Tonight's arthouse study on distrust of strangers and human politeness comes from director Karyn Kusama, the gal who most recently brought you 2009's Jennifer's Body. Can't recall how I felt about that one and I'm too lethargic from radiation treatments to go back and see, so...chop, chop. There's been a great deal of positive internet press about this one of late, causing me to set aside whatever disdain I'd already developed towards it due to a weak, unengaging trailer I'd already checked out a while back, and give it a look. Afterall, a shitty trailer does not a dumpster fire movie guarantee.
This snob fest could use David Hess and Johnny Morghen.
Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his new squeeze, Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi...say that one five times fast), pull up outside David and Eden's (Michael Huisman, Tammy Blanchard) swanky digs in the Hollywood Hills for a dinner party, after wiping out a coyote with the car on the ride there. Eden is Will's ex-wife, who previously attempted suicide after the accidental death of their young son together. David is a fellow she took to during a grief-support group, having spent two years together away from their friends, some of which in Mexico, where the couple picked up Sadie and Pruitt (Lindsay Burdge, John Carroll Lynch) , two new age oddballs who share their bizarre notions on pain management. Besides experiencing painful flashbacks from their time together while noticing Eden hiding away a sizable bottle of pills and noticing that David has locked all the doors behind the guests. And where the hell is Choi, anyway? He should have been here by now.
If a hipster hides in a high end joint, would anyone bother to find him? David pops in a promotional video for a group called 'The Invitation' that deals with pain and grief on a spiritual hippie level, as evidenced by footage of the head kook talking a dying woman through her final moments of life. If that hasn't weirded out enough guests, a parlour game of 'I Want' turns into Pruitt's impromptu confession of having accidentally murdered his wife. Will's suspicions are temporarily put to rest when Choi finally does show up, but then there's that pesky laptop, left open to files concerning 'The Invitation' and their true motives, just waiting for an inquisitive partygoer to stumble across while sneaking about the place. Don't drink that wine! Instead, pass it this way so I can put myself out of my misery. I've seen scarier episodes of Quantum Leap, ferchrissakes. "Mexican suicide cults are all the rage these days. Join one, reaaaally you should."
In the arthouse world, you'll find two approaches to cinema, more often than not. One is overly excessive, the other is purposely minimalist. Either can make for an effective film, if utilized properly, with heaping doses of self-awareness and artistic flair, but I can't help thinking that tonight's movie might have served itself better had it chosen the former instead of the latter. For a film that many are calling "one of the best horror movies of the year", there really isn't any horror to speak of. The script is smart, the cinematography is excellent, and there's some tension early on, but the plot reveal is obvious a lot sooner than it ought to have been, and the pay off is weak and shockless. Interesting, but rarely engulfing. Worth a look for those aforementioned elements, but ultimately forgettable. You could have had something here. Two wops.
In distress? Or just yawning. I think we know the answer.
Those of you out there closer to my age (old bastards, we are now) fondly recall the 1980's as a decade where anything at all could be brought to life upon the silver screen through the extensive usage of practical special effects like prosthetics, stop motion animation, animatronics, or miniatures, and films like The Howling (1980), The Beast Within (1982), An American Werewolf in London (1981), and The Thing (1982) were living proof for rabid genre fans worldwide to enjoy. Enter ADI, a special effects team hired by Universal to provide practical effects for a Thing prequel, only to find most of their gruesome handiwork had been digitally replaced in post-production by computer generated imagery. After a YouTube channel full of videos containing their missing artistry proved wildly popular among fans, Alec Gillis, the director of tonight's review, created a crowd-funded Kickstarter campaign to give the people what they really wanted: a practical effects-heavy monster movie like they used to make 'em, and thus, Harbinger Down was born.
" I brake for sea cucumbers," notes Graff (Lance Henriksen).
After watching a Russian spacecraft burning up upon re-entry and crashing into the Bering Sea, we are fast-forwarded thirty years to the present, where two grad students, Ronelle and Sadie (Giovonnie Samuels, Camille Balsamo) are accompanying their prof, Stephen (Matt Winston), on an experiment documenting global warming's effects on whales, aboard Sadie's grandfather's trawler, Harbinger, while he and his crew do some King Crabbin' in the Bering Sea. What could possibly go wrong. Oh yeah, spaceship in the ice. Not only does the dead cosmonaut inside show no damage from the fiery crash when Billy Idol was on the charts, he looks as though he just expired yesterday. Scarfaced, vodka-drinking, man-beating Russian stereotype, Svetlana (Milla Bjorn), seems to take a special interest.
"Oh lawdy sweet Jeezus hepp meh!" It's funny, because it's true.
Turns out the dead fellow's cadaver was loaded with tardigrades in a Soviet attempt to prevent him from burning up upon re-entry, and the resilient microscopic organisms might have been compromised by cosmic radiation in space, causing them to mutate into a shape shifting monster that can survive inside the bodies of Graff's (Lance Henriksen) crew, or stalk and kill those unaffected with an ever morphing range of interstellar weapons, i.e. teeth, tentacles, pincers, fluid-spraying stalks, the whole gamut of bleeech, baby. Add the fact that Svetlana has set charges all over the vessel with plans of hopping a nearby submarine before the fireworks begin, and you can start to fathom what kind of a boffo, knockdown, drag out finale you're about to witness...
You probably should have read the side effects in fine print on your new erectile dysfunction medication.
Much credit is due to to the makers of tonight's movie, which stands as a genuine throwback to the heyday of motion pictures of it's type, a brand of film sadly all but lost in this modern era of corporatist shortcuts, and penny-pinching producers who would sooner castrate their production to assure the proper box-office returns for their shareholders, moviegoers and their acute preferences be damned. If you siiv through all of the available genre movies provided by streaming media services online, you'll find little else but cheapskate cgi-heavy SyFy fare, assembly line trash of no artistic merit, aimed at dumbed down audiences who can't tell the difference between a good movie or a steaming dump. An effort like tonight's review deserves more than that, and should be championed and uplifted by those of us who still know better. See it, pass it along to your peers, and perhaps someday in the future, movies like this will again be the norm, not the exception. Three wops, and a strong recommendation.
Things always seem more extreme in Australia, don't they? Take this recent "Animals Gone Amok" entry from the land down under, for example, not to be confused as a sequel or remake to the 1977 film of the same name, gods be praised. After all, that one featured performances by Joe Don Baker and R.G. Armstrong among its cast, so any comparison between the two is liable to leave the newer release in the older film's dust.
"How many dogs have bit, have bit the hand of the man that feeds them? ", ponders Adam (Jack Campbell).
The Wilsons, as led by stubborn patriarch, Adam (Jack Campbell), are a family struggling to make it on a farm they can no longer afford. Mother Carla (Anna Lise Phillips) has taken to moonlighting with veterinary work, to little avail. Their youngest, Henry (Hamish Phillips) , enjoys wasting lazy, Lassie-esque days frolicking in the sun with the family pooch, and hiding bullets in a crawl through maze attached to the house. Their oldest, Sophie (Katie Moore), hates the isolation of their current digs, preferring yapping away for hours on end on the telephone with cute boys. To compound matters, something feral and bloodthirsty has been leaving a gruesome trail of mutilated livestock across the property, despite Adam's best efforts to preserve his dwindling sheep with steel traps.
I hope Shari Lewis is okay, because Lambchop has seen better days.
After showing up with threats of property foreclosure, the bank manager stops roadside for a piss, blanketed by the forest's dense treeline, which camoflage the pack of attacking canines, that promptly tear him asunder. Back at the farm, the Wilsons have unwittingly found themselves on the wild dogs' ever expanding dinner menu, and it's soon obvious that the family will be forced to pool every last ruthless resource just to survive until morning unscathed, as the bellicose breed even takes down a policeman responding to their distress call. Can Adam tie off his growing list of dog bite wounds and protect his family from the pillaging pooches? Is Carla a resurrected gang member, judging by the ease with which she wields that carving knife? Will Henry retrieve the hidden bullets from the maze without being transformed into dog yummies? Will Sophie ever get off the phone? Find out these answers and more when you see this one for yourselves...
So messed up, I want you here. And in my room, I want you here.
What this particular doggie in the window has going for it is some lovely cinematography, with ample towering crane shots, some relatively brutal gore, and tension and atmosphere in spades, despite some originating from the time tested old jump scare. The dogs are appropriately menacing, even if some of the human cast fails to pull its own weight while trudging through an improbable script. Bottom line, I was entertained, and moreso than if I had spent the same ninety minutes surfing funny dog videos on YouTube, which, for the record, I try to never do. On the scale, Pack earns a pair of Wops, and would serve you well as a middle movie in a mangy mutt marathon. Worth a look.
" It's Muttley and Dastardly from now on, see?!!?"
Some of you readers closer to my age will fondly recall the first time movie cameras visited Boggy Creek back in 1972, when the prolific Crabtree family's backwoods tranquility was violently disturbed by a belligerent bigfoot, and Fouke, Arkansas would never be the same. In 2010, filmmakers would again focus on the area's swampy hominid, but the results bear little resemblance to it's cult classic predecessor. The Crabtrees have been replaced by horny party slags in bikinis, the autobiographical folk tunes have disappeared, leaving terribly forgettable 90's-esque alternative pop numbers and simulated cowgirl-style sex in their wake. Sounds like empty-headed fun, in theory...
"My abs and I are enjoying a pensive moment."
After her father is tragically smooshed in traffic while jogging on the side of the road (or as we former drunk drivers used to call it , twenty points), Jennifer is easily convinced by pal of color, Maya, to like, make for her late father's cabin, nestled in Boggy Creek, for some therapeutic rest n' relaxation. Only Maya has taken it upon herself to invite her prankster boyfriend, Troy (Bryan Massey), along for the vacay, and her Matchbox 20-looking buddy, Dave (Damon Lipari), who's taken it upon himself to invite vapid cooze, Brooke (Stephanie Honore'), for partying purposes, and because she won't shy away from a good cocking down. If you're keeping score at home, that's zero dick-stractions for poor Jenny, who's been having flashbacks of being chased through the woods as a child by a sasquatch, but is a good sport afterall, and agrees to the swampy soiree.
"Why I no get invited to hooman parties? I party heartily enough!"
After much lifeless deliberation that wouldn't sound out of place on a scripted reality show on MTV, Mopey's luck seems to change for the better, as Dave grows weary of clingy Brooke, and tells her to hit the bricks. She does, and is dragged off for some interspecies in n' out, by everyone's favorite hairy horndog. Jen also meets the hunky Casey (Cody Callahan), a neighbor-turned-cryptozoologist who's also been cuckolded by the boss of the woods, and despite his best warnings, Troy and Dave turn up gutted like so much tilapia, and Maya also becomes a sex worker for Sasquatch. Jennifer's only hope is a mad dash towards the highway, in hopes she doesn't end up the engine in a Bukwas love train, in the process. Insert non-twist twist ending here.
"We are Farmers...bum bum bum bum bum bum bum."
Besides the gaping deficiencies in the plot, the shaky camerawork, the grating soundtrack songs and the flatlined montage sequences that stiffly accompany them, the amateur delivery of dialog by the non-actors involved (watch Jennifer 'hyperventilate' as evidence), there's also the matter of the suit, which wouldn't make it on the discount rack of a high end costume shop. There's some gore reminiscent of Night of the Demon (1980), but it quickly sinks in the sea of suck that this movie clearly is. Leave this Bigfoot undiscovered. One wop.