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Ted Raimi (“The Evil Dead”, “Darkman” “Spiderman”) brings his trademark intensity to the lead role in the immersive one-take feature “Failure!” Screened out of competition at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, Raimi also produced the genre-bending thriller about a man pushed to the edge.

Having taken over the family’s plastics business after the death of his father, James finds himself drowning in debts, with his existence threatened, just as his daughter, Jessica, is preparing for a very lavish wedding.

Facing financial ruin, James confronts life-or-death decisions. He deals with his dilemma alongside a mysterious father figure who serves as a shadowy devil’s advocate. Speaking of this shadowy figure that miraculously floats in and out of the frame, Raimi said, this character represents the lessons and advice we wish we had from those gone too soon: “It’s an allegory to the information that we wish we had.” This figure – who might or might not be James’s father – is providing a commentary to the events as he speaks to James. It also feels like this character is almost necessitated by the one continuous take. He is adding to the theatrical dance, punctuating scenes and coming into play to avoid ’empty spaces’.

Director Alex Kahuam who has also penned the script wanted to write a film that could be done on a moderate budget starring Ted Raimi as a lead. According to Raimi, he “loved the script and agreed to do it just to learn that the filming would take place in three weeks.” With mere days of rehearsal and a two-day shoot, Raimi relied on his theatre training for the ambitious format. He knew big-budget “money hoses” weren’t an option. But as Raimi says, “From constraints, always comes something interesting.”

Having done his first independent feature movie since age twenty, Raimi liked the script for being so “linear”. “There are no time cuts, no flashbacks, no cutting away so I thought the viewer will either be engrossed in this film of be completely bored.” The premise of the film is relatable too – a man about to lose his house and business all due to no fault of his own (kind of). “Even it being demented and sick in a film, a lot of people could understand providing for your family,” intimated Ted about what attracted him to this script.

Ted Raimi at the Awards ceremony of the Festival. Photo © Erlend Staub

James is a “thug with a conscience”, according to Ted but preparing for such violent role admittedly wasn’t a stretch given his horror film pedigree. As he mused, “I suppose I do have an angry instinct like everyone else and I keep it under check.” Raimi does a great job channeling this instinct – the anger never comes across as gratuitous. Excessive? Perhaps, but we learn to understand the dilemma and the constraint James is facing through his skilful portrayal.

While known for his supporting roles in horror classics, Ted Raimi breaks the mould and shows his range as the lead in “Failure!” This marks his first time carrying a film since his early 20s, and Raimi proves he can compel audiences while conveying a morally grey character’s complexity and intensity. As he pushes boundaries in his career, Raimi demonstrates nuanced acting chops beyond the typecasting of his past work. “Failure!” represents an exciting new chapter as Raimi steps firmly into more challenging lead roles that require cerebral intensity over screams and stunts. This film showcases his willingness to test himself and bring his trademark commitment to more layered characters.

The clever blocking and well-timed twists keep the continuous narrative engrossing. Director Kahuam was inspired to test the one-take format’s limits (what we see on the screen is the fifth and final take). Raimi agrees some may dismiss it as kitschy, but argues, “what one take affords you is you are forced to understand that what you see is what’s happening now.”

The filming schedule was draining by design. But Raimi trusted his producing team (Marco De Molina, Alex Kahuam, Kayli Fortun, and Jose D. Rodriguez) to troubleshoot while he acted. Their dedication shows in efficiently wrapping in just days. The intensity transfers to audiences, demanding their focus for ninety unbroken minutes.

At its core, “Failure!” is a high-wire act requiring intense focus from viewers. As Raimi described, “You are forced into the movie from the opening scene.” The unbroken ninety-minute take means audiences must surrender analysation and inhabit each moment as it unfolds. This commitment pays dividends, resulting in an enthralling character study from an exciting new directorial voice. Kahuam’s brisk pacing and clever narrative traps viewers in a special kind of liminal space where the story becomes reality. While risky, the one-take format brings us closer to the fine line between composure and chaos. “Failure!” dares audiences to confront harsh truths about human nature – and perhaps glimpse something true about themselves.

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Editor in Chief of Ikon London Magazine, journalist, film producer and founder of The DAFTA Film Awards (The DAFTAs).