The Covid 19 crisis has put a massive strain on much of the world’s population. Lockdown has many of us scrambling to find ways to entertain ourselves. Levels of day drinking are likely up. People are gaining weight from too much eating and not enough moving. Even worse, some of us are spending our time watching absolutely terrible movies purely because they are included with our Amazon Prime subscriptions. With this in mind, welcome to our review of The Nothing. An isolation themed found footage horror movie written, directed, starring and ruined by Clayton Thompson.
It seems we have covered a fair few low budget horror movies set in the woods. Sure, Knockout Horror hasn’t been around for a long time and I took a huge break to care for an ailing relative but isolation in the woods has been a pretty common theme. We have already reviewed Survive the Hollow Shoals, The Interior, and Leaving D.C so why not add The Nothing to the list? I do actually enjoy this style of horror movie so perhaps that is what attracted me to The Nothing.
As I have mentioned before, the woods provide the perfect backdrop for a horror movie. Out in the middle of nowhere, nobody to hear your screams. No help for miles, the imposing shadow of the trees. mysterious noises echoing throughout the air. The woods, to the uninitiated, are pretty damn creepy. My partner and I recently moved out to a rural location with a river and some woods running along side the house. Some of the noises you hear at night are legitimately bizarre and this is in Wales, UK. It is easy to see how an inexperienced person trapped in the middle of the North American wilderness would feel genuinely scared.
Having the perfect backdrop for a horror movie is 50% of the job and the woods fit the bill perfectly. When you consider that, it makes it all the more disappointing that The Nothing misses the mark so badly.
The Nothing is a story about a man who is desperate to create and believes the best way to do that is to get in touch with himself. The best art is created in the darkest hours of an artist’s life Clayton Thompson repeatedly reminds us. This drives him to ask his girlfriend to drop him off in the middle of the Georgia mountains with limited supplies and no means of communication. He plans to stay there for six days and document the process of writing his first story. Throughout Clayton’s time in the woods, he digs deeper into the prevailing question of whether fear is a figment of the mind. This theory is gradually tested on a nightly basis.
The Nothing is a pretty typical psychological horror. It begs the question of whether the lead character is actually experiencing the things that are terrifying him or whether they are part of a mental break. Reminiscent of movies such as The Interior; there is perhaps some influence from the fascinating reality series Alone. Well, that is if the events of Alone were compressed into five days rather than the months that contestants tend to spend in the wild.
The majority of the opening stanza of The Nothing focuses on Clayton documenting his plans. He spends time interviewing his girlfriend and his best friend. He talks to the camera about his thoughts and intentions. Acts narcissistically and generally coming across as a completely unbearable human being. Honestly, this guy appears aggressive, immature, and entirely unfunny.
I am not sure whether Clayton being unlikable was the intention. Maybe the story is supposed to lead up to some grandiose moment of redemption. That seems, however, on the contrary to how highly his girlfriend and friend speak of him. His girlfriend, Makaila played by Katie Adkins, tells him how much she loves him. This comes moments after he has shouted at her in a way that would worry the majority of observers.
After convincing his girlfriend to take him into the wilderness. Clayton spends his time attempting to write a story, annoying the viewer by talking to the camera, and screaming at the sounds he hears around him at night. He’s like a mountain man version of James Corden. Utterly unlikeable, Clayton is a character that is tough to care about.
It sounds harsh but the sloppy writing in The Nothing is a big negative. It has created a lead character with poorly outlined motivations and no positive traits. Clayton Thompson the character is a difficult person to root for despite the movie clearly wanting you to root for him. I think this is in large part due to Clayton Thompson the writer, actor, producer and director being somewhat out of his depth.
Okay so maybe I am being unfair. It’s hard not to appreciate a person who can take on a multitude of tasks. I do the same when it comes to web design. I am pretty competent at a number of elements of web and coding related things as well as graphics related stuff. The problem with Clayton Thompson is that the motivation for being not only the director of The Nothing, but the producer, writer and the star, seems to be more ego based. It’s not as if he has a desire to excel or even to have some level of competence in said tasks.
Directing is, perhaps, the strongest point of the four jobs. The film progresses in a decent manner. We have a fairly well defined beginning and end and nothing feels overly stretched. Runtime is really good for this type of movie. Some of the shots are okay and the pacing is actually decent. I think the balance of pre-woods content to in the woods content was perfect.
Thompson obviously recognised that Katie Adkins, as Makaila, was the strongest actor. In the opening half of the movie, she is featured heavily. She genuinely does a fantastic job and I would love to see her in future movies. She conveyed a warmth towards Clayton that must have taken some serious acting chops to pull off. You know, what with how much of an asshat Clayton appears to be. I really wish the roles were flipped and she was the one in the woods. I think she could have pulled it off fantastically. Bonus – it would have saved us from spending so much time with Clayton.
As far as the other roles go, Clayton seems to fall flat as a writer and as an actor. Writing is sloppy and confused for the most part. You are left questioning Clayton’s motivation for entering the woods as well as questioning the other character’s views of him. The pseudo intellectual drivel spat out by Clayton in certain scenes actually made me chuckle. Whether this is written to make Clayton sound like a “fresh out of high school” emo kid I am not sure. The majority of it would fit right in to the liner notes of a My Chemical Romance album.
Clayton’s acting is on a similar level to his writing. Attempts to channel a leading man charm fall incredibly flat. Scenes of obvious improvisation demonstrate a lack of self awareness as well as a lack of charisma. There is nothing wrong with having a well developed script if you are not a natural actor.
The bigger problem is that Clayton just isn’t a likable guy and he isn’t particularly funny, either. This is in spite of his insistence on numerous attempts at charming humour. Scenes featuring Clayton exhibiting emotion seem out of character. The way he reacts to the noises in the woods would be considered “a bit much” for a 5 year old. It makes for some unintentional laughs, however. In one amusing scene Clayton frantically climbs a tree, screaming in fear, due to something that he heard in the distance.
The Nothing could have been massively improved just by hiring an experienced writer. Thompson placing himself as a side character rather than the lead would have helped. I think spending some time directing movies while playing side characters could really help Clayton develop into a decent actor. Still, this is a guy who named the lead character after himself. It is hard to imagine Clayton Thompson giving up the opportunity to hog an undeserved spotlight for the length of a feature film. I really think it takes a certain type of arrogance to have a self named character as the lead. Especially when every other actor plays a named character. This leads me to believe Clayton’s ego was the most impressive thing about this movie.
The Nothing is a pretty apt name as, for the majority of this movie, it feels like nothing happens. We meet Clayton and co, we go to the woods, some Blair Witch-esque stuff happens and the movie ends. There are no scares, nothing interesting worthy of note, and no big revelations. The ending feels abrupt despite the decent pacing and you are left feeling unsatisfied.
Cinematography is terrible. There are scenes where the camera shakes and spins in a way that makes you feel genuinely nauseous. We also have some, I am assuming, green screen scenes that look awful. The frequent use of a wide shot has you fixated on the background despite the total absence of a reason to even bother looking. It is better than staring at Clayton doing sod all, though.
The location, however, is fine and much more imposing than the woods in Survive the Hollow Shoals. Night time shots are fairly tense and there is a fun shot where Clayton drops the camera and walks away only to run back to it a few seconds later.
You really have to be creative with found footage so this shot was very welcome but the lack of creativity for the majority of the film was disappointing. There is one shot where we have an axe handle view as Clayton cuts wood. It made me think of a bad virtual reality game and probably should have been left on the cutting room floor. All in all, it’s just a bit poo and not really worth your time.
There are just so few positive things to say about The Nothing and the negatives are really significant negatives. If your lead character is unlikable and you spend the majority of the movie with him, that's a bad thing. If your horror themed movie is not scary or at least innovative and creative, that's a bad thing. If your plot outline is pseudo intellectual drivel, that's a bad thing. If your director is also your producer and your director/producer is also the writer and the director/producer/writer is also the self named lead character, that is a bad thing and you are likely watching a low budget piece of crap horror movie on Amazon Prime because you are bored during a pandemic induced lockdown.