Title: The Abduction of Zack Butterfield
Directed By: Rick Lancaster
Starring: TJ Plunkett, Brett Helsham, Lisa Gunn, Aaron Letrick, Celine du Tertre, Domenico D’Ippolito, Anthony Ames
While it’s a personal priority to treat every film the same, sometimes there’s just no use in trashing an indie production seeing a minimal release. However, that’s not the case with The Abduction of Zack Butterfield as I feel I owe it to the industry and moviegoers alike to lay it on thick so that an atrocity such as this will never be dubbed a professional feature film ever again.
Zack Butterfield (TJ Plunkett) has everything going for him; he’s popular, good-looking and an all-star athlete. Unfortunately, it’s those good qualities that catch the eye of former Iraq mercenary turned kidnapper, April McKenna (Brett Helsham). After a brief stalking session, April snatches Zack up mid-run, forcing him into her truck, taking him to her secluded home.
No, she doesn’t lock her victim in a basement, rather a quaint bedroom designed just for him, which, minus the fingerprint scanning lock, is quite cozy. April isn’t your typical kidnapper looking for money; she’d much prefer love. Courtesy of her disillusioned romantic past, April adopted the mentality that “men suck” and thinks that by starting with one while he’s still young, she can shape him into the man of her dreams, hence Zack.
While the concept itself isn’t all that bad, the execution is atrocious on every level. First off, the script itself is drowning in absurdity. Not only does the series of events make zero sense, but the dialogue is painfully unnatural. Co-writers Stephen M. Ryder and Rick Lancaster have absolutely no conception of teenage talk. I don’t care if my mother bought me a Mercedes when I was 14; I’d absolutely never thank her by saying, “You are the coolest mom in the world.”
Even worse are the conversations between Zack’s parents and the cops post-kidnapping. No wonder the cops have no leads; the only information the Butterfields have to offer is constantly whining about how their son was a popular athlete. Then again, it doesn’t even matter because the town sheriff and FBI agents are absolute jokes anyway, attempting to convince the Butterfields to just move on as it would be a shame for the disappearance of their son to “hijack their lives.”
While the conversations between Zack and April are equally as ludicrous and contrived, the more pressing issues during their scenes are the blocking, acting and camera coverage. According to the IMDb crew list, The Abduction of Zack Butterfield was without a fight choreographer and boy does it show. Zack is supposed to be some karate star, yet he doesn’t put up the least bit of a fight when April grabs him off the street. Of course, as a trained mercenary, she’d ultimately beat Zack in a fight, but Zack basically walks himself into her truck.
Apparently the production was also without a director capable of directing actors because every single performance in this piece is laughably bad. While both Plunkett and Helsham have a natural on-screen presence, neither seems to have a decent sense of what to do with their character. They’re merely reading lines rather than trying to bring these people to life, which makes the dialogue heavy moments painfully expositional and the ones during which the wheels in their heads are supposed to be turning, entirely unreadable. What we wind up with is a jerky and confusing progression of their relationship.
As a current film student learning how difficult it is to acquire the resources just to make a short film, it’s incredibly insulting that director, co-producer and co-editor Rick Lancaster squanders his. Based on the final product, it’s doubtful that Lancaster did any preparation whatsoever beyond walking onto set, pointing at the script and saying something along the lines of, “Do that.” Then, to his cinematographer, it must have been, “Just stick the camera where you can catch all the action.”
The camerawork here is deplorable. This very well might be the worst framing I’ve ever come across in a so-called professional feature film. Cinematographer Aric Jacobson has an impossible time holding frame. He often starts in one position and opts to tilt or pan the camera right in the middle of a character’s monologue. Perhaps this could have worked if the film were shot handheld or if the movement was motivated, but instead, it comes across as Jacobson second-guessing his work. Even when he manages to hold still, the framing is incredibly odd. Many heated moments are shot in near profiles with tons of empty space behind the character. There’s also zero shot progression. Rather than move to a tighter shot when a scene intensifies, we get meaningless back-and-forths that do nothing to enhance the emotion.
Lancaster and his team should really be ashamed of themselves. It didn’t have to be this way. Regardless of whether this is due to a lack of planning or simply being a first time feature filmmaker, Lancaster should have recognized that something was very wrong with his film. The whole piece feels rushed and thoughtless, as though this script landed in his lap and he decided they had to cast and shoot it right away regardless of the necessity to re-write, storyboard or share any sort of collaborative effort whatsoever. The Abduction of Zack Butterfield is an idiot’s guide to not even amateurish, but flat out terrible filmmaking.
By Perri Nemiroff