|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 19 October 2004|
The biggest special effect in 'Gravesend' is that the movie exists at all. Shot for $5000 by then-19 year-old writer/director Salvatore Stabile, the film had another $100,000 thrown at it in post-production once Oliver Stone got involved in a mentoring capacity. Considering the technical nightmare the miniscule budget implies, the results are impressive, even if they're not anything that's going to challenge a home theater set-up.
Stabile remains off-camera, but uses his own name as he narrates a tale of one apocalyptic night in his old neighborhood of Gravesend, Brooklyn. Four of his buddies, all in their late teens, are arguing in a basement (Stabile is in jail at the time, which he later thanks God for). While in this basement a gun is brandished, an accident happens, and suddenly there's a dead body to deal with. Nobody really wants to go to the cops, but it's going to cost $500 to get a minor-league hood to dispose of the corpse. From there, the quartet tries to beg, borrow and steal the necessary cash, resulting in six more deaths by dawn.
The narration implies that the night in question has become the stuff of local legend, and in terms of its own headlong momentum and crazed logic, 'Gravesend' is fairly persuasive. The characters are all boneheaded, but Stabile depicts them in lifelike ways. Theirs is not the mayhem of cool killers in the big-budget action movies or even the trigger-tempered thugs Martin Scorsese often spotlights; these teens are violent because they live in a world bound by their own limited imaginations, where too much thinking or asking for emotional help is not allowed. The solutions they come up with are often very funny because they are so far-fetched and inappropriate, yet taken so seriously by all four of the confused quartet. The dialogue is of a sort heard more often in life than in movies. When one of the kids accuses his mother with sleeping "with every entire person in this neighborhood," it sounds like something a hysterical New York boy might actually say.
Nearly the entire film (save a few black-and-white flashbacks) takes place at night and despite the lack of funds, director of photography Joseph Dell'Olio creates a bright, vital look that may have been enhanced for the DVD release. (One curious feature of this disk is that you have to go through the menu to get the film to start, rather than have the menu appear only when requested.)
Stabile gets a nice balance between cinema-verite realism and pitch-black comedy, with persuasive work from his cast of young unknowns. He's also smart enough to literally start things off with a bang, ensuing that the plot never lacks for a sense of direction. If by the end of Chapter 1 you're not intrigued, this is not the genre for you. The only unsteadiness comes at the end when Stabile's narration asserts that living in Gravesend gives its residents a sense of what's real which only reinforces that perspective is exactly what his characters so tragically lack.