Perhaps you know nothing about Wichita. I certainly didn’t. First-time co-directors, Justyn Ah Chong and Matthew Ward, aren’t on my radar and I’ll assume they’re not on yours unless you are personal friends / acquaintances of theirs (or you worked on this film). So, it stands to reason that their movie may have slipped by you without you noticing. But I got an email offering a screener link and calling for reviews, so… free movie. Why not? This does not mark the first time a film has (as far as I know) gone straight to VOD, but it did make me think that we (horror fans) may be entering a time when that fact isn’t necessarily stigmatizing. Much like the straight to VHS / DVD gems that you know and love today. But I digress from the original intent of this post – a review. Let’s get into it, shall we?
Jeb (only his mother calls him Jebediah, thank you) is the creator and (apparent) showrunner for a children’s cartoon call “Amy and the Alien”. When the show’s 2nd season gets less-than-stellar ratings, the network types give Jeb an all-or-nothing shot at delivering 30 great scripts in 30 days. They also think it might help if the writers’ room is moved to a remote cabin so they can focus on the work. When the gang arrives, it quickly becomes apparent that Jeb isn’t cut out for a leadership role. He’s awkward around the others, vacillating between demanding authoritarian and people pleaser. He’s worse when he’s alone. That’s when he plants hidden cameras and hides himself away in his ambulance-cum-surveillance-van. He spies on the writers and creeps on Raven, the semi-famous one of the group. His shot at saving his show is jeopardized however by the mole in the team, who reports his weirdness to the network. This sends him retreating back to the life / family he thought he’d left behind. What he finds there isn’t good for his psyche and he quickly spirals out of control.
I admit that going into this, I expected a lot less. I’ve never heard of Faraway Features. I’ve never heard of the directors. I’ve never even heard of the prominently-billed Persia White (if that leads you to conclude that i’ve never seen “The Vampire Diaries”, than you’d be correct). And that poster artwork wasn’t doing anything for me. Obviously, expectations were low. But, even if they weren’t, I still would have been pleasantly surprised. The story is solid with some surprising twists and clever manipulations. Trevor Peterson nails the Jeb character perfectly, playing a creep, an asshole, and a madman without ham or cheese. He stares and clenches his teeth and smiles unconvincingly in such a creepy, menacing way that the tension in the scene becomes palpable. He evokes Perkin’s Norman Bates in all the best ways. The rest of the cast members play their parts well, but Peterson is the standout. The film is also more polished than I expected for a low budget indie. It looks good and the editing is tight (under 90 minutes!) Most impressive though is the sound design. Every scene has some disconcerting background noises that fit the setting and Jeb’s mindset to a T. All in, Wichita is an old school thriller and a frightening character study that lays the tension on thick.
The Final Cut: Wichita is a solid psychological thriller with a great performance by Peterson, who manages to get under the viewer’s skin in the worst way. This indie makes some bold moves and engenders sympathies that are sure to shock.