I don’t think I’ve ever seen zombies like this before, but I’m not sure if I fully understand what I watched, either. Another official selection in Fantasia Film Festival’s Small Gauge Trauma category, Riley Was Here is… puzzling, bizarre, and all around fucked up. I can’t ignore the fact that it brought out certain emotions in me, and had me hooked to the screen like an arm dangling from the ceiling; even if I’m not really sure if I “got it.” Shot under Black Poodle Productions and Bubba Prime, Riley Was Here follows a survivor of a global pandemic that wiped out a large part of Earth’s human population. Now, with the event under control and communities trying to rebuild themselves, a man knocks on the door of a doctor who specializes in an after-care experience. Seedy and back-alley, the man quickly discovers the woman has dark intentions of her own, and his quest for a realistic experience is about to end in complete chaos. Written, directed, and produced by Jon Rhoads and Mike Marrero, Riley Was Here stars Elena Devers and Julio Trinidad.
Same as the drug problem sweeping the nation, the man in Riley Was Here is looking to experience the “high” of becoming one of the infected – without turning into one of them thanks to the quick vaccine that’s largely available. I think. This exposure therapy, or this journey for further enlightenment, mirrors the demise of thousands of people in real life, every day. Sometimes its better just to stick to the legal stuff, folks. Still, Riley Was Here is scary in the fact that it’s based in reality, and there are several theories that a real zombie apocalypse will start because of a medical treatment or dirty drug. Creepy. Even when this theme is stripped away, Riley Was Here is an impeccably produced horror short with killer scores and a ton of successful visuals thanks to expert framing and lighting. I never thought I’d be so impressed by a mini-movie that takes place almost entirely in an attic, but Jon Rhoads and Mike Marrero really pulled out all the stops for this one. And I’m glad they did, considering it’s a new take on the zombie genre that we haven’t seen before. Yay originality!
Last, but not least, the acting is absolutely phenomenal and deserving of award recognition. Elena Devers and Julio Trinidad played off each other in an beautiful way, and I could feel their on screen chemistry despite being counterparts. I also think the decision to use Trinidad for his role was genius because he looks amazing when done up in special effects. He’s got the look for horror gore. No disrespect! In a world fueled by fear, where everyone has an ulterior motive, the characters in Riley Was Here seek momentary solace in each other; only to bring about a bloody disaster that is adjacent to 28 Weeks Later. Edited by Rhoads and featuring Steve Panariello, Riley Was Here mixes science, horror, and drama in a frighteningly bizarre way. If you see it on a line-up at a film festival near you, I highly encourage making a stop to see it. You won’t be disappointed. Final Score: 8 out of 10.