Taffy Was Born (2005) by Duane L. Martin
The story is about a man named Verid Steele (Scott Mitchell Kelly) who returns home after thirty years of living a life with no past looking to re-discover his roots and his own family history. He had been sent away by his aunt after his parents died when he was only seven years old. In the time since then, he had lived a hard life, but eventually made something of himself in the financial world. Unfortunately, someone at his firm embezzled some money and he ended up taking the wrap for it and spent some time in jail. But now he's returned home and wants to re-discover his past, only to find that he is blocked at every turn... As Verid struggles to find the secrets of his past, he is met at every turn with new roadblocks...Will he finally discover the truth about his past and what happened to his parents? And who was Taffy? By the end of the film, all the secrets are revealed, but I don't want to get into the story too much here because there are some surprises and I don't want to spoil anything for you.
Taffy was Born is David Giardina's first feature film, but you'd never know it by looking at it. Many first time filmmakers make a considerable number of mistakes in their first full length film, but in this particular film, I can only fault him for one thing. It felt a little overedited with the cutting back and forth between people talking. Still, it wasn't that big of a deal and never reached the point of being annoying or overly noticeable by the average viewer. Aside from that however, this was a well written, well acted film with good pacing and a musical score as well as other audio effects that served to create an eerily creepy mood throughout it's entirety. Everything about the camera work, from the angles to the moving shots to the lighting, all were done expertly and avoided the staticness of so many other films where the camera seems to be glued to the ground or is shaking all over the place because someone's carrying it.
The acting on everyone's part was all quite good. As I watched the film, I kept thinking that Verid's reactions to things seemed considerably more mild than they should have and that he kept making mistakes in telling people things that he shouldn't. Then I got to thinking about it and realized that if he were a real person in a real situation like this, he wouldn't have any real reason from his perspective at the time to act any differently. So rather than loading the character up with overly dramatic reactions, he played it as a normal person would, which I found to be rather refreshing.
Another notable character was Cecilia, played by Lisa Sharpe. She was friends with him when he was seven years old, and was witness to what happened the night everything went down.. Unfortunately for her, it left her with mental problems to the point where she's grown up and now lives alone on public assistance and no one basically has anything to do with her. She doesn't talk much, but when she does talk, she says strange things that don't make much sense until later in the film when you finally come to understand what she meant.
This movie is creepy to say the least. I was dreading even watching it because I wasn't much in the mood to watch a movie when I saw it, and what made it even worse was when I noticed in the press kit that it was 114 minutes long. "Oh man..." I thought to myself. "This is going to be hell to get through." Honestly though, it really wasn't a chore at all. In fact, almost none of those 114 minutes was wasted, and it didn't even really feel like it was that long when it was done and overwith. What made it work was that there weren't any overly long scenes of nothing going on, which so many filmmakers seem to like to use as a time filler. The whole film was devoted to telling the story, and it all moved along quite nicely. As a psychological thriller, this film worked quite well, and if you're a fan of that particular genre, then you're definitely going to want to see this movie.
MONSTERS AT PLAY review of "Taffy Was Born"
by J. Read
Memories. Good or bad, they define the history of who we are. But what if your memory is missing - or events you believe were real are not? Could you find the truth, and more importantly, could you handle it? This is the enigma facing one Verid Steele in the indie suspense film by David Giardina TAFFY WAS BORN.
At the train station of a sleepy hamlet, a crowd greets native son Verid Steele, returning from 30-years away from his hometown. Verid settles in his former home, now the residence of his Aunt Min, a local icon for her work with the church and community. She wants Verid to forget his troubled past and start a new life. Verid, it seems, has no clear memories of his childhood. All he knows is when he was seven-years-old, his parents died and he had to leave. Moreover, the years have not been kind to Verid; it's slipped he's spent time in jail, and he takes anti-depressants. Min introduces Verid to Friar Fell, who offers him a job, as well as Bernice, one of her church favorites. Verid also meets wallflower Cecelia, but Min dismisses her as a kook. Min hopes getting Verid involved with her community activities will give him a new beginning. Bernice invites Verid to join her at a "Young Adult" gathering later that week; even though he's uncomfortable with all the religious dogma being thrown at him, Verid agrees. He even accompanies his aunt to church. Trying to remember his past is very frustrating for Verid - bits and pieces keep flashing back, but none of it makes sense! At his aunt's church meeting, Verid becomes even more uncomfortable with their strict religious dogma, and when he speaks his opinion, the group reacts coldly and distant. There's no room for individuality in this town....
Still, Verid tries to adapt to please his aunt. He accepts Friar Fell's job offer to work at the rectory bookstore. First day there, he uncovers a history of the town...Verid gets increasingly upset about the strictness of the town's religious tenets - he becomes more and more paranoid. The more Verid tries to find out...the more he is treated like a pariah. And his memories keep returning in brief glimpses - and none of them good. Is his only hope town outcast Cecilia? What part does the town's religious history play in Verid's memories? And why does this name keep appearing in his mind - who is Taffy?
For an independent film, TAFFY WAS BORN is a cut above the average low-budget movie. The script (written by director Giardina) is an intricate thriller that unfolds for the audience like a good novel. The pace is very deliberate - not slow - as we learn the secrets of the town along with Verid. A big shout-out to actor Scott Mitchell Kelley for his outstanding performance as Verid - he is able to connect with the film viewer, so we feel his ever-increasing frustration and have an emotional stake in his pursuit of the truth. Overall, the entire cast performs with a great depth that makes their characters eminently believable. The film's central conflict - religion vs. individualism - may get a bit heavy at times, but that's the nature of the beast, isn't it?
Production-wise, TAFFY WAS BORN is an excellent example of a film that does all the little things right. There is always enough lighting to see exactly what we need to - whether the shots are inside or on location. Speaking of which, the locales chosen for TAFFY WAS BORN are spot on; from the aging Victorian manse to the veritable church to the sleepy town itself (what character!), the settings reinforce every aspect of the film. Picture quality is above reproach - images are clear and defined, colors are distinctive, and the film shows no 'soft-focus' or 'grainy' usual for similar movies with smaller budgets. Audio is well defined and the soundtrack meshes nicely with the visuals. The editing in TAFFY WAS BORN is excellent; the deliberate pace coincides with the script, allowing events to unfold for Verid and the audience simultaneously. MTV generation folk may find the film slow - watch more Hitchcock to understand that suspense doesn't mean an edit every three seconds (unless you're in the shower...). An outstanding effort by Mr. Giardina and his entire cast & crew.
I saw TAFFY WAS BORN on VHS, so there were of course, no extras. However, log onto the official website and you can find cast & crew bios, production credits, stills, links, and more about the film and its creator. I'm sure these will be included on a DVD release - maybe they'll throw in some behind-the-scenes footage and a director commentary as well - they're always fun to watch and listen to.
TAFFY WAS BORN is a definite recommend to suspense fans; the unhurried pace and involving story are a throwback to the days of film noir and Hitch - the film absorbs the audience with its characters and plot. Who needs an explosion every two minutes? So sit back and get lost in the troubled world of Verid Steele...and you'll discover just who is Taffy?
"Taffy Was Born," the debut feature from David Giardina, is an extraordinary triumph of massive imagination on a minimum budget. Unlike too many Hollywood shock films which use heavy-handed effects and buckets of gore to unnerve audiences, this Connecticut- based production is a brilliantly eerie psychological horror drama that uses power of suggestion to build a growing sense of terror which stays with the viewer long after the closing credits have rolled.
The film charts the return of an unlikely prodigal to a very unlikely place: Verid Steele left his unnamed hometown at the age of seven, orphaned when his parents were killed in circumstances which were never quite clear. Verid's tumultuous past (being raised in an orphanage, going to jail under bogus embezzlement charges, and being institutionalized for mental collapse) left him with no memory of his childhood.
His attempts to piece together his missing past are frustrated by his sole surviving relative, an aunt who is something of the town's unofficial leader, and by a oleaginous reverend who offers Verid a job at a church bookstore while battering him with canned platitudes extolling the Christian faith. When Verid persists in finding the lost sections of his past, and then tries to conduct a history of the town, he finds himself shunned by the local residents. Even the local physician refuses to see him, which is critical since his anti- depressant medication has run out and he needs a new prescription.
The horror of "Taffy Was Born" comes in Verid's growing paranoia about the community's motives in stopping him from getting elusive answers. Scott Mitchell Kelly's performance as Verid is a masterwork of slow-burning anxiety, with a nervous body language and a harrowing gaze which peers endlessly in search of answers and comfort.
Filmmaker Giardina cites Val Lewton as an influence, and that's more than obvious: the film is packed with ominous shadows, disturbing sounds, tilted camera angles and the constant sense of indescribable doom waiting just around the corner. One can also find influences of "Carnival of Souls" and "Lemora, Lady Dracula" in the film's debate between church-rooted good and unworldly evil, and a scene where Verid has a nervous collapse during a religious service owes more than a bit to Dreyer's brilliant montages from "The Passion of Joan of Arc."
"Taffy Was Born" is not perfect, by any stretch. The film's big secret is tipped off too far in advance, and some of the acting (especially Madalyn McKay's anvil-subtle aunt) doesn't ring true. There is also an ominous police threat (Verid finds himself followed by a slow-moving squad car) which comes way too late in the movie to be effective. This might have worked better if the threat of police violence was a running theme to add to Verid's jitteriness (and it didn't help that the town's main cop is presented early as a dumb slob, thus diluting whatever threat his uniformed character might have).
But even beyond these flaws, "Taffy Was Born" is a highly effective achievement. And Giardina deserves endless kudos for the unlikely and enigmatic ending. There won't be any spoilers here, but it is enough to say the filmmaker did not opt for the easy or obvious way out. In doing so, the viewer leaves the film as disturbed and broken as its warped protagonist, and that's a brilliant touch by any standard.
The Hacker’s Source
by Dave Dunwoody
(c) The Hacker's Source issue 18, Feb. 2005
Taffy Was Born
Directed by David Giardina
Verid Steele (Scott Mitchell Kelly), a prodigal son suffering from both amnesia and a strong-willed personality, returns to his childhood home, a New England time-warp brimming with well-meaning busybodies who all know what’s best - Ned Flanders’s daily dose of vitamin Church. Throughout Taffy Was Born, we and Verid are exposed to this community and its wonderful cast of players, headed by Madalyn McKay as the orphan’s Aunt Min and Michael Rosenthal in a small but perfectly-nuanced performance as the family butler.
Verid’s ancestors founded the old township, so you would think that the place would be ripe with information to help him regain his memory but at every turn the city boy finds doors slammed in his face. Except in the case of Father Fell (David McDaniel), the spiritual leader who engages Verid in many a debate about morality and free will while dark secrets begin to surface.
The writing is sharp, and conversations about authority and judgement stop just short of being too heavy-handed. Giardina manages to keep the film moving at a satisfying pace even as Verid struggles to find so much as a scrap of truth. Scott Mitchell Kelly is superb in the lead; we see this strange community through his eyes, and he communicates our thoughts. Although the town’s secret and the source of Verid’s trauma become apparent well before the ending, Kelly’s portrayal kept me riveted and I didn’t want to leave the story until he had found his closure.
Taffy’s look and directorial flair certainly exceed an indy budget. The cast delivers at every turn and the setting provides for an atmosphere all at once cozy and unnerving. It’s hard to say which feeling I enjoyed more.