What a glorious age in which we live. Sure, there are problems. American democracy is eating itself alive, with Russia giving us an unwanted assist. Capitalism no longer promises the kind of wage gains necessary to sustain a middle class over the long haul. Technology companies are being hacked, and our personal information is being stolen on a seemingly daily basis. That’s actually less disturbing than it could be, because those same technology companies have shown they don’t have our best interests at heart, anyway. No one can be trusted, whether it’s in our political lives or our technological lives. But at least in this new age, one man can write, film, star in, edit, and release his very own movie. It may not be a good movie, but all the gatekeepers that had been in place to prevent free expression in the art of film are now gone.
Nigel Bach is a self-described guy who ‘sits in [his] basement with [his] dog creating stuff.’ Before 2016’s Bad Ben, there are no credits on his IMDb page. In Bad Ben, he is credited as producer, director, editor, star, and would have writing credit, as well, only it seemed he didn’t think to include that in the credits.
Bach stars as Tom Riley, a middle-aged man who bought a house in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. The house was a steal, having come up at a sheriff’s auction. When Riley arrives at the house, recording everything on his cellphone, he finds that the previous owners left all their stuff behind. At least, that’s the explanation Riley gives to the camera. My guess is the house is Bach’s, and he didn’t feel like clearing out all his furniture to film his project.
Not long after arriving, furniture starts moving around the living room all on its own, and now we get into the plot. Bad Ben, it turns out, is a found footage ghost flick. Riley, unbeknownst to him, has bought the wrong house. A very active spirit resides in the home, and has no interest in Riley’s plans to flip the house for a profit.
When I write that the spirit is very active, I mean in comparison to other haunted house films. That’s by design, of course. But it’s also the result of Bach being an amateur filmmaker. That’s not a knock on him. I am really impressed by the fact that a random guy from New Jersey made a movie. The only assists he seemed to have gotten were from a couple people off camera making sure the furniture moved when it was supposed to. But, being an amateur, there’s only so much a viewer can expect.
The good news is, while Bad Ben is cheap and silly, it is somewhat watchable. This is a better movie than true bottom feeding garbage like Birdemic or The Room. Sometimes, when someone gets it into their head to make a movie, the result, while still not very good, isn’t repellant.
It’s not the quality of the film that made me sit through the whole thing, however. It may be watchable, but it’s not the easiest slog. What kept me around were the circumstances of the production. Let me reiterate: this is a movie that some guy shot on his cellphone. Then he edited it, added some graphics, and threw it up on Prime. As someone who participates in this new era of art where no middleman is needed to get one’s work seen, I can’t help but applaud Bach for his efforts. I know nothing about him beyond the little he has shared on his website. I don’t know if he tried to be an actor or a filmmaker earlier in his life. I don’t know what sort of creative endeavors occupied the fifty years of his life before he made Bad Ben. I don’t know the setbacks he faced, or if the idea of film was awakened in him simply because he found he could record video with his phone. What I do know is that the man made a movie. It may not be better than Alien: Resurrection, but I don’t think that matters.