As the darkness of the screen hums the opening seconds of the film, listen to the soft shovelfulls of grave dirt being tossed aside, one after the other. This is the subtle entrance to I.O.U – a 24 minute bad dream of short film whose ingredients are grief, vengeful games, and psychological suffering – featuring a sly and keen performance by the legendary Tony Todd (Candyman, Final Destination, Night of the Living Dead ‘90). His professionalism adds an extra level to the achievement of I.O.U. Todd’s swollen red eyes and sluggish demeanor sell the part convincingly, with just his presence alone, lending this film the ability to draw you into the story and care for the main character on the screen. Young writer/director Kevin Shulman delivers with a mood sullening, dark slice of life to blacken our own hearts yet another shade further.
It’s been six months since Jack Bruckner (Tony Todd) lost his wife Karen to cancer. Devastated by this loss, he must still carry on – hold life and all its pieces together for the sake of his preteen step-daughter, Melissa (Taylor Lipman). There is a birthday to plan. Unbeknownst to him, there are other forces at work. On the internet, someone has befriended Jack. “Her” name is Amy (Joseph Gilbert). After some emails and IMs, they agree to meet somewhere downtown. Jack, drinking alone, finds himself stood up, until a cross-dressing stranger accompanies him at the bar. The cross-dresser is actually Amy – but Jack in a drunken depression, dismisses his newfound, odd company as politely as possible – abrasive all the same. Amy is left at the bar, Jack none the wiser. What he has no idea of, is that Amy is actually a psychopath, and being jilted by such a desperate man just doesn’t sit well in this freak’s thoughts.
What is left in the film, without giving away the ending, is an unraveling down to a cold-hearted finale. Its a horrible thought, to imagine finally finding the love of your life, and to feel your sliver of heaven on earth – only to have it torn away from you by sudden death or disease. Jack lost Karen to cancer, and had to watch her rot alive, while she cried to him from her hospital bed. Director Kevin Shulman really brought across the depth of Jack’s depression and remorse to the point where, as you watched Amy exact “his” revenge, you’re like, “C’mon – this guy’s been through enough. What the f…” The atmosphere and pace of the film was slow enough to drag you down, but it never lost your attention. When this movie flexes its “horror“ muscles, it delivers a psychological attack instead of a seat jumper. Great, solid performances all around by the supporting cast, including Rachel Haines, Noelle Perris, and Heath Finn.
“With Tony Todd’s character, I wanted to portray a man who is the epitome of an everyday hero,” explained writer/director Kevin Shulman in some recent comments on I.O.U. “He is not saving people from a burning building, but rather being strong for his step-daughter and himself, in the face of a horrendous loss. It was crucial for Jack, in the web of a complete psychopath like Amy, to seem completely undeserving of the events that transpire, to have people feel like everything was out of his control – and perhaps, out of theirs.”
Kevin began his writing and directing path by becoming the directing intern to three-time academy award nominee Diane Ladd. It was there, at the age of 18, that he learned the director and talent relationship. From there, Kevin continued his on-set experience and production training by being taken under the wing of Blade producer, Jon Divens, as an assistant director, age 19. Now at 20, I.O.U becomes the third horror short he has written, directed, and produced (including The Fix and A Little Off the Top). As a filmmaker, Kevin has shown a profound passion and infatuation for horror most of his life. His next venture will be a full length feature, titled No Tears the last we‘ve heard. If all go according to plan, it should begin production in early 2006.
At the festival, I.O.U was one of a rare few films that casted well known Hollywood caliber actors or actresses. Kevin’s story on how he landed Tony Todd was pretty cool. Through a connection in film school out in LA, Kevin got access to a Tony Todd set and upon meeting him, offered a viewing of his school creation “The Fix”. Todd was down with the idea, invited him to the trailer on a break, and after seeing it, the 2nd unit director was fired and Shulman found himself with a job. Kevin got some camermen and went to work. Year or so later he sees Tony at a signing. Making his way to him, Kevin almost kiddingly asked him, “Would you want to play the lead in my next short?” The people around Kevin laughed, and then Todd asked him to get in touch and email him the script.
I.O.U was a well-made film, and lacked nothing in production quality. If you’re less a fan of shockers and gore, and have more of taste for psychological distress and empathizing with a character who’s mind is shattered for no guilty reason, this short film is one of the better of its kind. Truth be told, I enjoyed it more the second and third time I viewed it. Once you know the story from all angles, its a bit more interesting to watch everything as it unfolds. Like those Faces of Death videos people download and show their friends. After you know what to expect, you cringe but watch even closer as it comes to a head once more. Carpenter and the psychological horror films of the late 70’s into the early 80’s, a vital time when quality work was being churned out by men who are now “Masters of Horror“, have rubbed off excellently on his inspiration and insight into filmmaking. Kevin Shulman handled what could easily have gone off balance like a pro, and delivers, with Tony Todd, a quality mind screw that leaves you with a crap feeling like you‘ve witnessed an innocent, playful dog get it by a truck in the road.
Review by John Marrone
Originally published by House of Horrors.com