As Clint Eastwood once said as Dirty Harry, “a man’s got to know his limitations.”
That goes triple for first-time filmmakers working on a small budget. Try to make that big sci-fi/action opus you always dreamed of by maxing out your mom’s credit card, and the gap between idea and execution will be painfully, laughably obvious.
The main thing that the Madison filmmaking team of Chris Micklos, Glenn Chung and Jay Sapiro get right with their microbudget debut horror film, “The Nursery,” is working within their means, both financial and artistic. “The Nursery,” which had a worldwide release on video-on-demand in June and is out this week on DVD from Uncork’d Entertainment, is a no-frills throwback to old-school horror filmmaking.
After a few evocative shots of its heroine Ranae (Madeline Conway) wandering the UW-Madison campus, the film gets down to brass tacks. Ranae is a college student hired to watch an infant at a remote house (actually the Chung family home in Greendale, Wisconsin) while the parents are out.
The family has recently suffered a tragedy, and although the house is pretty cheery as remote farmhouses in horror movies go, Ranae senses something is off. In time-honored horror movie tradition, she invites three friends over to hang out and keep her company. When the mayhem starts, no prizes for guessing which three people get killed first.
“The Nursery” is a bit of a slow burn in its first half, with no real scares and only the barest hints of something spooky going on (usually by weird texts and Snapchats through Ranae’s phone, a nice contemporary touch). The special effects rely on old-school makeup and fake blood (corn syrup must have been a major line item on the budget).
The plot leans too heavily on another character Skyping in with needed exposition. But the acting is strong, especially for this level of movie, especially Conway, who is utterly believable in the most unbelievable of circumstances.
The DVD of “The Nursery” includes behind-the-scenes photographs from the shoot, as well as a full-length commentary track from all three filmmakers. They’re very honest and upfront about all the challenges they faced in trying to get the film made, which makes the DVD a useful how-to guide for other aspiring horror filmmakers looking to make their own creature feature.