subscribe: Posts | Comments

Group 1 – ‘Langford Manor,’ or a place in the woods for solving an age-old murder mystery


Laura Lorusso was one of four writers who participated in Lab Theater’s 24-Hour Screenwriting Challenge. You mean playwriting, right? No, for safety reasons, the 24-Hour Playwriting Project was modified this year to the 24-Hour Screenwriting Project. It has also been converted into a virtual fundraiser for the theater, inviting patrons to “vote” for their favorite short film, cast or writer via the ticketing portal with a donation of any amount.

Laura has been an active in the local theater community for nearly twenty years, both as an actor and as a make-up artist. But from the vantage of playwriting, Laura is fondly remembered by Lab Theater patrons for Divorce, Neighbors and Zombies, a comedy that received a staged reading at The Lab and later developed into a two-act farce that was performed by The Naples Players in 2018 under the direction of Jessica Walck as June & Jason’s Survival Guide to Divorce. Lab has also produced another of Laura’s comedies, Scrooge TV: A Modern Christmas Carol, a spoof of the Dickens classic that starred Dave Yudowitz (An Act of God) and Kendra Price.

This year represents the fifth time Laura has participated in the 24-Hour Writing Project. She won in 2013 with a one-act vignette titled “The Hall: Last Sunday” that sparkled with snappy dialogue, rib-splitting one-liners and a little song-and-dance number that brought down the house. Her other appearances were in 2014, 2017 and 2018.

This year, Lorusso opted for horror/drama instead of comedy. Her 5-minute continuous shot film titled Langford Manor evokes parallels to The Blair Witch Project, the 1999 low budget Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez film that changed the supernatural horror genre forever.

In Laura’s film, two sisters, Lauren and Kayla, hike through the woods to Langford Manor to film a reenactment of a decades-old murder mystery. Kayla, played by Tamicka Armstrong, has misgivings, not the least of which is mosquitoes the size of Pterodactyls. Lauren, played by Emmie Spiller, has no reservations until a rusty old knife tumbles out of an old paint can and skitters across the floor at her sister’s feet. Outside, horrific noises pierce the night air. (Okay, so it’s just a hooting owl, but you get the point.)

Will the sisters find the murder victim’s body? Will they solve the age-old crime? Or will they become the murderer’s next victims?

The film is a gem for a number of reasons.

First, Lorusso takes advantage of the people’s enduring interest in unsolved murder mysteries to hook viewers from the very first frame. There’s certainly no dearth of real and imagined murder mysteries, from Jack the Ripper and the Black Dahlia of long ago to JonBenet Ramsey, Amy Linn Bradley (who went missing during a Caribbean cruise) and Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon (who went on a hike in Panama and never returned) in more contemporary times. Shows like Forensics and Cold Case have been popular for years, and prime time, cable and streaming service programming is crammed full of crime procedurals, murder dramas and detective shows.

But Lorusso is also well aware that prurient interest alone is not sufficient to carry a play or film of any length.

Langford Manor works because Lorusso makes us care about what happens to the characters we meet in the film. She accomplishes this important task through a number of clever artifices.

The film’s true-to-life dialogue endears both sisters to viewers from the outset of the film. Because they’re so likeable, we immediately find ourselves invested in the girls’ wellbeing. Armstrong, in particular, is so convincing as scaredy-cat Kayla that it’s impossible not to be concerned for her safety. And so, this is one of those films that you view from the edge of your seat as you wait, with baited breath, for something untoward to happen to one or both girls.

But on top of that, Lorusso gives voice to the very reason so many of us gravitate toward cop, detective and true crime movies, television shows and theatrical productions. They take advantage of our curiosity, to our need to know who, why and how the perpetrators did it … and whether they’ll get caught or get away scott free. Crime is dangerous. Crime is unexpected. Crime is disrupting and disturbing. It must be solved, or at the very least investigated – even if the bad guys aren’t always brought to justice in the end.

You can hear all of this angst in Lauren’s voice as she directs her sister in their ersatz reenactment. And because she’s the one who’s behind the camera, not only do Lauren’s true intentions remain invisible to the audience for much of the film, we’re better able to place ourselves in her shoes because we’re watching the action through her eyes.

True, Emmie Spiller doesn’t get as much face time in the film as Armstrong, but she is masterful as Kayla’s bossy older (?) sister.

Caitlynne Wilde makes her directorial debut with Langford Manor, and her decision to place a hand-held camera in Lauren’s hands also serves to heighten the foreboding and dread that deepens over the course of the short film.

Langford Manor was made possible in part by the sponsorship of the Golf and Casual Shop in Fort Myers. The one-stop shop for all your golfing needs, the Golf and Casual Shop carries a large selection of golf equipment, accessories and apparel, from golf shoes and clothing to custom golf clubs, bags and golf balls.

Kudos also go out to 24-Hour Screenwriting Coordinator Char Loomis, Jonathan Johnson for lighting and sound and to Paula Sisk for video and IT support.

You can see the film here.

And the way you vote for the film, Laura Lorusso and the Wilde-Spiller-Armstrong group is with your donation. The highest grossing film wins, with the announcement being made via Facebook Live at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday night.

November 23, 2020.

Comments are closed.