For his feature film debut, Tom Botchii comes out swinging with Artik. The writer/director pulls no punches, delivering some heavy blows that reverberate through the screen.
The film follows the titular Artik (Jerry G. Angelo, Better Call Saul) — a serial killer with a passion for comic books — as he trains his son, Adam (Gavin White, 14 Cameras), to follow in his footsteps. Artik is obsessed with the idea of building a hero, torturing his victims mercilessly in the hopes that they will rise from the ashes of torment to take their rightful place as a worthy survivor. When his son Adam meets Holton (Chase Williamson, The Guest), a straight-edge welder who takes interest in the boy, it threatens to expose their horrifying family secret. Soon, Holton might fight to save not only the boy’s life, but also his own.
Angelo’s performance is nuanced, portraying Artik with a restrained nature that’s disquieting. In every scene he’s in, Artik buzzes with a predatory energy. He believes he’s on the cusp of finding someone who can rise to the challenge, documenting his work in the comics he draws. It’s an interesting take on the anti-hero archetype; he firmly believes he’s doing the right thing and takes great pride in his work, encouraging his son to take up the mantle. But there’s no doubt that Artik is a villain, and a highly effective one at that.
Artik’s partner, Flin (Lauren Ashley Carter, Darling), is just as unhinged, though she may be a tad more upfront about it. She maintains the sunflower farm run by the family, though realistically all the work is actually put in by a barn full of malnourished, overworked foster children. It’s a good way to paint her as an unlikable character while allowing her to have moments of sweet innocence. She seems wide-eyed and idealistic, but she’s got a vicious mean streak and zero empathy.
There’s something wonderfully gritty about the aesthetic of the film. Artik’s scenes are washed with tones of sepia and red, feeding us the texture of an old, faded comic book. Holton’s scenes are touched with deep blues and greys, like gears mottled with oil and dirt. It creates a very rich sense of tone.
The score by Corey Wallace goes hard, plucking and pulsating throughout. It creates a strong sense of unease and draws out feelings of dread. From start to finish, the music is perfect.
For those looking for some raw action, Artik is blessed with some really gnarly violence. Visceral sound effects are paired with a wise cinematic eye, framing each moment of carnage in just the right way so as to make it completely effective without being too over-the-top. Artik maintains a level of tense energy through these dark scenes.
While some of the pacing early on can feel a bit rushed, we don’t lose anything to the story. It’s economical and keeps the film constantly moving forward. There are no wasted moments here.
With Artik, Botchii has crafted a unique character that leaves you dying to know the origin story. Artik’s method is brutal, his mission is madness, and he’s a force to be reckoned with. Right from the beginning, you want to see more of his horrific handiwork.
The film looks at the toxic relationships between its characters, showing how strings are pulled to influence their actions and opinions, and how harmful that misplaced respect can be.
Flin and Artik feed on each other’s negative qualities, enabling their bad behavior; Artik’s relationship with his son is based around his encouragement of violence and feeding the dark energies bubbling inside him; and Flin believes she’s providing a good life for her small army of child laborers, trying to convince them to believe the same. These relationships develop and crash into one another, dragging victims down in their wake.
Artik is a pounding, thrilling horror film that grabs you by the throat. While the premise may be a touch familiar, writer/director Tom Botchii goes hard with the concept, building an entirely different — and terrifying — beast. It’s an impressive feature film debut from Botchii, and he’s certainly a name to watch out for moving forward. If Artik is any indication, he’s got a promising future ahead.
Artik had its premiere at the Popcorn Frights film festival on August 11th and will arrive on VOD and Blu-ray as of September 10th.