Site 13

Film review by Thomas M. Sipos




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Site 13 (2023, director: Nathan Faudree & Tony Urban; script: Nathan Faudree & Tony Urban; cast: Nathan Faudree, Tony Urban, Katie Gibson, Leila Dean, Kelly Ray)





Professor Nathan Marsh (Nathan Faudree) is obsessed with "Devil's Circles." These circles exist in fields and forests throughout the world. Twenty-six in all. Actually, they don't look so devilish to me; just some dry circular patches surround by healthy grass. But Marsh thinks these circles are portals to ... somewhere.

So Marsh recruits a small investigative team of students from Miskatonic University (yes, Site 13 is Lovecraftian horror) and drives to the nearest circle, which is in Pennsylvania. He discovers that the temperature is different within the circle. And when he ties a dog inside the circle overnight, the dog -- and the stake it was tied to -- is gone by morning.

My initial expectations for Site 13 were mixed. The film is marketed as both "found footage" and "cosmic horror." I rarely enjoy found footage, but I love Lovecraft.

Thankfully, Site 13 isn't really found footage. The students' investigation is shot in found footage style, but not most of the film, which really begins when Marsh awakens in an asylum ten years after his investigation. He's been catatonic all that time, having been found in the field ten years earlier. Alone. It seems that whatever took his dog also took his team.

Most of Site 13 is Marsh being examined and questioned by two nuns. Occasionally, the nuns play portions of the "found footage" to jog his memory. Sometimes the nuns confer among themselves.

Yes, two nuns. These nuns are also psychiatrists or some such, and they run the asylum. Well, Sister Margaret (Leila Dean) does. Catherine (Katie Gibson) quit recently because her patient committed suicide. I call her a nun, but she's really an ex-nun. These days she's to be found drinking in bars. Catherine is a cynical, hard-boiled, noir sort of nun.

The asylum itself is an impressively huge building, but that only emphasizes Site 13's low budget. Sister Margaret appears to be the sole administrator, doctor, and staff. The patients are few.

Despite the low budget, Christopher Steinberger's cinematography is admirable. Site 13 has many beautifully composed and atmospherically lit shots. Alan Rowe Kelly's editing moves the story at a brisk pace. He occasionally uses MTV style quick cuts for impressionistic effect, but it's not overdone to the point of annoyance.



Sound design and visual effects are also first rate. The extra-dimensional, cosmic monster is not wholly original in design, but it's appropriately Lovecraftian. No, it's not Cthulhu; don't ask me to try and spell the name spoken by Marsh. Nor will I say where the portals lead, only that the answer blends Christian and Lovecraftian concepts.

Acting is a mixed bag. Faudree (who also co-directed and co-wrote with Tony Urban) is quite good as Marsh. Urban also acts, but his part is small and unremarkable. Dean and Gibson are acceptable, but sometimes speak in a stilted, artificial manner. Kelly Ray is decent as Marsh's love interest, Kelly. (Yes, the actors who appear in the found footage portion play characters with the same names.)

Ultimately, Site 13 is Faudree and Urban's passion project. It began life as a found footage short film in 2003. Then after 17 years, the two men shot the additional (non-found footage) material around the old found footage. So Site 13 is not a found footage film at all. Which is very good, because found footage usually s*cks.

The two men learned much about film production in the intervening years. Site 13 is a fast-paced, atmospheric Lovecraftian thriller. Some of the dialog is hokey, but it's overall a highly entertaining film.



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