While some people are using their time in exile to learn foreign languages and/or connect with loved ones, I ain’t. I’m swimming through the cinematic sewage of streaming video on the internet, hoping to find hidden gems and overlooked classics. This week, I bring you the lowest budget feature in commercial release — and maybe the lowest budget movie in history: Nigel Bach’s found-footage horror flick Bad Ben.
One guy from New Jersey made Bad Ben all by himself for a total of $300 — and, in spite of its limited budget, it’s actually not dogshit. If you have the patience, and can overlook the total lack of polish or technique, you’ll discover an endearing and weirdly touching little flick that boasts some solid jump scares.
Nigel Bach wrote, directed, edited, and did everything else for this minimalist movie — even playing the only character, Tom Riley. Tom’s a bald, middle-aged dude who just got a great deal on a foreclosed house on Steelmanville Road in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey (right down the street from my Aunt Mimi’s house! Hi, Aunt Mimi!). Tom plans to flip the house for cash… but before he can install marble countertops, strange things start happening. Furniture moves by itself. Weird things are buried in the backyard. Finally a mysterious and malevolent entity is revealed.
Bad Ben breaks every rule of what’s supposed to make a movie “good.” Instead of action and excitement, you get a slow unfolding of… well, nearly nothing. Instead of a cast of talented, handsome actors and actresses, Bad Ben stars one schlubby guy with no charisma and no apparent acting ability, padding around an empty house in his underwear. Instead of carefully composed shots edited skillfully to realize the vision of a director, Bad Ben is shot with “security cams” fixed in the corner of rooms and a shaky handheld iPhone. Instead of elaborate special effects set pieces, you get endless shots of the same interiors… and maybe a chair falling over every once in awhile.
It should be terrible. But somehow it isn’t.
The lack of huge moments (or much of anything happening, to be honest) adds up to extreme slow-burn creepiness that’s almost hypnotic. You might start off watching it with a sense of irony, like “look at this gutter movie made by this weird nobody in New Jersey”… but by the end of it, you’re a little creeped out by the ghost, and you’re genuinely rooting for the main character. He has a kind of anti-charisma that you can’t help identifying with — after all, metaphorically speaking, what are all of us right now but a bunch of clueless dorks waddling around an empty house, wondering why everything is falling apart?
Surprisingly, Bad Ben isn’t the end of Bach’s filmic output. Not by a long shot. The movie earned a sizable enough cult following to spur its creator to keep making sequels — lots of them. Bach has produced five other flicks in the Bad Ben series since the original’s release in 2016. That’s six feature films in four years! That’s actually a respectable work ethic, as no-budget flicks go.
In the later films, Bach finally puts on some pants (a disappointment if you’re tuning in because you have a fetish for doughy men in their undies… hey, I’m not judging), and there are even other actors… occasionally. None of these changes necessarily make the movies better, but it is interesting to see Bach gradually improve at putting suspense sequences together from film to film. I hope he never gets too good at it though — it would ruin the unique artlessness that makes Bad Ben so compelling.