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AM1200 (David Prior, 2008)


     AM1200, David Priorís creepy debut short, might suffer from a mild shortage of imagination, but it nonetheless creates a mood that makes its tale of otherworldly terror plausible enough to avoid inspiring any derisive laughter. Featuring a setup that seems to have been inspired by Hitchcockís Psycho, this initially unassuming movie is at first firmly grounded in the real world. A man defrauds his workplace, and flees with the cash. In an attempt to stave off sleep while driving, he tunes his carís radio, coming across a signal that calls for help. As AM1200 proceeds further from this point, it slowly drags viewers out of its brightly lit landscapes, into a twilight zone of mysterious dark corridors and creepy dream logic.

     Two Davids, Fincher and Lynch, serve as Priorís primary stylistic influences. The former directorís clean framing and reliance on digital effects are echoed here, while the latter filmmaker seems to have induced in Prior an attention to careful sound design and an increasingly otherworldly narrative structure. That Prior is able to invoke these two master filmmakers without embarrassing himself is a testament to his ability as a craftsman. He doesnít quite turn the fusion of their styles into something unique, so much as he appropriates a few of the tricks that have made each of their respective horror films so eerily effective.

     The story that AM1200 tells, though, doesnít resonate much after it disappears from the screen. Many of its scariest moments come about as its hapless protagonist experiences a deep sense of isolation, and are therefore fleeting. Most other jolts spring from effective editorial juggling instead of from any lingering source of fear. As technically accomplished as this movie is, it has clearly been designed as a calling card for its fledgling director. Priorís direction is ostentatious, almost to the point of distraction. His digital visual effects and sound trickery turn every edit into an event. The narrative finds itself playing second fiddle to the display of filmmaking prowess before long.

     Whatever overemphasized moments it might have, AM1200 is still an admirable effort. Priorís aesthetic overdrive never defeats the mood that he conjures. He relays his small-scale story with the same unwavering tone, even as it journeys into increasingly bizarre territory. Finally too easily compartmentalized as harmless fantasy to truly unsettle, the message that AM1200 might be most successfully end up broadcasting is that Prior is a promising new directorial talent.


Jeremy Heilman