Director: Chris Stuckmann
Writer: Chris Stuckmann
Composer: Aaron J. Morton
Starring: Matthew Brando & KateLynn E. Newberry
Chris Stuckmann, famed YouTube movie reviewer and author, has a short film on the festival circuit. Auditorium 6 is a horror-comedy in the vein of classics like Evil Dead and the Exorcist and represents Stuckmann’s first major incursion in independent filmmaking.
Violence/Scary Images: A man is killed brutally with a pencil. Blood is shown in several scenes and a woman’s ghost is a prominent character.
Language/Crude Humor: Characters swear severely throughout including multiple uses of f***.
Sexual Content: A character is implied to be having sex offscreen in one shot.
Drug/Alcohol Use: A character becomes addicted to drugs and overdoses.
Spiritual Content: A ghost is a main character.
Other Negative Themes: Characters abuse drugs and a man is brutally killed.
Positive Content: Themes of self-reflection and enthusiasm.
Full disclosure: I have actually had the opportunity to work with and/or meet several members of the crew of this short film including the assistant director and one of the post-production editors and I am very familiar with the director’s history on YouTube as an e-celebrity.
There’s something rather unique about the amateur film circuit. I’ve had the opportunity to attend several small film festivals in my career thus far and my experiences with them have been rather surprisingly fun. Most of these small film festivals aren’t playing masterpieces naturally. A great deal of these movies are coming from film students and first time filmmakers who are just picking up a camera for the first time. As such, while there are often quite a number of stinkers you get to enjoy seeing the first sparks of talent fire in the minds of young artists. Often these filmmakers are actually insanely talented and when you do see filmmakers with the craft and voice to use the filmmaking medium to say something it can be one of the more wonderful and inspiring experiences a viewer can have.
This past weekend I attended the Independent Horror Film Festival in Dekalb, IL. In spite of my generally sociopathic levels of misanthropy, I found myself in a rather lengthy discussion with one of the hosts of the festival where we discussed Japanese monster movies, the paranormal, and independent filmmaking. The thing that this conversation and others I had subsequently impressed upon me was just how passionate and loving so many of these young filmmakers were about movies. I saw people who could quote to you the most minute of details of bad Gamera movies and who spoke with an encyclopedic knowledge of film who were desperate to express that love and knowledge in a tangible way. They loved film so much that they were willing to rent out a Red Roof Inn’s conference rooms every year just to share young filmmakers with other people.
My reason for attending the aforementioned festival, of course, to see the first short film from YouTube movie critic Chris Stuckmann which was being screened as part of the lineup amongst other horror films from all over the world. Stuckmann has become one of the largest film reviewers on the internet with more than 1.2 million subscribers, 324 million views and hundreds of movie reviews built over the course of his seven years on the platform. He’s collaborated with major online figures like Doug Walker the Nostalgia Critic, written two books on filmmaking and anime and now he’s begun his career as a director with his first major short film Auditorium 6.
He has directed amateur films in the past but for the most part, they aren’t available on the internet. I was very curious to see what he was going to do with this opportunity. His incredible success as an online movie reviewer has given him a great deal of clout and attention to the point where any original creative project would be a big deal but I was very fascinated to see what he would do with his first project out of the gate. Not to say I was expecting anything bad but I was pleasantly surprised by the film. It was one of the strongest short films I saw at the festival and easily ranked as the film with the most immediately professional production design of anything I saw.
Auditorium 6 is a horror-comedy somewhat in the vein of something like Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films but it’s clear its influence is most notably seems to be The Exorcist and its sub-genre of haunting/paranormal films. Without giving away too much of the story it’s set up like your normal cliche horror film. That is that it’s a normal horror film until halfway through when the movie suddenly subverts its premise slightly in a way that validates some of the more overtly bizarre aspects of movies like this by making it immediately clear that Matthew Brando’s lead character Matt isn’t interested in following the script.
The basic set up of a guy getting hired to do a job only to find out it’s haunted is subverted by the main character who immediately instead turns to the ghost to say how awesome it is that he’s in a horror movie and how cool it is to see her, immediately defusing the situation. This is a really clever premise. For a while, I was watching this all play out I was asking a ton of questions about the main character’s motivation to even considering working this job until it’s revealed that he WANTED for this to happen just because he thought it would be cool. Up to this point, the comedy is really good. Brando is working with a solid script through this point and his deadpan disdain/enthusiasm is a great pairing with the material of a character who we need to find out just how desperately wants this kind of scenario to happen to him.
At this point, we reach one of the film’s two notable issues that I found rather distracting. After the reveal, the story basically stops for a solid 5-10 minutes while the characters start having a rather inconsequential conversation. There’s some throwaway dialog alluding to the fact that Matt isn’t really fully considering the full implications of what he could learn from an immortal entity but the initial part of the conversation doesn’t quite work. There’s no real narrative propulsion. A conversation about favorite movies is cute but even as the ghost points out it’s rather short-sighted considering you have an immortal entity with supernatural abilities sitting next to you. With you in the room is an entity that may, in fact, contain the answer to life, the universe, and everything and the best our lead character can think to ask is what her favorite movie is. I’d wanna ask what the afterlife is like or something to this end. This ends up being a problem later too.
Matters take a turn after a few minutes into the conversation and the film reaches what is easily its best segment in a flashback that reveals some rather important information. The story we’re told, while done essentially in an exposition dump is easily some of the most harrowing stuff I heard out of any movie in the festival. I was hanging on every word at the edge of my seat throughout the entirety of the lead actress’s flashback. The story lets itself go to a really dark place and that really ends up being to the film’s benefit. As a bonus, it ends with a great shot that easily one of the darkest/goriest/most fun shots of the entire film.
I was really fascinated where the film was going to go. The premise was clever and the flashback sequence had invested me rather deeply into our leading pair of characters. I was fully prepared for a twist ending that was going to invert the plot one more time. Unfortunately, the ending we see doesn’t quite stick the landing. It’s certainly out of left field and brings things full circle in some ways but it begs a significant number of important questions and ultimately serves to make the entire scenario of the film feel insanely coincidental and calls the story logic into question.
The movie really needed the ending to play out the bizarre inversion of this classic movie premise to a more thematically ambitious conclusion, maybe about why these movies are important or the significance of why the characters are in the station of life they’re in and can’t leave. As a result of this, I’m not exactly sure what the film was trying to express about its characters or themes. In that sense, it suffers from the same fault of films like Kung Fury or Space Cop. I love and enjoy all three of these movies for their production values and humor but they have the detriment of mining the iconography they love for humor without exploring or transcending the genres they homage.
On that note, I’ll close my critique with a note on the film’s production design. Visually speaking Auditorium 6 is an immaculate and luscious film. For a first time director, the color grading shot composition, and sound design permeates professionalism. The color grading is occasionally overpowered by some over lighting in certain shots but the movie does a good job establishing Stuckmann and his crew as excellent first time visual filmmakers. They should really be proud of what they were able to accomplish on technical grounds. Despite my criticisms of several of the story choices, I believe Auditorium 6 to be an overall solid piece of work for a director who’s just starting out. If the director can start to develop a stronger voice/something to say I think that he has the talent to be a really good director.
At the end of the film, a member of the film’s post-production team stood up and chatted with members of the dozen or so people in the audience about the film and its director. He mentioned that Stuckmann is planning to go into production of larger projects in the future. I sincerely hope that he heeds the lessons he learned from Auditorium 6 and uses them to better his new projects. Like everything I saw at the Independent Horror Film Festival Auditorium 6 carries both a genuine energy, enthusiasm, and talent that suggests to me that Mr. Stuckmann could become quite a good independent director. His comedy, suspense, clever story inversion, and solid directing of the actors suggest that he could do it.
+ Clever Premise + Funny Comedy + Suspenseful Flashback
- Some Dull Scenes - Weak Ending
The Bottom Line
Auditorium 6 is a solid first film from YouTube e-celebrity and film reviewer Chris Stuckmann. It's strengths suggest he may have a solid talent to take into his future films going forward.