By: Jeff Ching
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a horror movie more relatable than Abie Sidell’s Cram. I also really don’t know if there will be a better horror movie this year. Cram was made for nerds with severe procrastination issues. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re one of those freaks that study for your exams a month in advance, watch this movie and understand the pain of being a procrastinator – this is in our DNA, damn it!
The number of haunted house movies made available are endless, but what about a haunted library movie? Libraries are such unique, beautiful pieces of architecture…of course, it would be a great setting for a horror movie. This is just one of many creative things about Cram. And hey, when we complain about how long most movies are, Sidell’s film is only 45 minutes. If you love horror, you have no excuse to not watch this.
If there was a Shakespearean tragedy made about me, procrastination would be my fatal flaw. Cram made me think back to my days at the University of Western Ontario. Just like the protagonist of this movie, I was the stressed-out person staying at the school library till midnight, taking my roommate’s prescription ADD pill, pounding coffee after coffee, cursing myself for attempting to cram hundreds of pages of textbook material into my head the night before the exam. Despite having graduated from school decades ago, I still have dreams that I’m back in high school – failing. I wake up relieved when I realize it was all a dream, but then I sit there and wonder if this dream is a metaphor for my life. Anyways, I don’t mean to make this write-up about me. At least my dreams of failing school are nothing compared to the horrific fever dream of our protagonist, Marc (John DiMino).
We open the movie on Marc and his friends in the library. They read his sad excuse for an essay that’s due tomorrow. “This is all you have?”, they exclaim in horror. We see the opening paragraph of his essay that says, “Bla bla bla, I’ll fill this in later.” Classic procrastinator move – skip the difficult parts and jump to the easier parts. He’s trying to write an entire essay of BS without addressing the actual topic – the civil war reconstruction. He tries to get assurance that his writing is good, but his pals tell him, “Nothing screams bull**** to me, like well written nonsense.” They also have a funny discussion of MLA vs. APA citation. See what I mean about how much this movie is catered to nerds? After his friends refuse to let him cheat by copying their essays, he reluctantly stays in the library alone to pull an all nighter. He takes a nap and wakes up to realize the lights have gone out, he’s the only person in the library, and his essay has mysterious vanished from his computer. And then begins the nightmarish fever dream that dives deep into the anxiety-filled psyche of a procrastinator who just wants to freakin’ pass! I had no clue what to expect, but I happily went along for the ride.
How do I best describe the type of fever dream? I don’t know, but it’s a mix of my type of failing dreams (ie: a photocopier spitting out scantron after scantron of all F’s) to some really surreal, trippy, messed up, gory stuff (but not too excessive, Cram has just the right amount). Its atmosphere is creepy, the cinematography is very good and, boy, did some of the jump scares spook me. We even get a horror villain known as The Master of Academia, who speaks like William Shakespeare as if he was resurrected by the book of the dead. Regarding the presence of The Master of Academia, kudos to make-up artist Beatrice Sniper and actor Brandon E. Burton. What a fun, ominous antagonist. He kind of gave me Teddy Perkins vibes from the second season of Atlanta.
I also have to give a lot of credit to John DiMino, who for the most part performs a one-man-show. He perfectly captures the anxiety of…well…how I felt at Western. When he breaks down crying, hating himself for why he keeps repeating the same mistake over and over again, praying just for a pass…damn, I felt that. As for the director: I’ve never heard of this Abie Sidell fella, but what a bright future he has. Who knows what he’ll do with more experience and a bigger budget?
Addison Wylie has been bugging me, “Jeff. When will you finish this review?” In the true spirit of this movie, I left this review till the last minute and wrote it on very little sleep, because I just couldn’t help myself. Just in case I haven’t accurately praised the awesomeness of Cram, I apologize to the filmmakers – I loved it! I had a smile on my face from beginning to end with a few big laughs. I can’t wait to introduce my procrastinating friends to this movie.
The majority of horror movies are the same stuff, and Cram is such a breath of fresh air. I don’t know what to compare it to, and that’s a good thing. School is such a source of stress and anxiety, and no other movie has captured it in such accurate, horrific, surreal detail. I have full confidence that at the end of the year, Cram will be on my top ten list of 2023 – maybe even my top five. I love being a critic when it comes to discovering little gems like this one.
Final rating: ****1/2 (out of 5)
Read more of Jeff Ching’s thoughts on film at The Ching of Comedy’s blog.