MAY 21 ― Out of all the commercial movie genres out there, horror (which of course includes thrillers that are unafraid of the grisly stuff) is surely the one most connected to and inspired by the spirit of independent filmmaking.

The genre had its start in the studio system in the 1930s, thanks to Universal making a pretty successful franchise out of its Universal Classic Monsters series of films.

It was towards the end of the 1960s when fans of those Universal movies the world over began making their own horror movies, resources be damned, that the world of truly DIY independent filmmaking and the horror genre began to collide.

There’s no better example of this flowering of the genre than George Romero’s classic Night Of The Living Dead, from 1968. A regional independent production made on a budget of only US$100,000 (RM439,100), it went on to gross more than US$30 million worldwide, inspiring even more horror and film geeks to just go the independent and DIY route to make their first films.

This resulted in the 70s and 80s horror boom that produced legendary directors like John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven and Sam Raimi.

Even today, I think it’s safe to say that more than 90 per cent of the horror films produced around the world at any given time are of the lower budget variety, with only a few lucky enough to enjoy the benefits of a relatively large and decent budget and the backing of major movie studios.

In short, horror is largely an independent and low budget genre, especially nowadays when only a new James Wan film, a new film in the Conjuring universe, a franchise reboot, or a Jordan Peele produced film, would garner the backing of major Hollywood studios.

So when you’re working with low budgets, you need to get creative about how to use the limited resources available, and one of the most often used routes is by devising as minimal a setting as possible for your movie.

In the last two weeks I managed to catch two new thrillers with settings so minimal that their elevator pitch was probably just one very short sentence. Their low budgets still show, but in general it’s pretty admirable what these two films managed to pull off.

The Ledge

Helmed by British director Howard J. Ford (of The Dead and The Dead 2: India fame), The Ledge is another cracker.

Imagine Donkey Punch, but set on a mountain, the film is a cat and mouse thriller in which the mouse is a young woman named Kelly (Brittany Ashworth), an experienced mountain climber on vacation in Europe, and the cat is a gang of former frat boys led by a truly vile and sexist dude named Joshua (played with much relish by Ben Lamb).

The movie’s whole premise is set off by an extremely effective opening in which, after a drunken night of flirting and trash talking between Kelly’s best friend Sophie and Joshua, Kelly witnesses Sophie’s death at the hands of Joshua and his gang of bros, even catching all of it on video.

She ends up being pursued up a mountain by them, and the whole film subsequently plays out on the mountain’s cliffs and ledges.

Ford delivers plenty of nail-biting action scenes, creatively covering his angles and using believable enough CGI and green screen work to create the illusion that this was actually shot on a real mountain in really high spots.

Expansive and claustrophobic both at the same time, thanks to the mix of breathtaking mountain views and the small patches of rock that Kelly’s trapped on, the film falls apart a bit towards the end, as character motivation takes a nosedive here and there, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a solid high concept thriller, and probably even one of Ford’s best films to date.

Escape The Field

More or less Escape Room set in a huge corn field, and obviously on a much lower budget, director Emerson Moore can take pride in the fact that he stuck to his guns and marched all the way through to the end, giving it everything he’s got to realise this film’s high concept of a group of strangers waking up in the middle of a corn field, each given a different item (gun, compass, knife etc) and gradually figuring out that there’s a puzzle they need to solve together.

Pacing wise, the film at only 88 minutes long moves at a pretty brisk pace, keeping things interesting with its many clues, puzzles and mysteries, but it is hamstrung by the fact that we’ve seen this kind of thing way too many times before.

And without any other unique hook/surprise to differentiate it from the rest of the pack (at least the Escape Room films have big enough budgets to slickly display the many perils that await in the films’ many puzzle rooms, often climaxing in creatively grisly deaths for the unfortunate victims), Escape The Field has the feel of a B or C grade level band trying to cover a major league band’s song using far inferior instruments and armed with far less musical skill.

Not in any way essential viewing, but diverting enough to maybe please some genre fans when there’s nothing much else to watch.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.