In horror, ancient mystical artifacts and obsession typically spells disaster. This is no different in The Orpheus Protocol’s Gene Blalock’s latest haunting feature film, The Nightmare Gallery. Bolstering a budget of which most shoestring indie films could only dream of, this feature’s financial backing still falls significantly below the average independent theatrical release. However, nothing is wasted. Every dollar is put to great use, producing one hell of a dramatic ride into insanity.
Upon receiving ownership of an ancient text, anthropology student and TA Sanjay Ramdas (Rahul Parikh: TMI Hollywood TV series) cannot wait to report his discovery to his boss, Professor Samantha Rand (Amber Benson: Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series). However, these words hold more power than simple textbook knowledge. When the young scholar abruptly disappears without a trace, Professor Rand relentlessly exhausts authoritative resources while no progress is seen. However, three years later, Professor Rand receives a gift delivered to her front door that just may contain clues to solving the missing person’s case of her TA, whom she never had the heart to replace. Though said clues do not involve body parts, they do include artifacts in the form of ancient symbols, encrypted text and suggestion that this package is from Sanjay.
Benson adds incredible substance to her character, Professor Rand, portraying her as a respected expert driven by passion at the risk of her career and marriage to Dawn Rand (Mieko Hillman: Teen Wolf TV series). In an age where representation matters, Benson and Hillman create believable chemistry, establishing a same sex couple living a normal affectionate life based on love.
However, the couple’s relationship is put to the test as Professor Rand becomes obsessed with her recent delivery. Studying the artifacts and ancient texts, the professor begins to lose sight of any and all responsibilities while she is plagued with nightmarish dreams that are far too real to be shrugged off.
Bringing to life words from scriptwriters Jhan Harp and Rob Stith (both of whom worked on the Horror Haiku TV series), Blalock applies outstanding attention to detail for a stylish envisioning full of intrigue. Cinematic effects, framing and lighting all work together to create an ongoing, dramatically dark ambiance felt from beginning to end. While a fittingly eerie score plays to capture the mood in all the right moments, the mysterious story slowly unravels, putting into question what is reality and what is merely a dream.
Further praise also goes to the makeup department for enhancing Benson’s acting, adjusting her look as her character loses sleep while diving into a rabbit hole bound to take a toll on anyone’s sanity. The closer to the truth the professor gets, the more she begins to lose as her wife fights to preserve the woman she once married. However, is a loss of sanity necessary to uncover the source of Sanjay’s disappearance and decipher a text linked to an ancient God?
While I appreciate the heartfelt, dramatically detailed emphasis placed on Samantha and Dawn’s strained marriage, I do feel that the same intended implications could have been slightly condensed. With clear time elapse indications, this film could have reached the source of thrilling material sooner, catapulting us into a museum of horrors and unease.
Warned by the blood-hungry guard protecting the museum of nightmares and oddity, Samantha ventures on her own to find Sanjay. Though her exploration builds some intense suspense rewarded with some horrific imagery, this only encompasses a small portion of the film. Further tension could have been built in this scenario before the final payoff.
Small complaints aside, The Nightmare Gallery erupts into a conclusion with Hellraiser-esque imagery and Garden of Eden connotations of the proverbial story of Adam and Eve. However, this is far from a Bible study piece of dramatic horror. While it is never completely spelled out, a post-credit scene implies that something far from the minds of humankind is taking place in this tale of lost sanity.
Downsides aside, I am perplexed at the 4.4/10 star rating on IMDb. Blalock and his team certainly raise the bar for small indie horror of this caliber. This type of storytelling warrants more recognition than it has received, riding the fine line between indie horror fans and mainstream audiences. Anyone searching for a lesser known indie horror feature owes themselves the chance to check out The Nightmare Gallery, which is currently available on most VOD platforms including iTunes, Amazon and Redbox.