing.  He woke up in the medical facility of Landstuhl Germany with zero memory of what happened to him or how he got there.  Paralyzed from the mysterious accident, Bradley is sent home in a wheelchair.  The accident also left him with an illness which the doctors cannot explain.  He is welcomed home by his mom, Karmen (Camille Keaton, "I Spit On Your Grave") and young sister, Ashley (Jade Risser, "Murder-Set-Pieces").  He looks sickly and weak, although his family doesn't quite mention his distressing appearance at first.  Blind to the sickness, they begin to realize how much Bradley has changed.

There is a difference between a tedious pace and a delicate one.  The latter applies well to "
Sella Turcica" as its story suits the fragile pace magnificently.  The screenplay, written by Don Moore and Fred and Shelby Vogel, tells the story carefully without rushing to their trademark violence and gore.  It goes through the motions as a drama, and the horror is formed through its characterization.  The viewers deeply care for the family and the characters are not caricatures.  Whenever Bradley is on screen, viewers are instantly made uneasy from the edginess and strain.  Even at simple moments like the dinner scene suggest something dark brewing underneath the surface.  Unbearable tension is racked up immensely from its refreshingly meticulous pace.  "Sella Turcica" is much like a dormant volcano just waiting to erupt.  And when it erupts, the viewer is profoundly affected.  Horror movies are at their best when they have a resolute emotional center.  Like Ji-woon Kim's "A Tale of Two Sisters", "Sella Turcica" paints a realistic, terrifyingly sad domestic situation and brings forth a catharsis that chills you to your very core.  It floors you emotionally and paralyzes you with horrific dread.

Comparisons to Bob Clark's "Deathdream" are understandable.  Upon reading the synopsis, it's easy to notice the similarity in plot.  Both of the movies deal with combat soldiers returning home from war.  While the plots sound a bit similar, "
Sella Turcica" feels completely different and after an initial viewing, all comparisons will end.  Critical of the War on Terror, Toe Tag's vision focuses on war trauma and family tension so well that it taps into our subconscious by using horror to spell out its incentive.  The "body horror" is very prominent, where the character does not know what's going on internally.  Like Bradley, the viewer does not know what the sickness is or how he acquired it.  In a way, the sickness is symbolic of the way the media covers the war.  They report the war overseas, but they only know little about it.  The sickness is a catalyst for the horror which ensues.  It serves as metaphor.  Bradley's disease is symbolic of the lingering effects of war and the suffering of PTSD.  His raw, unstoppable hunger for blood is symbolic of the appetite that some soldiers have for battle.

Subtle and introspective, "
Sella Turcica" is a remarkable achievement.  By any stretch, it'd be wrong for any reviewer to over explain it since the movie works best when its subtlety creeps on you.  The story is uncomplicatedly simple, but it's most effective as an exposé of combat soldiers returning home from battle and depicts the macabre destruction of the family unit.  Apart from the supernatural horror of "The Redsin Tower", the true horror of the film was deeply rooted in reality.  It was about love, relationships, rejection and teenage angst.  "Sella Turcica" is similar in the way the external supernatural elements take a backseat to the internal horror on display.  The film is about relationships.  It's about family and illness.  It's about fears: The horrifying fear of death, losing loved ones, becoming a monster, etc.  The fears portrayed are so distressing because they are so real.  There are highly realistic moments that could have been, if handled any differently, too sappy and overly emotional.  Fred Vogel handles the material so well that his viewers feel all the key emotions.  Ashely is worried about Bradley.  Her love for him runs deep.  Jade Risser's performance is heartbreaking and poignant, and her relationship with her brother is the genuine core of the film.

Late in the film, one character asks: "What's wrong with Brad?"  She doesn't know what's wrong.  No one in the Robak family does.  Neither does Bradley.  The performance by Damien A. Maruscak is purely demanding.  He spends nearly the entire film in a wheelchair.  He has to act as if he lost all of his senses.  He has to maintain many different faces.  One of these faces convey a proud, patriotic Sergeant, who was injured in the line of duty and must maintain a mask of normalcy in front of his family.  The other face is one that struggles with the illness that wants to take his soul and control him.  Physically, Damien A. Maruscak does some truly impressive work.  His "zombie trance" is probably the finest and most original to date.  He gets all of the notes right: the shambling, the bloodthirsty urge, the unstoppable rage etc.  I'd like to believe Lucio Fulci would be proud.  At times, Bradley reminded me of the Wolfman.  His weak body goes through a genuinely frightening, unfathomable transformation that he cannot fully comprehend.  Once it consumes him, he has no choice but to embrace it.

Jerami Cruise, who will direct the tentative "Murder Collection Vol. 2", waits until the volcano erupts for his signature gore and special effect work to shine.  For those who go into "
Sella Turcica" thinking it will be a slasher film with a high body count will be mistaken.  However, that does not mean to say it's without some of the most shocking effect work in recent memory.  Did you expect anything different from Toetag Inc.?  There are a couple other characters introduced, which made me expect a bigger body count.  Again, this is not a body count horror as some may expect.  The kills that do remain in the film, however, are audaciously disturbing.  Jerami Cruise's notable work in this film affects the viewers more than ever because of the emotional connection with the characters.  This is very much a slow burn, and it's contained to the Robak family household throughout.  The only time we see the outside area is the opening credit sequence.  The characters get time to reflect on the situation at hand and some eavesdrop on others and hear their conversations.  So there is a certain level of voyeurism by the way the camera focuses on the characters closely.  To some, the film will feel too stagy.  To others, the single setting will elevate the feel of claustrophobia and uneasiness.

This film should end all criticism that Toetag Inc. are "all style and no substance".  Every single time Fred Vogel steps behind the camera, he improves his craft.  His most mature project to date, "Sella Turcica" features spectacular images of beauty and carnage with a terrifyingly eerie atmosphere.  Stunningly filmed in HD, the film deftly shifts from ethereal beauty to outright monstrousness.  The cinematography, fluid and vibrant, is top-notch.  The exceptional lighting delineation matches effectively with the domesticated set-designs.  I bet even detractors will be unable to deny the emotional power brought forth by this film's technical proficiency.  In independent films, the acting is always under great scrutiny -- yet in this film, the performances never miss a beat.  The family unit feels totally real and not manufactured.  All of the actors play their roles effortlessly.  Such as Sean McCarthy, who plays Bradley's brother.  He has one of the movie's best scenes when he and Bradley have a conversation in the garage where Bradley finally divulges the puzzling circumstances of his strange injury.  Camille Keaton plays the mother role with such care and tenderness that it makes everything that follows all the more cataclysmic.

As a member of the military myself, I have been overseas twice and did two combat tours.  This movie struck me on an extremely personal level.  I was like Bradley (minus the injury) returning home from combat.  I was like him when I was asked, "What was it like?"  I was like him when he hid how he really felt to his family members who didn't truly understand what he went through or what his combat tour was like.  The movie sets itself up as a family drama, then gradually morphs into a harrowing, tragic work of horror.  In Mike Bracken's excellent review for Ruggero Deadato's "Cannibal Holocaust", he states if we lived in a perfect world, all horror movies would be accurately described by three adjectives: powerful, disturbing, and visceral.  Fred Vogel proudly earns these bold adjectives and by its grisly end, "Sella Turcica" makes for one of the saddest, most haunting horror films I have seen.

The dead see the end of war.

[Review was a screener copy.  The DVD will include outtakes, deleted scenes, an audio commentary track with Fred Vogel and Damien A. Maruscak, trailers, on-set and behind the scenes photo's and a featurette.]


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