Artik is a movie that definitely knows its target audience. As a comic book reader and horror movie fan, I was immediately hooked into this violent world from the raw sketchbook drawings in Artik’s opening credits alone. It is a world that, while similar to our own, it is just off-center enough to be jarring but not unrecognizable. My goal was to write this review immediately after finishing Tom Botchii’s Artik. However, when I sat down to write, this movie was still heavy on my mind. I needed to give what I had just witnessed a little time to sink in.
Artik is a film that will immediately remind viewers of past serial killer greats such as, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), the underrated Frailty (2001), and even a touch of M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable (2000). Elements from all of these past greats are present in Artik. It is the true testament of a filmmaker to take an oversaturated genre and make it feel fresh and unique. Tom Botchii’s has certainly achieved this goal in his debut feature. His previous works include the excellent short film Goldblooded, and the intense, uneasy watch 11 Minutes (both of which are viewable on Botchii’s YouTube page).
It’s the performances here that sell the drama. The portrayal of Artik (the film’s mumbling, hulking villain) played by Jerry G. Angelo’s (Better Call Saul, 2015) is truly outstanding. He brings a horrific realism to a character who has lost all grasp on reality. Artik lives in his comics and, like the majority of great comic villains, he believes himself to be the hero. Artik is an extreme version of what Shyamalan attempted with Mr. Glass in Unbreakable. Like Mr. Glass, Artik even wears a costume when going out to bring “purity” to the world. His costume of choice is a black leather shoulder harness that wouldn’t be out of place in the bleakness of a Mad Max film.
When the film opens, we are introduced to Boy Adam (Gavin White) who is returning from a recon mission, in search of new hunting grounds for Artik. This brilliant opening scene immediately lets you know what kind of film you are in for, as Boy Adam kills a beetle by head-butting it to death. It’s on one of these recon missions that Boy Adam meets Holton (Chase Williamson), a welder, who is working through overcoming his demons by attending an Al-Anon (a support program for people whose lives have been affected by someone else’s drinking) meeting. Holton immediately takes a liking to Boy Adam, even offering him a pair of gloves to keep from getting his hands dirty while graffitiing Artik’s symbol on a nearby wall.
For me, the introduction of Holton is where the film finally finds its legs. Chase Williamson (All the Creatures Were Stirring) is the perfect foil for Angelo’s Artik. Holton may be battling his own demons, and he may or may not be “the purity” that Artik is seeking, but he is the closest thing the film comes to having a traditional hero. Holton’s concern for Boy Adam leads to an investigation into his home life, which soon sets off violent and blood-soaked showdown that I would not dare spoil here. The family aspect of Artik is another intriguing mystery. It is never revealed in the film if Boy Adam is indeed Artik’s son, or if Flin Brays (the excellent Lauren Ashley Carter, Imitation Girl) is Artik’s wife or just an accomplice. The vagueness of this home life adds yet another layer of creepiness to the film. Like the family dynamic in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973), some things are best left unanswered.
With a brisk pace that never lets up, Artik is a brutal and unflinching horror comic brought to life. From its gorgeous hand-drawn opening credits to the blood-soaked finale, the uneasiness and tension are tangible throughout. Epic Pictures and Dread Central Presents’ Artik is currently playing in limited theaters and VOD.