From 2006

Running Scared Runs (Too) Wild on Crime

Running Scared. 2006. Directed & Written by Wayne Kramer.
Starring Paul Walker, Cameron Bright, Vera Farmiga, Chazz Palminteri, Karel Roden, Johnny Messner, Ivana Milicevic, Alex Neuberger, Michael Cudlitz, Bruce Altman, Elizabeth Mitchell, Arthur J. Nascarella, John Noble, Idalis DeLeon, & David Warshofsky. New Line Cinema/Media 8 Entertainment/True Grit Productions.
Rated 18A. 122 minutes.
Action/Crime/Drama

★★★
POSTER
I’m not a Paul Walker fan, there are only a couple movies I enjoy with him in it. This being one. He was never a bad actor, just never picked the greatest projects. Running Scared gives him a significantly meaty role into which he could chew. On top of that the entire story and its plots are super fun. This is part personal drama, part chase film, part mob movie, and more. You’ve got action, crime, lots of drama. If anything there’s almost too much involved throughout the screenplay. This is actually a great little flick, one destined for more cult status as the years wear on. Part of its flaws lie in the wild nature of the writing, the over-the-top elements get a bit tiresome. Part of its excitement also lie in the very same thing. So this movie remains a good example of when weird gets a little out of hand. Despite the nonsense, Running Scared gets exciting, thrilling, even slightly disturbing. There’s no getting past the flaws, sadly. What might have ended up a solid action-crime flick gets too convoluted for its own good, never able to grab that foothold necessary to climb past its bored trappings. While I can throw this on for fun I’m not able, or willing, to say this is anything more than a guilty pleasure. A cotton candy action movie. Lots of crime to boot. A ton of characters with quirks doesn’t make up for lack of character development and a story that’s always rushing, trying to do good on everything it’s missing. I want to love it, I do. Walker does well with his role, as do Vera Farmiga, young Cameron Bright, among others such as the always charming Chazz Palminteri. The action is a thrill, the story’s got provocative ins and outs. There’s no coming together of all the good aspects. By the finale you’re only wondering where all the potential went.
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My favourite touches…
Anzor (Karel Roden) represents the failure of the American Dream. When he talks about seeing John Wayne in The Cowboys originally it was on 8mm and they cut out the hero’s death, as it was for children. Upon coming to America, he sees the real version where Wayne’s character dies, shot, walking away. This is the perfect exemplification of that realization by an immigrant coming to the U.S., that all that idea of the American Dream is merely smoke and mirrors, it’s a fake, a movie, a plot like any other in a made up movie. It all speaks to his own situation, a Russian coming to the States, ending up as a criminal on the streets involved with guns, drugs, and everything else in that realm.
The whole structure of the story is excellent, even if the film as a whole doesn’t pay off on all the cheques it cashes via several different plot threads. For instance, the multi-layered plot involving Joey Gazelle (Paul Walker) working for the mob and having to hide the gun, the gun gets taken by Oleg (Cameron Bright) and gets used on Anzor triggering his paranoia, in turn triggering a sketchy situation for Joey with his mob pal Tommy (Johnny Messner) and his father, Boss Frankie Perello (Arthur J. Nascarella), all of that sending poor Oleg out on the run where he goes from one dangerous situation to the next, travelling between scary locations, each worse than the last. So within all that there are these nice mini-chases between set piece after set piece. Cool enough. Joey gets thrown around the city and this makes for an interesting journey through the streets of, funny enough, Prague, though the setting is more somewhere like New York or New Jersey. With nothing ultimately interesting enough to carry things completely through, we’re left with just a bunch of connected scenes that feel as if they could’ve made up two movies. There aren’t enough pieces to make a whole puzzle, only little bits that connect, but only in the sense they’ve got all the same characters involved. This is a typical mob movie that tries to be more, ending in a mashed up slop by the finish of its overly long runtime.
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My biggest issue with the film is there’s no real character development in any of the characters. Sure, we do get revelations concerning our lead. Other than that it’s barely non-existent. The characters themselves are incredibly interesting. However, there’s never any time to flesh them out. We’re far too busy riding along and zipping through various landscapes, locations, different oddball settings. There’s a little bit of style, as far as the look of the film is concerned. This is neither unique enough, nor flashy enough to keep our minds distracted from the bunched up plots and the various characters tossed into the middle of them. In fact, the greatest development out of any character is saved for a feeble plot twist last in the game. Something that could’ve been used to much better effect were it given up early on. That way, more development would have come from that one point. Instead, it’s a forgettable end to a middle of the road story.
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The one thing that saves this aside from those few interesting portions I mentioned is the cinematography from Jim Whitaker, whose work includes Thank You for Smoking and director Wayne Kramer’s The Cooler, as well as other titles. Whitaker makes the look of the film sort of glossy. All the same things are kept ugly, gritty, matching the dirty cop/criminal plot playing out. In that visual aesthetic, Running Scared is able to stay captivating most of the time, even if it’s lacking in fairly significant areas such as the development of characters. You can find plenty to enjoy with the weird characters, just don’t expect that to go anywhere further. The plot is decent, though again, it never gets anywhere because saving such a juicy reveal for its finale takes away potential power. Still, throw this on if you’re looking to pass the time with a few thrills, a chill tossed in for good measure. The action and the weirdness won’t make this a classic, shooting the whole movie in its foot because of excess. You’ll be able to find something to dig, not every fun movie has to be a masterpiece after all.

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Skinhead Subculture vs. White Nationalism in This Is England

This Is England. 2006. Directed & Written by Shane Meadows.
Starring Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Jo Hartley, Andrew Shim, Vicky McClure, Joseph Gilgun, Rosamund Hanson, Andrew Ellis, Perry Benson, George Newton, Frank Harper, & Jack O’Connell. Warp Films/Big Arty Productions/EM Media.
Unrated. 101 minutes.
Crime/Drama

★★★★★
POSTER Shane Meadows is a British National Treasure. His films are snapshots of British life in various ways. Above all else, his directing and writing gives us insight into the struggle of the lower class, from people living in council flats to those fighting war and coming home to a dreary life to skinheads and white nationalists struggling to discover some kind of place in the hierarchy of English citizens. Regardless of theme, his subjects are usually a part of the lower socioeconomic ladder. This technique is proper because the best films often illustrate the complexities of its issues, something Meadows is able to do time and time again.
This Is England tells two stories: that of skinhead subculture and its reappropriation by white nationalist groups, as well as the tale of a young man in a low class neighbourhood trying to find his way, fed up with being bullied and with nowhere else to turn but a damaged group of neo-Nazis. The realism of the film is what gives Meadows his edge. In the tradition of other well respected British filmmakers such as Ken Loach, this movie and the style of Meadows in his directorial choices makes This Is England an important piece of cinema. Not simply in terms of British film, but rather it is a hugely influential, emotional, provocative work that begs attention from the world. Best of all, though, it definitely has given the British film industry hope in the 21st century to have someone like Meadows making such excellent films.
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Effectively, Meadows turns a personal story into one that attempts to demarcate the end of being a skinhead simply as an apolitical lifestyle, an attitude and a way of dress, before the white nationalists adopted it into a part of their system. The central story is about Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), his being a member of the lower class and slipping in amongst the cracks eventually almost right into the grasp of a dangerous ideology. However, around that with the influence of Combo (Stephen Graham) comes the major examination of skinhead culture. Today, you say the word skinhead and just about every last person you ask will associate that automatically with neo-Nazism. Rightfully so, as we see throughout This Is England. Because the apolitical nature of the original skinhead subculture clashed so brutally, often violently with the resurgence of Nazi ideologies in the 1960s through to the ’80s; of course there are still groups out there, but it seems up until the ’80s, maybe early ’90s was when the heyday of neo-Nazi subculture raged. In this sense, the situation between Combo and Milky (Andrew Shim) can be seen as a microcosm of the entire national situation in England with the skinheads and the white nationalists bumping up against one another. That emergence of senseless violence in Combo is like the turning point of where the white nationalism overtook skinhead subculture and made it their defining look.
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To my mind, Graham is one of the best actors working today. He is consistently amazing from one project to the next, and his energy is undeniable. There’s this thing that Hollywood, and the movie industry as a whole, has with male actors of smaller stature where they don’t usually get enough attention, other than some of the classic guys from the 1970s like Dustin Hoffman, even Al Pacino who isn’t that big. They were able to break past any of that foolishness and impress with their style. Graham is one of those, whose size determines nothing about his performance. He is downright threatening, menacing to the extreme even in his quieter moments. The explosiveness of his temper as Combo is startling. Without him, this story would not come as effective as it does because his raw intensity, the emotion he coils up underneath the character is fascinating. One favourite moment, even though it’s so hard to choose: after Lol (Vicky McClure) leaves him alone in the car, Combo does all he can to prevent bursting out into tears, shaking and crying; a scene of wild emotion, very subtle, very personal.
Aside from Graham and an altogether spectacular cast, young Thomas Turgoose is a major reason why the character of Shaun and his whole story comes across so honest. Before this film he’d never acted. Apparently he’d previously been kicked out of his school play for bad behaviour, even demanded five quid for his audition. Amazing. But his lack of experience as a formal actor, or even amateur, pays off. His reactions, his timing, it’s all genuine and there’s no pretense in him whatsoever. I’m sure an experienced actor could’ve played the character of Shaun, but for a personal, truthful, tragic story and character someone like Turgoose was the perfect pick. The kid has charisma and he makes Shaun into an interesting character that in the hands of a professional actor might have been caught up in method over something more organic.
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Shane Meadows wrote and directed one of the greatest films in the past couple decades. Certainly one of the best of the 21st century, and will remain so until the end of time. The cast is spot on, natural, led by the fantastically riveting performances of Stephen Graham and newcomer Thomas Turgoose. Keeping things natural and opting for a style akin to realism, Meadows captures the violent clash of subcultures in England through the eyes of a lost and lonely young boy. Not enough films are honest. This Is England comes across as some of the more honest cinema, British or otherwise, I’ve personally ever seen. The hardest truths to confront are most important, and Meadows does perfectly well navigating tough subject matter to create an engaging story that should resonate with many, today and long after tomorrow.

The Lost: Constructions of Masculinity Gone Wrong

The Lost. 2006. Directed & Written by Chris Sivertson; based on the novel by Jack Ketchum.
Starring Marc Senter, Shay Astar, Alex Frost, Megan Henning, Robin Sydney, Michael Bowen, Ed Lauter, Dee Wallace, Erin Brown, Ruby Larocca, Tom Ayers, Tony Carreiro, Katie Cassidy, Cynthia Cervini, & Rob Elk. Silver Web Productions.
Unrated. 119 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Horror

★★★★
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There’s something inherently interesting about the story of The Lost. First, there’s the novel from Jack Ketchum. That in itself is based on a real killer by the name of Charles Schmid. At the same time, when considering Schmid, you can’t not talk about the incredible, disturbing short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates inspired both by Schmid and, interestingly enough, Bob Dylan. Not saying all this comes into play here. But maybe it does.
Nevertheless, director-writer Chris Sivertson brings us a screen adaptation of Ketchum’s novel that is chilling and intense. There are significant pieces of the novel changed here. Personally, it would’ve been much better if those were left the same. Part of what makes the novel what it is, so heavy and almost an assault on the senses, are the specific references, the period of time. All the same, Sivertson does a nice job adapting Ketchum anyways, despite the changes. Because ultimately The Lost is all about evil, the compliance of others around it to let it happen, and keep happening, as well as everything from wasted ambition to flawed masculinity.
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Ray Pye (Marc Senter) isn’t like everybody else. He likes to wear makeup, drawing on a beauty mark and eyeliner. He also wears cowboy boots with crushed beer cans in them, so he can look taller. Y’know, to boost the testosterone. Well, one day in the woods with sometimes-lover Jennifer (Shay Astar) and friend/drug mule Tim (Alex Frost), Ray decides to boost it up even more. He kills two girls in cold blood. Jennifer and Tim reluctantly help him hide the evidence and cover things up.
Four years later, Ray is dealing drugs, more and more. He works at the motel with his mother. On the side, he pretends to be in love with Jennifer while slagging her to others, sleeping with other women, and so on. His mask of a perfect life. Soon enough, that mask starts slipping. Eventually it slips too far, and Ray spins off the rails. With Dt. Charlie Schilling (Michael Bowen) on his tail, convinced of his part in the murders four years prior, poor Ray starts to see his small town life disintegrating. Until every last piece falls apart.
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There are significant aspects to the identity Ray constructs for himself. For instance, the makeup he sports. Obvious enough, that serves as a mask. A literal and figurative one, so that people can’t see the monster underneath. What’s also interesting is how Ray is this pumped up, constructed image of masculinity (or that’s what he aims for) and all the while he wears eyeliner, he pencils in a Marilyn Monroe beauty mark by his cheek. But it’s because he can’t be a real man – an honest, honourable, strong man – that Ray tries using makeup, and beer cans in his cowboy boots, all to boost that self-image.
Then we’ve also got the ring he gives to Jennifer. That in itself is another plastic piece to his existence. She smashes it and the whole thing shatters to bits. Much like how, if people examine him a little closer, Ray’s constructed identity.
An excellent bit of editing comes, subtly, as Ray goes to see Katherine after her mother’s death. It’s only a moment or two, but you can feel the frame jumping, glitching, almost frayed around the edges. Quick, brief. These are the first big cracks in the outer layers of Ray Pye’s identity. Afterwards, from the next scene towards the finale, his composure breaks down, as does the constructed masculine image he hopes to portray. Ray even finds his beauty mark getting rubbed off. The makeup cracks, literally, smearing over his face. Everything begins to break, too. He smashes a mirror, and this is all but the very literal cracking of his psyche. And where does all that flawed, wounded masculinity go after the women in Ray’s life seemingly let him down? A misogynistic, hate-filled massacre.
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Absolutely the centerpiece of the whole film is Marc Senter. The first time I actually saw him was in Red White & Blue, an awesome and complex role, which he played perfectly. Then, this performance is the second one I managed to experience. Between those two I was set; this guy has talent. He’s been in a bunch of other stuff in between and since. But The Lost may provide some of his best, most intense work. Because Pye is a complicated character. He is charismatic, if not strange, aside from the murderous, hateful side that finally explodes full force in the end. Senter allows us time to feel sorry for him, even after the initial murder – you shouldn’t at all feel anything good for him, though, his acting gives us the ability to do that. And as the film wears on Senter gives us perfect reason to hate him. All the while his energy and talent makes Ray an intriguing character to experience.
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A vicious, energetic horror film that’s full of chaos, The Lost is a 4-star flick. There are flaws, no doubt. Some things I do wish had been kept the same as in Ketchum’s novel. Despite any of that, though, this is one savage bit of horror cinema. The finale of the film is impressively brutal. Other than the madness there’s also a good deal of thematic material, mainly in regards to the broken, frail concept of masculinity. The lead performance from Senter is remarkable and it’ll suck you into a black spiral.
Once the final few moments play out you’ll either regret spending the time to get to know Ray Pye, or you will revel in the utter insanity of his actions.

Prequel to Cannibalism in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. 2006. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman. Screenplay by Sheldon Turner; from a story by Sheldon Turner & David J. Schow.
Starring Jordana Brewster, Taylor Handley, Diora Baird, Matt Bomer, R. Lee Ermey, Andrew Bryniarski, Lee Tergesen, Terrence Evans, Kathy Lamkin, Mariette Marich, and Lew Temple.
Platinum Dunes.
Rated 18A. 91 minutes.
Horror

★★★1/2
TCMB1Sht_rgb3000pxAs I’ve mentioned time and time again, I will always consider The Texas Chain Saw Massacre one of the scariest films of all time. That original Tobe Hooper movie is just terrifying to me. It’s fine if others don’t agree, but something about that horror movie absolutely gets to me right at my core. The whole family and Leatherface himself, they’re creepy. Almost the definition of macabre. Plus, there’s the fact Leatherface is VERY loosely based on serial killer Ed Gein, whom I’ve read a ton about. So I think my own interests play into part of why the movie scares me so deeply.
I’m not a fan of the 2003 remake, but honestly I do dig Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. It is nowhere near being a perfect movie, however, I found it a hell of a lot scarier than the remake to which this is a prequel. While there’s still a little of that flashiness from the 2003 film which I complained of in my recent review. Luckily for this movie, it doesn’t try to focus too much on the sexualized females as that one, either. I’m not saying there isn’t any seemingly obligatory sexualization from serial culprits Platinum Dunes – there are bits of half nudity and such, focus on the gleaming wet bodies of young people – but compared to the remake in 2003 it is nowhere near as foolish in that sense.
What I do like is a peek into the history of Leatherface, here named Thomas “Tommy” Hewitt, and his adopted family. This is a nasty bit of horror, that’s for sure. While there are some problems, I think it’s a more interesting movie than the one to which this acts as a prequel, and the script is much better, as well.
01I found the whole Vietnam War angle pretty intriguing. Brothers Eric (Matt Bomer) and Dean (Taylor Handley) have an intense dynamic, as the former – the oldest – clearly cares about his country, in the sense he’s willing to go back over after already clearly experiencing horrors his first time. On the other hand, younger brother Dean burns up his draft card, knowing the post traumatic stress his brother suffers having already served in the army over in Vietnam. So I like how they clash, as well as the fact the climax of their situation comes right at the biggest moment of tension when a biker is chasing them down, gun drawn, and they end up smashing into a cow crossing over the road.
Furthermore, it plays a bit into the brothers’ confrontation with Charlie Hewitt (R. Lee Ermey), a.k.a Sheriff Hoyt after he killed the last bit of law enforcement in their tiny, dying Texas town. When he finds the burned draft card, things get super intense.
the_texas_chainsaw_massacre_the_beginning_01What I love about this one, as opposed to the 2003 remake, is that the four main characters on the road trip kicking everything into gear feel genuine and real. There’s still a bit of that ‘sex sells’ nonsense here like the previous movie, a couple beer ad-like moments. But overall I feel we get to know and care for these characters, as opposed to the 2003 film where it’s just a bunch of sweat glistened young people who have little to no personality, and the whole tired pot angle played into things making it worse. Here, I honestly feel – for all its flawed bits – Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning gave us a nice dose of character, both in terms of the victims and the Hewitt family themselves, a.k.a the bad guys.
Almost more than Leatherface, I really wanted to see more about Sheriff Hoyt after the first remake in 2003. Most of that movie is pretty mediocre to crap, but R. Lee Ermey does such a terrifyingly fantastic job playing the character he drew me in. Then, of course, with this sequel to the remake we’re finding out deeper, even darker secrets about Hoyt. So while I love Leatherface, Hoyt – or Charlie, whatever you want to call him – is a huge part of the interest I have here. To my mind, things get way more disturbing after the opening events of this film, once we find out what Hoyt is really all about. Watching his mental state sort of go from ‘dealing with things’ to ‘scorched earth’ is pretty chilling.
the-texas-chainsaw-massacre-the-beginning-2006-1080p-largescreenshot2Several parts of the screenplay make this Texas Chainsaw entry better than others. First, I like how there’s an inclusion of different themes from war – what people will do in one while they’re fighting, or what they’ll resort to in situations simply to survive (which further leads into the cannibalism aspect of the story) – to staying true to one’s roots and holding on to one’s culture, to the bonds people people whether blood and family or not. Between all those elements there are so many things happening. Not a groundbreaking work of art, this screenplay, but I think compared to its predecessor this movie has great stuff going on. Because ultimately, we know what’s going to happen – this is a prequel, we get that part. So the writers did a few neat things in order to make the journey more exciting.
Secondly, most of the Texas Chainsaw films – good or not – tend to see one group of people fall into the trap, ending up at Chez Leatherface and then they’re killed. Part of why I enjoy this movie as much as I do is because we see the brother duo and their girlfriends have an altercation with bikers, leading to a crash and that leads into the meeting with Sheriff Hoyt. All the while, this allows for the story to flesh out the backstory of Tommy Hewitt and his adopted family. I’ve always found there was a fun mixture in the plot, which allows for interesting developments – leading to prequel bits filling up/bridging the gaps to the previous remake – and some wild characters + situations.
chainsaw 07This is a 3.5 out of 5 star horror film, for me. It could’ve definitely improved on a few things, mainly losing the glossy 21st century remake look so apparent in many Platinum Dunes productions. However, I can honestly say this is much better and more worthy of your time than the 2003 remake. The acting is better, the characters are more developed and less hateable, as well as the fact you’ll find it cool to watch how things evolved from Leatherface’s meager beginnings to where he horrifically stands now. You can do far worse in terms of remakes, though, it still could’ve done Leatherface and the legacy of Tobe Hooper more justice. But I’ll take what I can when it comes to prequels. I love them, they just don’t turn out the best all the time. This one is good enough to make me recommend it to those wanting more TCM.

Gary Oldman Fights for Innocence in BackWoods

BackWoods. 2006. Dir. Koldo Serra. Screenplay by Serra & Jon Sagalá.
Starring Gary Oldman, Virginie Ledoyen, Paddy Considine, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Jon Ariño, Lluís Homar, and Kandido Uranga. Lionsgate.
Rated 14A. 97 minutes.
Thriller

★★★★ (Film)
★1/2 (DVD release)
tirtle-backwoodsThis is one of those films I may never have heard of, if only maybe for a late night search spree on lesser known Gary Oldman flicks, except for the fact I stumbled across it in a $5 bin at a local rental place a few years back; in fact, the disc still has the store’s sticker on it to this day. I saw it, realised that not only was Oldman in it but also Paddy Considine of whom I’m a really big fan, and snatched it up quickly. Turns out it wasn’t just a decent little snag for five bucks. It’s a quality movie. An old school backwoods style thriller. There are times it not only feels set in the 1970s, I truly felt a lot of moments could’ve almost been filmed back then, as well. There’s certainly moments of homage towards both John Boorman’s classic Deliverance, as well as Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 dramatic revenge thriller Straw Dogs. Mainly there’s just a really great nostalgic feel about the story and the setting, which comes across quite well.
BackWoods sees two couples, Paul (Oldman) and Isabel (Sánchez-Gijón), as well as Norman (Considine) and Lucy (Ledoyen), venturing into the Spanish back country. Paul and Isabel now live in the Basque region after they married. Norman, and his young wife Isabel, are heading to visit. An idyllic vacation in the forest turns to a nightmarish situation when Paul and Norman stumble across a deformed little girl who has been locked up in a small shed-like structure, pad locked and hidden away. They bring her back to Paul and Isabel’s home in the woods. But not long after, local men from the village show up looking for the girl, and all is not as it seems in the quaint little pocket of Spain. Paul and Norman find themselves facing a desperate and brutal situation, fighting for their lives, as well as those of their wives.
This goes down some of the same roads we see in Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. Specifically, the character of Norman is really pushed to his limits here. Initially even the sight of a rabbit being killed by Paul is shocking to him; there’s a lingering shot of Considine looking fairly troubled by watching the rabbit die. However, Paul tells his friend something which resonates through the whole film – “there are hunters and prey, Normanits the only fucking truth in this world.” While Paul understands the human nature of hunter and prey, Norman doesn’t quite get it. His rude awakening comes later in the film when the men coming to look for the deformed girl appear to be more ruthless than he could have ever imagined. It’s a really great way to introduce these themes, all starting with just a tiny little rabbit. Nice touch.
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I really enjoy how this film stayed mostly as a dramatic thriller. It had a few little elements of horror (the backwoods ‘battle’ between city folk & villagers + the deformed girl locked away in the woods/ et cetera), but it didn’t stray into full on terror or anything. This works really nicely as a 1970s style thriller.  It’s also particularly performance driven, as opposed to plot. While the plot is deceptively simple, the characters here are rich and very full.
For instance, Oldman’s character Paul is a pretty diverse character. There is a lot to him. I get the feeling he sort of went out living in the forest with his wife as a kind of challenge. One aspect I enjoyed once the villagers lay siege on Paul and the others is how there was so much tension between the two sides. On one hand, Paul feels he belongs there, and he does because he already lives there; he made it his home. The other side, the villagers, see him still as an outsider. Worse still, he has clearly wandered into their world. He is not one of them, regardless of how well he hunts and navigates the male-dominated world of the villagers.
This leads me to another part of BackWoods I enjoyed a lot. Whereas a lot of films might have taken up a portion of the running time drawing out the deformed girl’s story, rounding things out and maybe giving her some kind of history, Koldo Serra leaves intrigue to spare. We don’t get any definitive answers on what exactly the deformed girl is doing out in the woods, in the sense of who she is or where she came from – it’s simply a plot element. It sets up the city versus nature theme running throughout the film, which ultimately drives Oldman’s character. Norman, Considine’s character, is also affected by this theme, as he is even less of the “back country” type than Paul. He is even more thrown into chaos because of how far removed from that lifestyle living in the city keeps him. There’s even a scene where Norman raises his gun to kill a rabbit of his own – ultimately, he is unable to actually pull the trigger. This sets the stage for the real burning question to come later – can he pull the trigger when it’s more than a rabbit staring down the barrel of his rifle? We get the answer later in a very tense, horrifying scene. Of course, what happens then sets off a whole other chain of events.
The entire presentation of these themes is really well done, and made the film more than just a backwoods thriller. It lifted this from out of simple genre fare. This could very well have been some exploitation film, a cheap grindhouse style movie. Instead, it becomes a tension-filled dramatic thriller.
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For the most part, a lot of BackWoods surprised me. I figured it might go down the same road as similar films. Instead, it subverts a few of my expectations. For instance, the scene where Norman is finally forced to either pull the trigger, or else face possibly terrible consequences, I really didn’t expect it to pan out the way it ended up going. I was happy because I thought Norman wasn’t going to change whatsoever as a character. His actions both change him and create more issues for his character to deal with. It’s really great stuff.
The ending, as well, was not something I particularly saw coming.
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This can safely be categorised as a 4 out of 5 star film. There isn’t a whole lot wrong with it, but it’s not perfect whatsoever. I think Gary Oldman and Paddy Considine did a really wonderful job fleshing out the characters they portrayed. Particularly, Oldman gives a strong and emotional performance, unlike a lot of the roles I often enjoy him in, and I don’t know how more people don’t talk about this one, or at least mention it in passing – solid lesser seen role by Oldman. There are also a couple excellently paced chase sequences which help move the film along nicely.  The pacing was helped by how the plot never gets too bogged down in one area, however, that’s also a drawback – I wanted to know more about Paul and Isabel because it seemed there was more to their relationship than what we were given. While sometimes it’s nice when less is more, there are case, like BackWoods, where I could have even done with an extra few scenes just to really give us a portrait of their lives. Oldman does such a spectacular job with his character, I feel even more justice might’ve been done to the film in general had they provided more insight.
Regardless, BackWoods is a pleasant surprise. When a lot of tripe gets doled out in terms of thriller films, this is a refreshing little movie that doesn’t go down all the expected routes.
While the DVD is fairly lame, providing only the film itself (though the picture/sound is beautiful & it looks gorgeous in widescreen) and a trailer, I highly would recommend anybody who can get their hands on a copy of the film do so – it is worth your time. I don’t watch it often, when I do I’m always impressed with the thrill it provides. If you’re a fan of Oldman, Considine, or just those gritty 1970s revenge thrillers in the vein of Straw Dogs and the backwoods city versus nature themes found in classics like Deliverance & even less praised titles like Southern Comfort, this will no doubt quench your thirst. You can do far worse for a movie night than BackWoods.

Cold Prey is a Vicious Modern Slasher

Fritt Vilt (English title: Cold Prey). 2006. Dir. Roar Uthaug. Screenplay by Thomas Moldestad, Martin Sundland & Roar Uthaug; story by Jan Eirik Langoen & Magne Lyngner.
Starring Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Rolf Kristian Larsen, Tomas Alf Larsen, Endre Martin Midtstigen, and Viktoria Winge.
Anchor Bay Entertainment.
Not Rated. 97 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Mystery

★★★★ (Film)
★★★★★ (DVD release)

I don’t think that Fritt Vilt a.k.a Cold Prey necessarily reinvents the wheel on slasher horror films or anything, however, I really love this, and I do think it’s one of the better offerings of modern slasher movies I’ve personally seen. Specifically post-2000. There are a few I really enjoyed, but not many since the millenium dropped. Most are a tired rehash of older films, which were far better than they’ll ever end up being.

Fritt Vilt follows a group of friends who head up into the snow covered hills of Norway to get into a good weekend of snowboarding. Deceptively simple. Once Morten Tobias (Rolf Kristian Larsen) hits a bad jump and breaks one of his legs fairly badly, the group are forced, with night falling plus the snow yweather getting worse, to take shelter in a strangely abandoned ski lodge in the middle of the mountains. The place seems idyllic, yet for some reason or another it is totally vacated. Not a soul is left. Or so they think.
Once the group settles in, everything seems all right for the time being. Morten Tobias is put on bed rest, laying on a couch in the lobby, and topped up with booze. The rest, including the one taking most charge Jannicke (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), try to sit back and relax. One of the couples on the trip head off to a room for a more secluded and romantic getaway in the lodge. Shortly after, it becomes quite apparent to the audience, and soon enough the characters, the lodge has not been totally abandoned. There are still signs of life on the premises. To the eventual dismay of all the snowboarding friends, a terribly dangerous man is still living in the rundown mountain hotel, and he is not happy to have any guests.
The film begins giving us shots of a young boy fleeing from an unseen force behind the camera, running through snow. This is cut with his parents being asked questions by reporters, news clippings and the like; the boy’s mother and father miss him, and say he has never run away from home before like this.3253708506_977628aOnce things start going wrong for the group of friends in the lodge, it takes us back to the beginning montage, and we start to piece together clues of the killer’s identity, as well as exactly why he may be a killer in the first place. I really enjoy the whole backstory. Also, it helps there are two other films in the Fritt Vilt franchise: Fritt Vilt II, which follows directly after the events of the first, and Fritt Vilt III takes us back to the origins of the killer long before even this installment. Personally, I love all three of them. It’s one of the better slasher trilogies out there. Brutal, savage, and interesting.

Immediately, any horror movie that isolates its characters in a believable way has my attention. Not to say I end up enjoying all those films – of course not. But isolation generally equals tension, and if a filmmaker can play with that tension, build up suspense, both subvert and engage typical tropes of the genre, it really turns out to be an excellent horror film. The mountain setting in Norway here is especially awesome. The idea these friends are all going to snowboard is a normal, understandable situation. Furthermore, once Morten Tobias smashes his leg up, the setting moves to a once glorious mountain lodge. A lot of horror films, slashers in particular, tend to avoid much of a setup. In turn, that usually leaves a movie lopsided because without a setup, without legitimate reasons for why characters are in the setting they appear, or move to a different setting, then things really start to fall apart. I can’t really be truly terrified by any horror that doesn’t properly set up the premise. I can enjoy a movie, regardless of this aspect being poorly executed, but I won’t really be affected in a big way if it doesn’t come off organically. At least in part. It doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect. I love a lot of horror that certainly is far from perfect.
Fritt Vilt does a good job of working with isolation and making it a part of why its horror comes off as natural and terrifying.  One of the reasons many people often say John Carpenter’s films, most notably The Thing, are so creepy is because he really gets into your head with the isolation and all the tension utilized in the stories he tells. This film does a good job of emulating that sort of feeling. There are a lot of ominous shots of emptiness here; hallways, snowy valleys and mountain peaks, the cold and vacant feeling of the lodge itself. It really makes me think of Halloween at times, and some of the spooky shots Carpenter achieved there were these real empty looking moments where it felt as if danger lurked everywhere. You get a lot of those same feelings here, though with a more modern look all the same. This helps the horror and shock of the film come off even more fiendish, as it almost literally comes out of nowhere.
In fact, just to mention, the sequel Fritt Vilt II is set in a hospital and has a feel quite similar to the 1981 sequel of the original Halloween. Not a bad thing in the least. I loved that one just as much as this one, if not more. Certainly doesn’t hurt they hit a lot of the same tones Rick Rosenthal did with his sequel to Carpenter’s masterpiece.
I hate comparing films to others just because it often makes it seem like I’m saying one is derivative of the other – I am absolutely not making that statement about Fritt Vilt. This great Norwegian horror movie pays homage to a couple of the greats which really paved the way for these types of modern horrors. Everything from Carpenter’s films to Tobe Hooper.
For instance, another homage-like moments is the first kill we witness. One of the girls is left alone after a small fight with her boyfriend (yes a typical trope yet one that works). There is a brief moment where she bends down to pick up a necklace she’s dropped, and just as she stands up the killer strikes. This reminds me so much of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and that first quick bit where Leatherface appears, screaming, before smashing his mallet down on the unsuspecting victim at his door – before he pulls him away and slides the metal door shut viciously. That moment really terrified me. And here, whether homage or not, I dig this moment. Kicks things into gear quickly, efficiently, and using an old horror trope we’ve all seen plenty of times before. It works well because of the situation going on at the time. Once again, I like things if they work in naturally. No matter if it’s a trope of the genre or not, a film can still be fun and exciting while also retaining some of the typical things we’re expecting to see.

Another aspect of Fritt Vilt I enjoy is the brutality. Honestly, when you go to see a slasher, what drives you? You’re not going to see the drama of the people being hunted by the killer. Ultimately, regardless of whatever it is about movies in general you love, when you’re watching a slasher horror you are watching because there is something inside you wanting to see the people (a.k.a victims) murdered. Not saying we’re sick. Who knows – maybe we are?
What I’m saying is the point of a slasher is the violence. Therefore, the hallmark of any true, great slasher is brutality.
First and foremost on the top of the list, you absolutely have both Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees as top dogs in the brutality department. While Freddy Krueger is certainly up there in the big shots list, his kills are more wild, I would say. Jason and Michael each kill a lot of times with their bare hands, or wielding a knife or machete respectively. Their kills are more upclose and personal. The brutality is a lot more present in their murders.
That’s where the killer in Fritt Vilt really excels. The sheer brute force of the man is absolutely unbelievable. He is a scary, scary character. Though we do get bits of his origin story, there’s still enough mystery left around him to make things thrilling. His face is almost fully shrouded the entire film. It is really unsettling to watch his devilish grin behind the ski-mask getup he wears. He looks the part, that is for sure. That’s another thing – as a slasher, he’s a very great and realistic character. Yes, there are horror tropes involved with him, too. But you can’t deny this guy is a terrifying fellow. He is savage. His kills are just full of pure hatred.
One wonderful addition to the slasher genre and certainly one of the best slasher characters in the post-2000 horror landscape.
cold_6Strong female leads in horror are excellent. I’m not talking about the waif-like girl with big breasts who ends up as the “Final Girl” when things come to an end. I’m talking about kick ass women who take charge of a situation, whether it’s fighting off a bad guy, or just helping a friend mend his broken leg for the time being. Jannicke, played by the talented Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, is one of the latter types. She’s not only tough, but also a great friend, as she refuses to leave friends behind, and instead opts to face the killer and all his horror. She doesn’t run around, flailing about, and just so happens to end up in the right place at the right time by the film’s close – she actively fights back. This is why Fritt Vilt isn’t the same as all the other slasher films out there. Sure, it isn’t the first, or the last, to use the strong female lead as a subversion of the genre. That being said, it is definitely one of the better ones in the genre, and absolutely one of the greatest modern horrors to do so.

The film itself is a 4 out of 5 star horror. I can’t praise this Norwegian horror enough to make you realize how excellent of a movie you’ll be getting yourself into if you choose to watch. I recommend you do. There are some great kills, a bit of suspenseful and tense drama, and a really great lead character who doesn’t fall into the typical trappings of a female lead in many slasher movies. Plus, you get a nice few bloody moments that are more than worth it.

This film’s DVD released by Anchor Bay Entertainment really hits the mark. Not only is there good stuff like an Alternate Ending and a featurette called “Behind Cold Prey“, as well as a very cool look at the visual and audio effects in the film (everything from sound design to colour grading), the best feature of the DVD is the inclusion of a couple short films: a 2-minute short called Mountain Rose Runs Amok (a sort of spoof making fun of their own film) and An Evening in the Green (an early film made by the director; at home in his parents’ backyard). The second is absolutely hilarious and gory – you can tell he had an early knack for horror. I always love seeing things like these included. It doesn’t all have to be behind-the-scenes and movie magic stuff – you can have fun with the features. These are a great addition to an already excellent DVD release. I recommend anyone who is a fan of Fritt Vilt to pick this up – I’ll be getting a Blu ray soon, as I’d love to see the horror and terror of this film in amazing quality. Excellent slasher and a great release, as well.

Check out my review for the sequel Fritt Vilt II.