January 4, 2014 – On the frigid (yet I still believe in global warming) first Saturday of the year I journeyed with my friend Jeff Roll to Richmond’s historic movie house the Byrd Theater to take in a super secret screening of the latest feature from maverick local filmmaker Drew Bolduc, Science Team. So secret was this screening that it had its own Facebook event page and was even announced on the film’s official website – http://scienceteammovie.com/. When we arrived people were already lining up, though some of them may have been there to catch the afternoon showing of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2. Regardless, many had come to see Science Team despite knowing little-to-nothing about it outside of a cryptic teaser trailer released early last year. An opening card with white letters against a black screen warned us that what we were about to see was an unfinished screener cut of the movie intended for film festival viewing and the credits were not complete. I got a little charge out of that as those of us who ventured out of our toasty warm domiciles on this sunny but ice cold afternoon were seeing an early cut that might not reflect what the final version will resemble. Since Richmond has never to my knowledge hosted any Hollywood test screenings this was quite a privilege, though there were likely a few there who didn’t realize it then.
The first film Bolduc (pronounced BOWL-DUKE) made was the 2010 apocalyptic splatter horror satire The Taint; check out my review at EuroCultAV.com HERE. It was both one of the funniest and nastiest works of independent cinema to come along since the days when it was possible for a movie to get theatrical distribution across the country even without the benefit of an MPAA rating, such as the twisted and gruesome classics Basket Case and Street Trash. Though Science Team has its much-welcome share of unrepentant violence and gore Bolduc (who also wrote, edited, and helped create the music score and special effects) is working in a completely different genre this time. The Science Team of the title is in fact a secretive government organization with elements of an oddball religious cult – think S.H.I.E.L.D. meets the Church of Scientology. They even have a leader who is part Nick Fury and part L. Ron Hubbard, the wheelchair-bound lunatic Professor Dick Willington (Matt Chodoronek). The team’s lower-level personnel have a habit of wearing matching outfits and are usually seen doing calisthenics. When the world is threatened by threats from beyond the stars Science Team is first and only on the case, and they handle every potentially destructive situation with all the passion and ingenuity of emotionally distant bureaucrats who wouldn’t be out of place ignoring your concerns at the Department of Motor Vehicles. This is all spelled out in the film’s first three minutes, which resembles the mutant offspring of a one-night stand between a 3 a.m. informercial for that revolutionary new carrot peeler that will be available in a few months for a cheaper price at Wal-Mart and an employee training video made for Staples in the late-1990’s.
But a story like this needs an audience surrogate, and we get just that in the person of Chip (Vito Trigo), a struggling writer of….something….who spends his first moments on screen screaming accusations of adultery at his girlfriend (Suzanna Mancini) and smashing nearly everything in their apartment in a fit of rage. This sequence goes on for several minutes and perfectly encapsulates Bolduc’s offbeat sense of humor, draining certain moments completely of intensity until all that remains is bleak, awkward comedy. Chip, still encased in his bathrobe (as great men of popular fiction such as Arthur Dent and Jeff Lebowski were wont to do), piles his meager intact possessions into a box and stomps off to his mother’s house in the countryside to clear his head and continue writing. When he arrives it takes some time for him to realize that not only is his mum pushing up daisies – and I won’t say how for fear of ruining one of the movie’s funniest visual gags – but the alien creature responsible has taken up residence in another room. The extraterrestrial menace spends the entire film immobile, though that doesn’t prevent it from using its powers of telepathy to transmit hallucinogenic visions into the heads of Chip and anyone else who comes within a few hundred feet of its personal space. Chip calls the police for help (after dealing with a particularly sensitive 911 operator) but all they do is accuse him of killing his own mother and freak the hell out. One of them submits Chip to an inspired, possibly improvised rant about how he is going to rape him in the most comedic ways, or at least comedic-sounding. I would be hugely disappointed if this scene didn’t make it into the final cut because it had the preview audience running out of breath at times just from excessive laughter.
Just like that, our confused lead character is caught in a nightmare of government conspiracies and attempted alien diplomacy once Science Team is called in to deal with the problem. Leading the field research team is Joey Tweed (Richard Spencer); imagine every preening jock douchebag from 1980’s teen cinema rolled into one handsome but morally appalling package and given top-level clearance and you’ve basically got Joey. Ever the competent professional, Tweed walks into this comical horror from beyond the stars with great preconceptions of what to expect. As the story gets crazier those expectations are methodically shattered until things make about as much sense to Joey as they do to Chip, which explains why their climatic encounter is a bruising close quarters fight scene that I believe runs almost as long as the back alley brawl between Roddy Piper and Keith David in the 1988 John Carpenter classic They Live. There are multiple chases on foot that are more comical than suspenseful, some deliciously gruesome practical gore (overseen by Bolduc), unnecessarily loud arguments, and more. But none of those scenes can compare to the one where Chip, in his latest to flee from Tweed and his inconvenienced Science Team flunkies, finds temporary sanctuary with a friendly female neighbor. Things take an unexpectedly weird turn, and that is all I will say about that. Oh, did I mention the literally explosive finale and a wordless cameo appearance from Troma Films honcho Lloyd Kaufman?
The cinematography by William Robinette is very bright and takes great advantage of the claustrophobic interiors and the comforting countryside locations. Visually, Science Team is a great step forward for Bolduc, who also edited the film. The pacing of the earlier scenes might throw off potential viewers at first as it takes a while for the plot to come into play, but if you accept its absurd premise with unconditional trust from the start you will find yourself going gracefully with the flow. There isn’t a weak link in the cast, though special mention must go to Trigo for his fully committed performance as the gradually unhinging Chip. Despite his tendency to act more aggressive and violent than the situation demands you might feel a slight twinge of empathy towards this lowly man ensnared in a situation beyond his comprehension. Trigo will next be seen in Troma Films’ Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 1, which also features Bolduc on visual effects duty and will be released on Blu-ray by Anchor Bay Entertainment later this year. Spencer makes a terrific, loathsome adversary with the perfect amount of smarm and charm. I would eat up more space just praising every member of the supporting cast. They are that good.
January is usually a pretty drab time to go to the movies unless you’re just now catching the previous year’s big Oscar contenders and critical darlings. The newer releases are mostly films the studios have already taken a loss on. After seeing Science Team at least it can be said that for me, along with everyone else in the audience who enjoyed it, 2014 is off to a groovy start. In the post-screening Q & A Bolduc said that the movie could hit home video by the end of the year once it has made the film festival rounds. This one is definitely going in my collection when that day comes because chances are I will be watching Science Team infinitely more in the years to come than any major Hollywood blockbuster coming our way soon. If you are lucky enough to have this spirited treasure screen in your town this year I triple dog dare you to miss out on seeing a film that will definitely be making my end of the year best list.
– Robert Morgan
Here are the first three minutes of Science Team, released as a teaser trailer early last year.