Tag Archives: low budget

“The Convenience Store” is a Horror Gaming Favorite

One of my favorite genres is low-budget horror. That extends into gaming as well as film. I can’t wait to see what the next offer from Kitty Horrorshow or Connor Sherlock is, and collections of small team developers like DreadX or the yearly Haunted PS1 Demo Disc always contain gems. These are the short story collections to a AAA game’s novel. You’ll bounce off some, but others will be unique and enthralling experiences. When it comes to horror, a unique experience goes a long way, and these games usually only take an hour or two to complete. A developer founded by two Japanese brothers named Chilla’s Art is creating some of the most unique.

“The Convenience Store” is a $3 game on Steam that combines terror with the everyday, rote actions of working retail. Your character starts every night in their apartment, having to walk through an incredibly dark town to get to the shining light you can see out their window. It’s a glaringly lit convenience store. You’ll restock shelves and serve customers, but none of these take very long. Nonetheless, Chilla’s Art stacks these just enough to create the sensation of being rushed and understaffed.

Being rushed in horror is nothing new. Time constraints are a genre staple. That time constraint always has to do with survival. This evokes something escapist in nature. “The Convenience Store” goes for something more lowkey but intense: a creeping dread. Usually, that sense of dread is meant to be enjoyed more slowly. Here, it’s paired with something more identifiable than survival alone – the anxiety of rushing at work to meet too many goals. Paired with that dread, it makes for an exquisite commentary.

There’s a tension between wanting to leave because of the game’s severely creepy atmosphere vs. knowing you have to stay and work to figure out the next part of the game. It reflects the feeling of enduring a situation because it’s your job to do so, overcoming your fight-or-flight response in order to simply absorb the punishment.

Angry customers eventually give way to mysterious packages in the night and trying to chase off a ghost. There are so many core horror fundamentals that are done right. I know that every time I go in the office to peer at the security cameras, I’m exposing my unprotected back to the whole store. What’s stunning is the driving sensation that I shouldn’t run. To play the game, I have to do the job. Restocking the shelves is a frustration when a ghost keeps scattering them. Serving customers is hair-rending when you get locked in the cooler. Yet the overwhelming urge “The Convenience Store” evokes isn’t that I have to run, it’s that I have to overcome every reasonable urge to run in order to keep doing these mundane tasks.

Of course, my goal as a player is to see the game through, but it’s not to save the day or rescue anyone. That gameplay loop of progression is transformed into the experience I mentioned above: ignoring your fight-or-flight response so that you can absorb that punishment. You’re surviving to restock shelves. You’re risking your life to make sure everything’s crossed off on the manager’s checklist by the time your shift ends. Every walk through the dark town to the convenience store is filled with dread not just at the terror of the supernatural, but the idea that you’re risking your life for nothing.

“The Convenience Store” is rough in a lot of ways. With small development teams, you can often see them learning on the fly. Obtuse mechanics do aid the impression of working an inefficient retail job, but you’ll likely have seen each done more smoothly elsewhere. I often knew the solution to a puzzle, or simply what action needed to take place, but there were times when the game was less responsive or an action prompt was missing. This can create moments where you’re searching for the right angle to be able to get the game to accept an action. I did peek at a walkthrough once or twice, but I don’t feel it impacted what I came to Chilla’s Art for in the first place: atmosphere.

There are also inelegant development shortcuts. At one point, you need to get a customer five beers and a pack of cigarettes. This means going to the cooler section at the back of the store and selecting one beer – not from the cooler, but scattered on the floor in front of it. You bring them to the customer one at a time. You can pick up stacks of an items at other points, so why did I need to carry each beer one by one at this moment? Likely they didn’t have the model for more, and they didn’t have an animation for opening a cooler door.

It’s also easy to miss certain details, like a character dropping a small item. The store page on Steam says “The Convenience Store” takes about 40 minutes to play through. Mine took 100. I did go off-piste now and then, exploring extra corners and testing the game’s limits out of curiosity…but part of this was knowing a puzzle solution but needing to find the right angle to call up a prompt.

Given that the game has no save system, and if you exit out you’ll have to start over from the beginning, this means you’ll have to set aside an evening where you have a movie-length chunk of time to give it.

“The Convenience Store” is a product from a developer whose ambition outpaces their technical skill. Yet the artistic skill on show here is stellar. The mood is dark and foreboding. Every trek to the convenience store through that packed, cluttered, dark town was brimming with foreboding. I found myself regularly checking to the side and behind me, peering at the gloom to see if anything was coming out of it.

Yet the glowing oasis of the convenience store feels no safer. In the distance out your apartment window before you leave, and erupting with light the minute you cross the bridge out of your town and turn the corner, that store serves as an ebb and flow of relief and fright.

As low-budget horror movies sometimes ask us to be generous with our suspension of disbelief for choppy effects or questionable make-up, low-budget horror games can ask for us to volunteer greater patience with gameplay mechanics or a missing feature. When you’re spending $3 (closer to $2 on sale or bundled) and an hour or so to play, you’re not risking a whole lot.

I like games from lesser known developers, and those learning the ropes as they go, because these games often offer something that more established (and thus risk-averse) developers don’t. They try new ideas, or fuse disparate elements together in new ways. With fewer creative constrictions, they can find a way to bring an element of horror into another medium. They don’t know what they can’t do yet, and playing “The Convenience Store” there were moments where I thought, “They don’t know how to implement this”. It didn’t matter in the least because I was so successfully terrified in such a unique way that I can’t find anywhere else.

It’s rare that I actually get goosebumps playing a game, but this one drew me in expertly. You have to see what the next moment brings.

Chilla’s Art has 22 games on Steam and despite coming out in 2020, “The Convenience Store” is now one of their earlier entries. They’ve found modest success and you can see player reviews improving over time as they get better and more capable. I’m excited to try more, to see what it’s like when their technical abilities create more room for their considerable artistic talent. Hmm, “The Ghost Train” can’t be that scary…right?

You can buy “The Convenience Store” on Steam.

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The Best Screenplays, Directors, and Films of 2014

Gone Girl

How do you split up screenplays and genres of film? Best original and adapted screenplay? The lines bleed into each other. Inception was nominated for Best Original Screenplay a few years ago despite being based on an unpublished short story. How do you judge something like Foxcatcher, which was based on real events. Certainly, it’s more adapted from existing material than, say, Birdman.

And what about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the film that spurred this entire conversation among us. Sure, it’s derived from Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes, but does a franchise in its second reboot and third adaptation really have much to do with the original novel anymore? Or is it adapted from the first film franchise? Or Tim Burton’s second (let’s hope not). The point is, while Pierre Boulle certainly deserves credit, is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes that particularly adapted from source material, or is it more part of a franchise that chucks as much of the previous Apes baggage overboard in an effort to tell a new story?

So let’s throw adapted and original screenplay out the window.

As for splitting up films, how do we judge these? The Golden Globes split films into drama and musical/comedy categories. This results in some incredible cognitive dissonance, such as In Bruges competing with Mamma Mia! or the entire 2013 slate (American Hustle, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, The Wolf of Wall Street) having as much claim to dramatic status as they do comedy. Too often, the category is used for films that don’t make the cut of 5 to be considered drama, as if musical/comedy is an extended second class of dramatic film.

I’m not one to complain, either. My comedy of the year for 2014 would be Nightcrawler, the most disturbing and unsettling film I saw. It follows the structure of a rags-to-riches comedy almost to the letter, and it creates audacious moments of black humor – these are key to helping you understand the attraction of its main character’s sociopathy. Nevermind that much of the substance inside the film is dramatic – if we use the old Greek definitions, Nightcrawler is a comedy through and through.

The Oscars don’t bother with categories, but this usually results in less serious films being completely tossed to the side.

So let’s throw drama and comedy categories out the window, too.

What we decided on is budget. Screenplays are written and rewritten for specific budgets, and it’s the primary factor directors must use in shaping their film. How else are we supposed to compare Interstellar and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to, say, Nightcrawler and Birdman?

The demarcation between Best Low Budget Film and Best Big Budget Film is a tricky one. For now, we’re going with $25 million, and our numbers are cobbled together from Box Office Mojo, The-Numbers, and Google Reports. Could someone be lying about their budget? Sure, that happens often, but no one claims a $50 million movie only cost $25 million. It’s not that egregious.

In the future, we may expand this. Right now, a $30 million film like The Grand Budapest Hotel is above the cutoff, and so is in the same category as Interstellar. That’s a little unfair. Maybe we’ll have low, mid, and big budget categories. For now, we’re just sticking to low and big, and it’s a way of recognizing and pushing smaller films while also not discounting films that have more resources and support behind them. To us, it’s a fairer way of doing things than splitting movies up along increasingly fuzzy genre lines or declarations of what is or isn’t adapted. Here we go:


SL: Birdman (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo)
Eden: Selma (Paul Webb)
Cleopatra: I Origins (Mike Cahill)
Amanda: Selma (Paul Webb)
Rachel: The Double (Richard Ayoade, Avi Korine)
Vanessa: Selma (Paul Webb)
Gabe: Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy)

Paul Webb, Selma

Birdman is a marvel of timing, and that begins with the script. I Origins is the hidden gem of 2014, a microbudget thriller that boasts two of the most beautifully break-you-down moments in film I’ve ever witnessed. The Double is based on the Fyodor Dostoevsky novel. I’ve discussed Nightcrawler above – its plot and language are a gift to its actors, filled with high tension scenes and commentary on how we produce and watch news today.

Selma wins, though. Technically, the screenplay’s by Webb alone, but both he and director Ava DuVernay have been open about the fact that she rewrote much of it on the fly. The result is undeniable – a film that considers the place of social activism in a modern world by peeling back the strategy that made it work 50 years ago. Its toughest obstacle was not having the rights to any of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches – Steven Spielberg has those locked up for a film that has yet to come to fruition. This meant that they had to recreate King’s speeches without being able to quote them. In the end, they turn this into a strength of the film, allowing Webb and DuVernay to create commentary that acknowledges many of the struggles African-Americans face today, while still dealing with the plot taking place in 1965.


SL: Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn)
Eden: Interstellar (Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan)
Cleopatra: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver)
Amanda: Noah (Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel)
Rachel: Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn)
Vanessa: Fury (David Ayer)
Gabe: Fury (David Ayer)

David Ayer, Fury
& Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl

I don’t think we can pretend there’s any agreement here, but that’s OK. This exercise isn’t about agreement, but rather seeing where our choices converge and where they don’t. I have problems with Interstellar‘s script at points, but there’s no questioning what it achieves in the end – an audaciously philosophical journey with some of the tensest adventure scenes in recent memory. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes boasts one of the most underrated screenplays of the year. Noah is a mad creation that has moments of pure transcendence – when it works, it works like a fever dream.

Gone Girl and Fury are the only two that come away with more than one vote. Gone Girl is such a precise creation, it’s difficult not to marvel at just how well constructed it all is – as a thriller, as a put on, as a takedown of marriage. It’s a beautiful film, and it boggles the mind that it only received one Oscar nomination. Fury, on the other hand, is a singular conceit that uses war to define how men are broken down and retrained in a patriarchal image. It recalls films like Full Metal Jacket not in style, but in how completely it breaks down how men are taught to hate and possess.


SL: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
Eden: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
Cleopatra: Mike Cahill, I Origins
Amanda: Ava DuVernay, Selma
Rachel: Ava DuVernay, Selma
Vanessa: Jonathan Glazer, Under the Skin
Gabe: Ava DuVernay, Selma

Ava DuVernay, Selma

I’m glad to see Cleopatra sticking up for I Origins. It really is something special, and if we had a microbudget category, I’m pretty sure it would walk away with everything we could give it. Jonathan Glazer was winning this for me most of the year – he lets his artists and performers loose inside the structure of Under the Skin, allowing them each to create elements of it from their own perspective, and then he manages to marry it all together so that those unique perspectives remain intact inside the larger, fused film.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu almost takes this for Birdman, which is an incredible vision, but I think Ava DuVernay simply cannot be denied this year – unless it’s by, you know, the Academy. Her framing, the Edmund Pettus bridge sequence, and how she uses one early moment to completely define the lens through which she wants the viewer to inhabit the rest of the film…there’s as sure a hand to Selma as in any film this year.


SL: David Fincher, Gone Girl
Eden: Christopher Nolan, Interstellar
Cleopatra: Christopher Nolan, Interstellar
Amanda: Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Rachel: David Fincher, Gone Girl
Vanessa: David Fincher, Gone Girl
Gabe: Christopher Nolan, Interstellar

David Fincher, Gone Girl
& Christopher Nolan, Interstellar

Well I guess that’s it. David Fincher and Christopher Nolan in a death match. Sorry Wes Anderson. In contrast to our low budget directors, Fincher and Nolan are two very tightly controlling personalities. Fincher, especially, has a reputation for obsessing over every small detail in each scene. This carries over into his films – they each boast a suffocating atmosphere that seems half-intentional, half-artistic byproduct.

Our low budget directors – DuVernay and Glazer, especially – seem to create out of a sort of organized chaos. There’s less opportunity for control when you have less money, and there’s more room to let a day go because things aren’t absolutely perfect when the budget can afford it.

For the next two awards – Best Film for low and big budget – I asked everyone to name their top 3 of the year.


SL: Birdman, I Origins, Whiplash
Eden: Under the Skin, The Raid 2, Birdman
Cleopatra: I Origins, Under the Skin, Selma
Amanda: Selma, Only Lovers Left Alive, Belle
Rachel: Selma, Nightcrawler, A Most Violent Year
Vanessa: Under the Skin, Selma, The Raid 2
Gabe: Under the Skin, Selma, I Origins

Selma (5)
Under the Skin (4)
I Origins (3)

Surreal comedy Birdman and Indonesian martial arts epic The Raid 2 both get 2 mentions. Old-fashioned crime epic A Most Violent Year, period drama Belle, Nightcrawler, vampire rock meditation Only Lovers Left Alive, and Black Swan-for-drummers Whiplash also get a mention apiece. I’m surprised there’s nothing her for Foxcatcher.

I’m happy to see that I Origins is being remembered by others, too. It knocked The Raid 2 and The Rover out of that third and fourth place for me, and I Origins makes me lose it (i.e. cry) as much as any film since Requiem for a Dream – albeit for very different reasons.

Under the Skin is a unique experience. It’s been compared to the work of Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch, but it’s very different from each, and it’s not “art house” either, no matter how many people like to abuse the term. It has more to do with Scotland’s visual arts movement than any of those other comparisons. It gets three first places where Selma gets two, but Selma gets more mentions, so take that however you like. They’re both must-see films if you’re anything of a cinephile. Selma feels like it speaks directly to this moment in U.S. history by offering us a defining look at another.


SL: Gone Girl, Interstellar, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Eden: Interstellar, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Cleopatra: Interstellar, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Amanda: The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Interstellar
Rachel: Gone Girl, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Unbroken
Vanessa: Gone Girl, Interstellar, Fury
Gabe: Interstellar, Fury, Gone Girl

Interstellar (6)
Gone Girl (4)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (3)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes both get two mentions, which goes to show you just how far our comic book and action movies have come in reflecting harder messages (Captain America‘s real assault is against the relationship the military, private contractors, and government hold with each other, while Dawn creates a commentary on the wars of race and hate we can’t seem to escape right now). Fury also gets two mentions, and I really do think it’s the military movie for our time. Hmm, there seems to be an awful lot of commentary on how our military is misused these days.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya, a beautiful animated movie, and Unbroken, Angelina Jolie’s big budget directorial debut about a World War II POW also get a mention. Not many have seen Kaguya, and Unbroken‘s interesting in that critics were repulsed by it and audiences loved it. Go figure.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, the kind of time-hopping, deeply personal confection of a frame story only Wes Anderson could create, gets three votes, and deservedly so.

Gone Girl and Interstellar both get three first places, although Interstellar is on 6 of our lists while Gone Girl only on 4. Again, interpret how you will and, again, both are musts if you’re a cinephile.

Gone Girl is the tightest thriller of the year and suffers mostly because of its intentionally cold exterior. It’s a film that tricks and misleads you the way the best thrillers do, but that values its meta commentary more than the plot and couldn’t care less. Few masterpieces are built around so willfully and unabashedly manipulating their audience.

Interstellar, on the other hand, wears its heart on its sleeve and, if you still don’t see it, will have Matthew McConaughey weep until you do. It’s a brilliantly felt movie, complex and elusive at times, but simple and accessible when you need it to be. Few masterpieces are this honestly emotional without being cloying. Like Under the Skin and Selma, Gone Girl and Interstellar are about as opposite as movie experiences can be.

We hope this is useful to you. It’s not meant to necessarily declare “the best” in something as it is to introduce films you may not have heard, and to remind you of some of the films we liked that were overlooked by awards ceremonies this year.