I was unaware of the horror movie Entropy until the production sought me out to review their movie. It was filmed in Ohio for a minimal budget over the course of six days and nights during the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak. I think it’s admirable that, as things were shutting down and lives were thrown out of balance, that this small group of filmmakers banded together and made something creative with that unexpected down time. The final ten minutes of credits includes behind the scenes video of the special effects process and it looks like everyone was enjoying themselves with this project to keep their minds off the pandemic. As a finished film, however, Entropy leaves a lot to be desired even as a low-budget, lowered expectations chiller thriller.
Abby (Miranda Nieman) hates her girlfriend Miranda’s (Hayley Sunshine, and what a fabulous name) friends. She used to be part of a self-improvement group that some have labeled a cult. Miranda pressures Abby to come to dinner and meet these people and understand they’re not so bad. Also at this friendly dinner is Scott (Scott Hale), their former leader, who has come back from his time overseas with stories of horror. Is he to be believed? Is he dangerous? And how far out of the pull of this group is Miranda and should Abby begin planning her escape?
While the movie is labeled as that feature-film-qualifying metric of 80 minutes, in reality it’s 70 minutes, and even within that minimal running time there is plenty of padding and dead air. I have found this fault with many of the Ohio indies I’ve seen, and it’s essentially a case of not having enough material to fulfill the demands of a feature length running time. Director/co-writer Kameron Hale and his fellow co-writer, producer, and brother Scott Hale, have made several horror short films, and it’s easy to see how Entropy likely started as a short script that the brothers thought could expand into a larger story. There just isn’t enough material here as presented although it had the potential for further exploration. The idea of finding out your lover is formerly in a cult has some nice juicy character reverberations, which would make anyone second-guess things. The premise of a cult leader returning from his mystical and mysterious sojourn is also rife with potential for a horror movie. From a strict psychological thriller level, over the course of one very disconcerting dinner, he could be re-consolidating power, and Abby could slowly understand the dawning threat that her girlfriend is succumbing to, like an addict plunging once more into the self-destructive behaviors of their past. From a body horror standpoint, you can use the returned guru as the bringer of otherworldly terror. Something supernatural could have hitched a ride and taken over him, and now it wants more flesh. There are ideas that, with careful plotting and characterization, could sustain a feature film. Entropy doesn’t quite do that, so that’s why we get situations like three minutes of sustained driving or three minutes walking through the woods that’s meant to be moody but is really just padding.
The movie’s small budget becomes a handicap at parts but what really harms the movie is the sloppy, clunky manner in how the story establishes its needed points. Characters will often speak in a “Hey, you remember when…?”-style of artificial conversation for the benefit of informing the audience of things they would naturally likely already know. Every movie needs exposition to better orient an audience, but the trick of the writer is to mask it as much as possible. It’s stuff like, “Don’t you guys hate Scott? Wasn’t he in a cult?” and, “I thought you were wrapped up in the medical scene like the rest of them. Cody said he’s seen you at the hospital a lot.” With each of those lines, you can tell where the screenplay wants to go for info, but it’s so clunky and lacking the opportunity to shed light about the character doing the speaking. Writing for characters is not something that automatically improves with a higher budget, so one way a low-budget indie can make its mark is through its writing of people, making them intriguing, memorable, and drawing us in. With a cult of people in pain, there should be potential there. Unfortunately, the characters are kept as walking-talking expository devices. I didn’t even realize Abby had cancer and I think the movie was expecting me to know upfront (the cancer diagnosis is in the plot description supplied by the production). Early on she’s in her bathroom crying, and she refers to “whatever’s growing inside me,” and I thought she was pregnant, which brings its own follow-up questions for a lesbian relationship. It is not until 26 minutes into the movie when the word “cancer” is actually spoken via text: “I have ovarian cancer. I need to go home.” She then texts, “My vagina is literally killing me” twice, and I chuckled (also, a possible misuse of “literally”). Other lines of dialogue I found to be tin-eared yet memorable include, “I’ll go to the party but I won’t go to a pity party,” and, in reference to Abby’s ovarian cancer, “If anyone’s gonna understand what’s going on inside you, it’s gonna be them, and me, if you’d let me,” and, “I was drugging the drinks but not like you think. The drinks were already drugged, and I was drugging them to counteract the drugs,” and my favorite toward the very end, “I don’t know where the fuck this basement came from but I guess it’s part of the house now.”
You can see the better version of this movie, one that strips away much of the exposition-heavy and dawdling first half hour. Rather than being told upfront that Abby is sick, or at least being told with a lack of clarity, let’s let this be a much later revelation. The same with Miranda’s relationship to being in a cult. It would have been more interesting and creepier for Miranda to have withheld this vital background and for Abby to realize over the course of one long awkward dinner. Likewise, the dinner setting could have been a great showcase for Scott to demonstrate his manipulative Svengali tendencies. The dinner could be a reunion of friends Miranda hadn’t seen since college rather than her best friends; best friends, I might add, that have not been told anything about the girl she has been dating for over three months. The fear of thinking you really know someone but they’ve been hiding key parts of themselves, and who they may actually be under the surface, is a universal plight. That way the truth comes out piece by piece and we are placed in Abby’s shoes, the outsider to this gathering and trying to understand. It’s a dynamic that would have played to a low-budget production and put emphasis on the character writing and performances as the night descends into Rosemary’s Baby “who are these people?” territory.
When Entropy does go all-in on its Lovecraftian body horror in the final twenty minutes, it’s certainly a leap ahead in entertainment. The lighting favors lots of indigo and purple, which reminded me of 2020’s Color Out of Space, a surefire artistic influence here. The body horror is gross and slimy and the practical effects, while limited, are designed to be more impressionable and shape-defining, triggering our innate sense that something is very wrong. It’s during this wild stretch that the movie tries to do too much with its remaining time (while still padding things out, of course) and by then it’s too late. The lack of clarity in the writing with the characters at the beginning resurfaces and now we have a lack of clarity about what is happening. While Lovecraftian horror often features imperceptible qualities of terror, the story feels more purposely vague out of convenience than a grand design of the unknowable.
At only 70 minutes of movie length, I can’t say that Entropy is an easy watch. My patience was grinding down with all the tedium and padding. Fans of micro-budget horror movies and especially with a taste for the lurid and wild machinations of body horror could be entertained, though it’s a long wait to get to the gory goods. That protracted setup should establish the characters, their dilemma, and most importantly, our interest in what is happening so that when everything goes crazy that we care about what happens next. The characterization, plotting, and dialogue are disappointing and stilted. The acting is pretty limited all around, and that may be another reason why the script didn’t become a tense chamber piece. I found Hale as the cult leader to be the best actor of the bunch. I credit the filmmakers with striving to make something, working together during such fraught times, and succeeding in getting a level of distribution through the prolific Gravitas Ventures. However, next time, and I hope for the Hale brothers there is a next time, that they work just as hard on creating the core elements that will make people care about what dastardly thing happens next to the people in their story, and maybe get an outside set of eyes to read their script for clarity.
Nate’s Grade: D+