Three very promising new talents from the land of horror

‘Stray Bullets’

I wanted to see this movie just because I saw the name Jack Fessenden on its poster as I had a hunch that this Jack might be the son of Larry Fessenden, one of US indie horror’s most important figures since the 1990s.

It was only after I watched the film (and being totally impressed by it) that I searched the Internet for more information about its director, and I can’t even begin to tell you how shocked I was when I found out that Jack was only 16 years old when he made this movie!

Not only did he write and direct it, but he also starred in it (in a pretty important secondary role), edited it, wrote the score, and even played some of the instruments himself.

Clearly a homemade passion project, with dad Larry acting as cinematographer, there’s a lyrical and poetic quality to this crime film, about two  kids stuck with a group of professional thieves who are being hunted after a robbery gone wrong, that gives you a different sensory experience, despite its archetypal ingredients.

It’s what some people might call “elevated genre”, something in the vein of Blue Ruin, and to be able to pull that off at age 16 is quite simply remarkable. I now eagerly await what Jack has got up his sleeve next!



STRAY BULLETS (2017) ‘the crime thriller marks an impressive debut for its 16-year old filmmaker’


Jack Fessenden, Asa Spurlock, James Le Gros, John Speredakos, Kevin Corrigan, Robert Burke Warren, Larry Fessenden.

Directed by Jack Fessenden

Upon first impression “Stray Bullets” may lead you to believe that this is a coming-of-age drama focused on two teenage boys. Then it suddenly takes a dark turn towards “Reservoir Dogs” territory while utilizing various techniques reminiscent of those great crime films from the 70’s. The low-budget indie features a cast of bang-up character actors like James LeGros and Kevin Corrigan and while it may be a little rough around the edges it’s still an impressive debut from writer-director and star Jack Fessenden who is only 16-years old.

Inspired by Jeff Nichols’ “Mud” starring Matthew McConaughey, the film takes place in a rural part of the country (here it’s upstate New York) where Ash (Asa Spurlock) and best friend Connor (Jack Fessenden) spend their days performing odd jobs for money and killing time by shooting paintballs. Their lives are about to change when they intersect with three inept criminals (James Le Gros, John Speredakos, Larry Fessenden) on the run after a botched robbery. To complicate matters worse a hitman played by Kevin Corrigan is hot on the criminals’ trail which means the boys will eventually cross paths with the psychotic assassin.

Fessenden displays all the signs of a mature and budding filmmaker to watch. It’s hard to point out the film’s flaws when you consider the director was only 14 when he started working on the project. That being said, I’m not giving Jack a hall pass. The film deserves to be judged on its merits not on the age of its creator and I can truly say this is a first-rate debut worthy of your viewing.

After producing three short films and at the advice of his mother Beck Underwood, a stop-motion animator who also provided the costumes for the movie, Jack decided to shift “Stray Bullets” from another short into his first feature film. I should also point out that Jack’s father, Larry Fessenden, who bleeds out in the backseat of ’74 Dodge Dart through most of the film, is the iconic horror filmmaker behind Wendigo, The Last Winter, Beneath and a handful of indie titles. He also serves as the Director of Photography under his son Jack giving “Stray Bullets” a professional visage, as the experienced filmmaker captures the beauty of upstate New York.

If it wasn’t for modern devices like cell phones that are used by characters in the film, it would be hard to pinpoint the era. The pristine Dodge the thieves travel in and the dilapidated mobile home where most of the action takes place during the second half are two of the many props that give the impression that “Stray Bullets” takes place in the 70’s. Think of this film as the action equivalent of 2009’s “The House of the Devil” which took a similar approach with its visual style. Both films were backed by Larry’s Glass Eye Pix production company.

I like the way the film is cut to show how the laid-back lifestyle of Ash and Connor is about to clash with the violent and bloody criminals who are headed towards the teenage boys. The audience feels like a bunch of amateur meteorologists tracking a storm about to hit a tiny community. Jack does a superior job of building tension especially when the so called “storm” makes landfall and the teenagers find themselves held hostage by the thugs.

There is a slow-motion death scene that takes place in the film reminiscent of Willem Dafoe’s demise in “Platoon.” It will appear over the top to the novice moviegoer but cinephiles will recognize the influence behind such a bold move.

Kudos to Jack Fessenden who receives praise for delivering an impressive debut with an equally impressive score. I’ll be watching this young man’s progress. Show us what you’ve got Jack.

(3 stars)

Stray Bullets opens tonight Saturday February 18 and runs through Wednesday February 22 at Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park in Houston.