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Review: Mass Grave Pictures’ Theta States

Theta States is the perfect example that originality and imagination still exist in 2017, a time when reboots and remakes and recycled ideas are the norm. It’s hard to be a director or film-maker these days, especially when you’re working independently on a small budget, because there is a large margin for failure. Don’t give the audience what they want and they will lambaste you relentlessly for it. In the case of Manny Serrano and Mass Grave Pictures, their new feature Theta States is a clusterfuck of different genres, story-telling elements and themes, and they culminate in a really coherent and fantastical way. So, Theta States is also a testament that taking risks can pay off when you have the right story to back it up. With that said, let me actually jump into my review.

Theta States is written, directed, edited and produced by Manny Serrano along with co-producer and make-up head Lindsay Serrano and cinematographer Louie Cortes. Lead and supporting cast members include Thomas Ryan, Erin Brown, Kathryn Lill, Tom Coll and Deana Demko; along with appearances from Bradley Creanzo, Patrick Devaney, Loretta Vendetta and Christopher Murphy. Theta States tells the story of Danny (Thomas Ryan), a chronic insomniac who seeks help from a hypnotherapist. Soon Danny finds that something evil may be lurking in his nightmares and is forced to engage the entity in a battle for his soul.

As I stated above, Theta States has a whole lot more going on and it’s too easy to classify it as a “slow horror flick” or “science fiction flick.” Serrano stated that he found inspiration for the movie in Altered States, Scanners and Witchboard 2, which would explain why this movie has a certain late 80’s/early 90’s flare to it – a trait seen in the majority of Mass Grave Pictures movies. Serrano has also stated that he wanted to do a movie of this caliber with this plot device without being obvious and going overboard with the narrative. This is why Theta States lends itself to so many different genres – it has to tell the story through emotion and plot building instead of throwing it all your way at once. Theta States is equal parts psychological-thriller and science-fiction drama with a bit of horror thrown in for extra effect. It’s the type of movie that’s low on blood and action, but packed with mystery, suspense and nudity. It’s the type of movie you’re going to thoroughly enjoy if you’re a fan of character development and supreme plot progression in horror. It’s the type of movie you’re going to want to see if you’re looking for something new, something that hasn’t been done before.

When I look at an independent film like this, I don’t judge it by the budget – I judge it by growth. I look to see if the film-maker or film-makers have learned something that makes their work better. While I found some level of enjoyment in Mass Grave Pictures’ Blood Slaughter Massacre, I have to say it was a little rough in some departments. When relating this idea back to Theta States, I can say without a doubt that Manny Serrano & Co have created a much sharper, professional and appealing product here. Whether it’s because of better equipment or a more seasoned crew, Theta States is a step or two above Blood Slaughter Massacre production-wise and the camera work, lighting and audio is much, much better than before. The effort and hard work put into this movie shines through and I’d be remiss if I didn’t congratulate everyone involved on a job well done. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the visual effects from David Gechman and Beatrice Sniper. In my opinion, Gechman is one of the best visual effects artists in The Tri-State area and his lack of hokey-ness and pixelation is seen here. Hire him. Now.

When examining the acting within Theta States, Thomas Ryan is the main actor and does a wonderful job in that role, but I’d actually like to highlight the talents of his two co-stars, Erin Brown and Kathryn Lill. Erin Brown is known for a number of well-received porn parodies that made her a former adult film star. For the last 10 years, Brown’s been trying to shed that chapter of her career by booking roles in a multitude of horror films. Seeing her acting chops for the first time in Theta States, I can honestly say that she is quite the capable actress and she should have no problem booking further roles. If you’re thinking of hiring her for your project, just watch Theta States – it’s a good showcasing of her abilities as an actress as well as being proof that she’s more than a one trick pony. And as for Kathryn Lill, I think this is her first big role in a movie, and she did a great job with the material she was given. I found myself drawn to her and her character in a much stronger way than I did Erin Brown. Looking at it now, they’re so opposite each other – ying and yang, if you will – that they were the perfect combination to represent both sides of Thomas Ryan’s inner struggle.

Theta States is my favorite item on the Mass Grave Pictures catalogue so far. I hope that you’ll have the opportunity to own it on DVD by the end of 2017. Final Score: 8 out of 10. 

Written by Michael Therkelsen

(Senior Editor)