'Artifact' and What's Wrong With (Some) Web Shows

By 11/13/2008
'Artifact' and What's Wrong With (Some) Web Shows

In a previous review I looked at Cataclysmo and the Time Boys from Web Serials. It’s not exactly a masterpiece, but until it runs out of gas, the series uses low-budget, DIY filmmaking to worthwhile effect by parodying the sci-fi genre and having fun with the excessively silly camp one can get away with when not trying to live up to expectations of high art or serious drama.

Webisodic serial Artifact could learn a lot from Cataclysmo

For the life of me I just can’t understand why film and video makers working with tight budgets and limited resources would want to even try to compete with blockbuster entertainment. The catering budget of a studio film exceeds that of several dozen shoestring productions.

As hard as Artifact tries to mimic Hollywood sci-fi thrillers, with earnest emoting, fully invested plot, and fancy split-screen editing, it looks like amateur hour, and a humorless amateur hour at that.

In one sense, you have to give creator, producer, writer, and editor William Fraser credit – he’s plowing ahead for a twenty-plus episode run of Artifact without a single doubt that it may not be good enough to sustain viewer interest for half that long. Artifact is, as yet, only up to episode three, and I’ll be damned if I can find a strand of self-satire in a show that imparts lines like “What do I do with the most important object humankind has possessed?” with perfect sincerity.

Playing it straight would be fine if Artifact were up to dramatic snuff, but it just isn’t. The story takes place five years from now when the human race has been reduced by 80% after a virus named Deep Black plagues the globe.

One survivalist, Merryn Brennar (Nanette Hennig), possesses information from an old friend and now dead conspiracy theorist, Warren Levoy (Chad Boisvert), about a cure for the virus contained in, yes, an ancient Marsellus Wallace-inspired artifact. Various other characters, including a mysterious, black-clad man called The Shadow (Blake Hollis), vie for the information, and thus the artifact, in order to further their own agendas.

An intriguing premise, perhaps, but any promise contained in Artifact is immediately offset by wooden acting (Hennig intones her voice-over dialogue with all the enthusiasm of someone just awoken from sleep), unconvincing, minimalist art direction (the fragile chair that Hennig breaks over an enemy’s back looks as if it were built moments before), and overall cheesy direction.

I hate to bash something that is clearly a labor of love, but this happens a lot on the web and someone has to say it. It’s difficult to root for an underdog that merely echoes the paint-by-numbers plot mechanics and stock characters of the overdogs against which it should be an alternative, not an imitator.

Judge for yourself at WhatIsTheArtifact.com.