AFF 2010 Review: I Didn't Come Here to Die

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Take a classic slasher setup, a bunch of young people isolated in the woods, and turn the trope on its overly predictable ear and you get the indie horror film I Didn't Come Here to Die by Austinite Bradley Scott Sullivan.

With one of the best ever taglines ("Volunteer work is a killer"), Sullivan's screenplay takes a small group of "Volunteers of American Generating Goodwill" out to a remote location to start work on what will eventually be campgrounds for underprivileged urban youth. As the first team to work on the project, they're roughing it in tents, with no phone service, and supposedly, no alcohol and no fraternization. All the rules in place are for safety's sake, but once rules start being broken, everything and everyone starts down a slippery, bloody slope.

Each volunteer has different motivation for being there. Team Leader Sophia (Emmy Robin) is focused on her authority and the goals of the VAGG team. Her assistant Miranda (Madi Goff) has greater ambitions driving her need for success and for fitting in. Julie (Indiana Adams) has nothing better to do, although she and Chris (Niko Red Star), the wild child of the bunch, certainly have a talent for mischief. Rounding out the team is the wholesome Steve (Jeremy Scott Vandermause) and the haunted Danny (Kurt Cole) who's trying to distance himself from past tragedy. These are familiar people to anyone who's worked on a volunteer project.

Not surprisingly, not everyone follows the rules, and just as predictably, there are consequences to breaking them. Sullivan uses the remote location to build a "heart of darkness" element into the story, as the campers quickly start falling apart. I Didn't Come Here to Die works particularly well in having characters make some plausible bad choices and using the characters personalities and motivations against them. The most obvious come first, particularly Miranda, the Poli Sci major with lofty goals and and uptight attitude ... which don't mix well with alcohol. The most surprising performance is from Jeremy Scott Vandermause, whose "too good to be true" Steve has difficulty dealing with the events. All the actors do a worthy job, but one final honorable mention must be made: Travis Scott Newman as a deputy sheriff, who clearly embraces the role.

The only real issue with I Didn't Come Here to Die is the overuse of closeups, which made some of the scenes less interesting. However, the sound design on I Didn't Come Here to Die is outstanding and more than makes up for any issues with shot composition. With the the overall story, characters, and pacing also being solid, I Didn't Come Here to Die is one of the more memorable indie horror films out there.

Shot in just seven days, Sullivan's dark comedy is inspired from his own experiences as a volunteer and expanded upon for dramatic effect, and it shows in the script. With the tight production schedule, the only lulls are necessary for setting up further action for this series of unfortunate events. I Didn't Come Here to Die may be Sullivan's first feature film, but based on what's on screen and the audience reaction at its world premiere at Austin Film Festival, it's not destined to be his last.

I Didn't Come Here to Die is a must-see for horror fans who appreciate something a little different in their films, and anyone who appreciates tight dark stories.

Austin Connections: Shot in Bastrop, Kyle, and in Austin, there are no obvious landmarks in I Didn't Come Here to Die, save the gas station, which is the same one used in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. Many of the cast and crew have local connections as well, and casting calls were held at Austin Java.

[Photo by William J. Meyer courtesy the I Didn't Come Here to Die Flickr page]