KILLING GROUND is a Fierce & Frighteningly Human Survival Thriller

Killing Ground. 2017. Directed & Written by Damien Power.
Starring Tiarnie Coupland, Harriet Dyer, Aaron Pedersen, Stephen Hunter, Aaron Glenane, Maya Strange, Mitzi Ruhlmann, Ian Meadows, Julian Garner, & Tara Jade Borg.
Hypergiant Films/Arcadia
Rated R. 88 minutes.

Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
KILLINGGROUND3The first feature film from Damien Power, Killing Ground, comes disguised as a survival horror-thriller we’ve all seen before, in which a happy couple camping in the wilderness come upon the scene of a grisly murder, only to be caught in the cross-hairs of the killer. While other well known entries in the survival horror sub-genre both start and end how we expect, Power gives his film extra power in his method of storytelling, as well as with unexpected characters and the surprising plot. Not to mention he conveys the story’s brutality without resorting to showing anything overly graphic, nevertheless illustrating a central theme: man is a worse beast than any animal.
When lovers Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) head out to a beach in the middle of the bush, they setup their tent next to a family’s campsite, though nobody seems to be around. As time passes no one returns, and the couple become suspicious. At the same time we watch events from the days prior, discovering exactly where the family from the campsite have ended up and what’s become of them.
Like an Aussie Deliverance, yet somehow even more devoid of hope, Power’s Killing Ground pulls no punches. In 88 slick minutes, the story of Sam and Ian and the other campers collide in a brutal, tense exercise in terror. By telling the story in sections moving from the young couple to the other group of campers, and further segues to some local hunters, Power amplifies the tension as we hurtle toward a savage climax that manages to elicit dread without feeling the need to be cheap and nasty.
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Power could’ve easily made a by-the-numbers thriller. Likewise, it wouldn’t have been hard to fall into a trap of exploitative filmmaking. Killing Ground does go for the jugular, it just doesn’t do it the same as every other thriller of its ilk. There are a few instances of downright cruelty, but the power of the film’s horror is built foremost on the way the story’s told.
The immediate focus is on Sam and Ian, an endearing, normal couple. As we get to know them we’re also introduced to the family from the now abandoned beach campsite, a day or so prior to current events. In between these two main plots is a view into the lives of two deadbeat local hunters. Power weaves the three plots together, creating a particularly tense storm of events; a storm we see coming. It’s the fact we do see a horrific confrontation coming down the line which allows such palpable fright to set in slowly.
The storytelling puts the audience directly in Sam and Ian’s shoes. They sit on the beach by the abandoned campsite, not knowing where the people are, while the audience gradually becomes aware of the what the other campers have experienced. This feeling rises to an unbearable boiling point. When Power finally snaps the tension, the film’s climax and finale play like any camping aficionado’s worst nightmare. Best of all, it’s not ham-fisted how other similarly themed films play out, opting for something more unsettling than jump scares and explicit gore.
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There are two huge reasons why Killing Ground is so effective. First, a large part of why the film works as a whole are the characters; they’re not archetypal, instead they’re interesting and at times unpredictable. Sam and Ian aren’t a couple with dark secrets hidden from one another, in fact the young couple specifically go on a journey that exposes things about themselves they never actually knew in the first place. They are real, three-dimensional. Same as the local hunters, whose depressingly real socioeconomic situation feels more unsettling than that of nameless, faceless villains in the woods in other survival movies. As all the characters and their paths merge, the tension is fed by the audience’s investment in these people.
Once Power has the audience gripped in the lives of the characters, and after we’ve discovered more of the plot of the camping family, he sets about grinding us down with pure terror. However, it’s how he executes the horror of his story which sets the film apart from many in the sub-genre. For instance, there’s a nasty element of sexual assault hovering over certain scenes. Even in the gruelling moments Power opts to leave most of the physical horror either off-screen, suggested, or not the prime focus of the camera’s lens. In a way, not seeing certain moments intensifies their impact.
It’s amazing how heavy the savagery feels in the moments that do include violence, considering how relatively little we see. Most of the on-screen blood depicted is after the fact of death; there are no slasher-type scenes where blood and gore flies, knives enter skin, so on. Another significant portion of horror comes out in the portrayal of humanity amongst the various characters. It isn’t solely about the evil men do, it also involves what men won’t do, and also the evil they’re not willing or able to stop.KILLINGGROUNDCOVEROne of the hunters owns a dog, whom he takes hunting often. But in the context of the plot’s events, the hunter unleashes the dog in an effort to help him and his hunting buddy in their villainy. The interesting part is that the dog won’t hurt any humans; clearly evident in a scene where the dog sits protecting a victim left in the woods by the hunters. The dog, though only visible at a few points, parallels human beings; particularly to men. The audience gains a further, devastating sense of Ian’s character through the dog, too.
There comes a moment when Ian makes a decision ultimately giving us the verdict of his character as a person, not simply one in a movie. This makes a statement on his own personal nature as a human being, on his tendency of fight or flight. Sam interprets his decision in an honourable way: after one hunter tosses the campsite family’s baby in the woods and leaves it for dead, she believes Ian has left her alone to save the child. Later, we see the hunter’s dog with the injured infant, standing guard in the woods in case anybody comes near. Again, men and animals are juxtaposed, with the dog coming out on top as the more honourable creature.
One of the major differences about this film compared to other survival movies is its ending and how it speaks to human nature. Whereas many of these movies conclude on a totally dark note, others finish with optimism as the hero, or heroes, overcome their would-be killers and triumph. Somewhere amongst the middle is Killing Ground. The end sits somewhere halfway: it isn’t dark, but the conclusion for the heroes is left on a bittersweet note. They’re not entirely filled with hope. Rather, they’ve learned things about themselves, some of which isn’t exactly positive. When the film finishes there are tough questions left to be answered. The heroic characters are safe from the danger of villains, though they remain in the line of fire of their own criticism for how they chose to act in the face of that danger.
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The reality of Killing Ground is perhaps why it feels so intense, and surely one of the reasons it succeeds in touching a nerve with its horror. All the characters involved go through a journey, they are left irreparably changed by their experiences throughout the plot, by its consequences and revelations. Choices are made with which the characters must live, or else their lives will never be the same. Instead of going for cheap, easy scares, Power aims for the heart and digs in deep with an 88-minute film fuelled by an oppressive psychological horror with glimpses of real human monstrosity.
A powerful horror-thriller, whether it goes for the physical nastiness, is built on a director’s ability to tell the story with interest. Power’s film is steadily paced, so much so the entire thing turns on a dime becoming utterly horrifying with a single shot of Sam walking a wooded trail, a blurred, unexpected figure in the background. He doesn’t need to resort to a jump scare, blood flicking from a machete as it hacks its victim. With one shot he provides more frights than some other directors can offer with an entire film.
Killing Ground slow burns the nerves to gristle. It’s a relentlessly suffocating piece of work that’s impressive for a feature film debut. From the opening, subtle credits sequence of shots lingering on desolate wilderness and an abandoned campsite, there’s an immediate sense of dread that never once lets up for a second. Writer-director Damien Power turned what in other hands would’ve been a tired rehash of tropes into something with lasting, unsettling power, one that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Deliverance, Southern Comfort, the newer Eden Lake, and other now classic survival movies.

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The Never Ending Terror of Eden Lake

Eden Lake. 2008. Directed & Written by James Watkins
Starring Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbender, Tara Ellis, Jack O’Connell, Finn Atkins, Jumayn Hunter, Thomas Turgoose, James Burrows, Tom Gill, Lorraine Bruce, Shaun Dooley, James Gandhi, Bronson Webb, Lorraine Stanley, & Rachel Gleeves. Rollercoaster Films/Aramid Entertainment Fund.
Rated R. 91 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★
POSTER There are many city v. rural films out there in the thriller genre. From Deliverance to any number of backwoods horror movies, such as the Wrong Turn series and plenty others. But not all of those have the effect of James Watkins’ Eden Lake.
Before Michael Fassbender broke out big time and in the days prior to Kelly Reilly’s huge break, Watkins crafted an equally pulse pounding and disturbing horror-thriller with these two in the lead roles. Aided by a script with some sharp teeth, as well as the tense action which keeps the film’s pace at a quick pace, Eden Lake will linger with you afterwards. This one boasts a terrifying finish that lets you get no rest, no matter that the rest of the film is brutally intense and shocking. However, there’s no shock for shock’s sake. Rather, we get a glimpse into the world of misled youths whose lives were likely influenced into running down the drain by their equally nasty parents. Not everything is completely tight in the screenplay from Watkins, but he makes up for those bits with interesting writing and two (or more) lumps of tragedy stirred in.
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Heading into the bush for a weekend getaway, Steve (Michael Fassbender) takes his girlfriend Jenny (Kelly Reilly), a nursery school teacher, for some swimming and a bit of camping. They lounge on a nice freshwater beach enjoying the surroundings, the warm weather. After a little time, some young hooligans arrive with their loud music, their big dog, and start to make things less pleasant. Led by the crass Brett (Jack O’Connell), they get on Steve’s nerves, especially when the dog gets a little too close to Jenny. Soon the kids leave, then Jenny and Steve enjoy their time alone.
The next morning, turns out the kids broke a bottle and punctured one of Steve’s tires. He chases them in town after seeing them on their bikes, and later finds one of their houses. But this is only the beginning. When the couple encounters the crew again and the situation turns ugly, Brett’s dog is accidentally stabbed and killed by Steve, in self defense. This prompts an all-out war between the couple and the teenagers.
Steve and Jenny may not make it home from their trip after all.
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The first thing we see in Eden Lake is Jenny at the school where she teaches. There are little innocent kids, who play child-like games, they laugh and fool around. Jenny’s obviously good with them, comfortable in her career. So to see everything get juxtaposed here with the situation not long after with the older kids is interesting. We go from little innocent children to big bad teenagers who, somewhere along the line from then to now, grew up from being kids into becoming full-fledged monsters. Also, I love the transformation Jenny undergoes as a meek, mild-mannered teacher who later is forced to become a warrior and survivor. Particularly – SPOILER ALERT – once Steve is dead, Jenny is left to her own devices. Even before he dies, she’s got to take care of herself, and him due to his awful injuries. There’s this long line of character development in a short time. Leading up to the serious confrontations, Jenny appears as quiet, reserved, someone who doesn’t want to rock the boat. The tragic events which unfold throughout the film mold her into someone fierce and assertive, and somebody not afraid to defend herself at all costs. For the handful of really dumb moves by Jenny and Steve, there are enough instances of well-written characters and the main parallel between Jenny’s occupation/where she ends up to justify Eden Lake as a solid thriller. Late in the film, Jenny is made to commit a terrible act – another one of self defense in this plot – but it is devastating, for us and for her. This is probably the pinnacle of the parallel in her character.
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Even from the small supporting roles of the teenagers we get solid acting. Above them all stands Jack O’Connell. Recently he’s done amazing turns in films like Starred Up, but in 2008 this was a performance to watch. He is a terrible young man capable of extremely vicious violence, his personality a sick and turgid cesspool. The depth of depravity comes out, especially in a scene that comes just after the one-hour mark; his enjoyment is far too evident, which makes the character so powerfully menacing. This film could have had any number of young people take the role of Brett. With O’Connell, the performance is disturbing and forceful and you hate Brett to the core. Note: in the last moments with his character, you can almost see a twinkle of something in his eye, but largely I believe it’s not regret; it’s the same twinkle people like Ted Bundy and other killers would get in their eyes, holding back their real selves just behind it.
Fassbender does well with his role and it comes off naturally. Although, it is ultimately Reilly whose talent sells Eden Lake into its suspense. We’re often taken by the danger of a thriller when it’s a woman in danger, simply because she’s a woman, men are after her, et cetera. Yet Reilly brings a life to Jenny. Again, she’s a timid sort of lady, though, as time progresses this timidity wears off, and her battle-face shows. The vulnerability of her character always shines through, most scarily in the last scene. But she commands your attention to the presence of her character, and you truly feel for her every step of the way, despite some of the dumb choices (fault of writing; not her performance).
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The ending still leaves me in shambles. Really puts the cap on things as far as determining whether or not the behaviour of the teenagers has been ingrained in them over time.
A 4 out of 5 star film, indeed. There are certainly a few spots where Watkins needed to tighten up some things, such as a few truly strange choices the characters made. But none of that ruins what is an effective, violent, and edgy thriller. This one will take you to the brink. Then, just when you’re sure the lead character and you have each had enough, Watkins piles it on to leave us with that grim taste in the mouth. Trust me. Eden Lake is a keeper, and if you can forgive a few blemishes this will really hit the spot if you’re looking for a horror-thriller to damage you.

WRONG TURN 6: LAST RESORT – How Low Can a Franchise Go?

Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort. 2014. Directed by Valeri Milev. Screenplay by Frank H. Woodward.
Starring Anthony Ilott, Chris Jarvis, Aqueela Zoll, Sadie Katz, Rollo Skinner, Billy Ashworth, Harry Belcher, Joe Gaminara, Roxanne Pallett, Radoslav Paravanov, Danko Jordanov, Asen Asenov, and Kicker Robinson. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Rated R. 91 minutes. Horror.


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The shipwreck which was Declan O’Brien at the helm of several Wrong Turn sequels has finally stopped.
With Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort, the reins of the franchise has been handed over to Valeri Milev.
Though I’ve not seen anything by Milev before, I’ve wanted to get a look at his film from 2013 called Re-Kill. However, if this is any indication, I’m not holding my breath on it being something spectacular. The sixth film in this series is not the worst, certainly not, but it’s not good in any way either.
While some of the gore works, and this instalment isn’t hellbent on the awful CGI which plagued O’Brien, there is a serious lapse in the series logic when it comes to the characters and the setting, and in turn the whole plot itself. Not to mention, Milev is far more intent than O’Brien even was in his tenure as director to bring more nudity and sex into the movies. I’m not afraid of a bit of nudity in horror, there are plenty of solid horror films that do have nudity in them, but the only purpose these Wrong Turn films have had, especially those O’Brien directed, to use nudity is simply to try and keep people interested, or to perhaps they truly try and skew towards the male demographic. Either way, there are a ton of problems with this movie, just as much as some of the other entries in the franchise overall.
775689_3Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort throws so much of the little sense that exists in the franchise out the window.
Danny (Anthony Ilott) finds out, suddenly, that he has an inheritance waiting for him at the Hobb Springs Resort. He and his girlfriend Toni (Aqueela Zoll), Bryan (Joe Gaminara), Jillian (Roxanne Pallett), Vic (Rollo Skinner), Rod (Billy Ashworth), and Charlie (Harry Belcher) head out to the backwoods for the old hotel.
Of course, lurking in the hills of West Virginia as always are the three brothers: Saw Tooth (Danko Jordanov), Three Finger (Radoslav Parvanov), and One Eye (Asen Asenov). They continue to kill, maim, eat.
At the Hobb Springs Resort, Danny and his friends are greeted by brother and sister creepy duo, Sally (Sadie Katz) and Jackson (Chris Jarvis). The pair are hospitable, if not a little strange. Soon, though, an older vacationer at the resort goes missing. Sheriff Doucette (Kicker Robinson) asks them to keep a look out, pass around a flyer to see if anyone can help find the woman. However, she is long gone – probably chopped up for dinner by the inbred brothers.
Eventually, Bryan begins to discover things about the Hobb Springs Resort, terrifying, dark secrets, and things for him, as well as his friends, will never ever be the same.
44138475782283658387_zps233ae9e3.jpg~originalSo one of my initial beefs happens quickly.
Beginning with the last Wrong Turn entry, there’s this dumb trend of opening the movie with a “clever” (I use that in the lightest sense) way of using the dead/severed bodies of the brothers’ victims to give the number of the sequel. So, for Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines, it was a severed hand that opened up with its five fingers stretched underneath the title. Now we get Roman numerals all of a sudden – probably because the filmmakers couldn’t figure out a way to plausibly get two hands to show 6 fingers without it looking clumsy. As if it made any differences: two bodies fall roughly in the shape of VI to help us spell out Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort. Just one of the reasons this sequel is another bad one.
6-wrong-turn-last-resortWhen the old woman gets killed, it is so bad. An axe gets tossed at full-force and not only does it throw her back to the wall, it apparently lifts her a foot off the ground before pinning her to it. I mean – it’s almost as bad as the opening kill in Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, which I found to be too over-the-top. Again it’s not like I’m looking for a level of total realism from these movies, but there’s also got to be a degree of logic in some senses. There’s enough brutality in these movies that it can still be effective without having to get cartoonish.
dbce6a2db2c67958515d1c7912507b88My biggest problem with this one is a combination of things.
First of all, I find Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort to be, by far, the most sexualized of all the sequels. Declan O’Brien started this, albeit only subtly, in Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead. Even though I personally found the 4th film, Bloody Beginnings, to be better than most, he still got worse with it in that one; right from the opening scenes. Then the 5th went the same. Now, it seems like director Valeri Milev and writer Frank Woodward were intent on making sexuality a large aspect of this story. Some horror benefits from an angle of sexuality – most recently, It Follows uses the premise of sexual encounters to head into very interesting territory, and a few of my favourite classics from David Cronenberg such as VideodromeShivers, and Rabid all have sexual elements yet they work to serve a purpose.
Second, I just can’t get past the jumbled nonsense that the Wrong Turn series has become. Starting with the last sequel, Bloodlines, there has been a serious neglect of logic in regards to the characters of these films. I know this is not meant to be expertly crated horror like something you might expect from Rosemary’s Baby. All the same, you’d think they would try to keep the logic together.
I mean, how does this sister-brother combo of Sally and Jackson even fit in? Where did they come from? My understanding, especially from what’s discussed in Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, is that the effects of inbreeding only got worse and worse with each round of procreation in the family. It doesn’t make any sense to me that Jackson and Sally look normal. How are they not raving lunatics just like One Eye, Saw Tooth, and Three Finger? My problem in the last movie was the character of Maynard, and how he was seemingly able to coral the three brothers with a combination of a dominant attitude and physical violence, yet the brothers are supposed to inbred, unruly, wild, and immune to pain!? It just makes no sense, whether someone is supposedly part of the ‘family’ or not, that the three brothers allow themselves to be harnessed and controlled into doing what some third party wants.
Still, it makes no sense how Sally and Jackson are the only two normal, and actually attractive, people between the clans of hillbillies. Then there’s Danny, of course, who they’re trying to lure into the family tradition of brother-sister-cousin fucking, and Danny looks as normal as anybody. These inbred brothers have been around since 1974 – that’s what we know from Bloody Beginnings and its opening scene – so where did these branches of the family come from and how did none of them turn out to look like the brothers? We clearly see there are others involved in these so-called clans, later in the movie, and they’re all haggard, too! So it’s just ridiculous to have these two good looking actors there in the middle of it meant to be part of an inbred cannibal family. Too much suspension of disbelief in this case.
In a Q&A over at Fangoria, screenwriter Frank Woodward actually said he likes where there can be a big world in a story where so many other smaller stories can be told. Unfortunately, Mr. Woodward went too wide with this one and forgot to try and link things together. If perhaps there were some other chains binding Last Resort with the other 5 films, even the last terrible one, then maybe it would have worked a little better. Instead there is a tenuous connection to the series as a whole, and after that takes hold I find it hard to enjoy much else in the movie.
WrongTurn2I can give this a 1 out of 5 stars. Honestly, I know some people think I’m nuts for enjoying Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings the way I do, even though that’s only a 2.5/5 stars for me, not much better than this one. However, at least – for all its bad acting – the 4th film went for the prequel angle, we got to see the brothers before the initial events of the first Wrong Turn film, and it really started to setup a mythos of its own as a franchise, in my opinion. I actually couldn’t stand the 3rd movie, Left for Dead, but I liked that even more than I could enjoy Last Resort. Most of the other movies in this series suffer from poor written – varying degrees, but all suffer from the same symptoms. The problem I have with Last Resort is that it totally fumbles the logic of its own series, as was the case in the last entry, and I can’t get past that. I’m able to get past it enough to rate it better than Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines, because at least this one had a few good gory moments; that last one was just off-the-wall nonsensical in too many ways.
Either way I cut it, this to me is definitely one of the poorer entries in the series. It pushes way too hard to sexualize the horror, including straight up naked women getting cut up, and to me that’s a staple of 1980s horror I’m not a fan of – I’ve explained this enough already, just does not serve a purpose for me in horror. There are other movies in the genre I do enjoy that have nudity, but they at least back things up with actual terror, some better writing, and decent acting – some of these Wrong Turn movies, especially this one, go too hard for the boobs and blood. I’m not into it. That, coupled with a lack of sense in the screenplay, really makes for an awful film.
I’ll never ever watch this again unless someone kidnaps me and forces it upon me, even then I’d fight like hell. These last two in the series have been just downright garbage. For good backwoods horror maybe check out a classic like Just Before Dawn, or a less horror-ish effort of backwoods survival in Southern Comfort or my favourite of that genre, the obvious choice, Deliverance.

Another one of these on the way for 2017? Oh mercy. I’ll see you then, and we can talk about how awful that might be. Though, I always wait to judge for myself. Maybe someone can breathe life into a series that once had potential, but has long since been ravaged – mostly by Declan O’Brien, now Valeri Milev has joined in on the assault. No idea who will be directing the next one. You can be sure it won’t be anyone too familiar, or maybe they’ll choose someone from the previous pool of directors. Jesus, we’ll see…..

PRESERVATION is All About Female Survival

Preservation. 2015. Directed & Written by Christopher Denham.
Starring Wrenn Schmidt, Aaron Staton, and Pablo Schreiber. The Orchard. Not Rated. 90 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★
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I’m a fan of the survival thriller sub-genre, whether it’s something strictly thriller based, or a film that’s a little more horror oriented. I’ve enjoyed films like Southern Comfort, the classic Deliverance, and even horror survival movies such as the 1981 cult classic Just Before Dawn and more recently Eden Lake. Preservation is a pretty good little movie, but fails to reach the heights of the movies I’ve previously mentioned. Christopher Denham (most of you will remember him from various projects as an actor like The BayArgo, a small role on The Following, and the excellent sci-fi indie Sound of My Voice) did a really great job directing his first film in 2008 – a found footage horror called Home Movie about one family’s harrowing path to madness. I really loved that movie/own it. While I do enjoy Preservation, and think there are several awesome aspects to it, I don’t enjoy it near as much as his previous effort.

This movie tells the story of Mike Neary (Aaron Staton – most recognizable as the face of the video game L.A Noire) and his wife Wit Neary (Wrenn Schmidt), along with Mike’s brother Sean (Pablo Schreiber – the well-known Porn Stache from Orange is the New Black), who take a camping trip together out into the great outdoors. Mike and Wit are having some intimacy issues, as his job seems to be coming before their relationship – not to mention the fact that early on we see Wit is hiding a possible pregnancy from her husband. Further than that, Mike’s brother Sean has recently come home on leave from the army. Or at least that’s what he first told Sean. Once in the woods, things start to change.
After they go to sleep on their first night out, the three of them wake up: all their belongings have vanished, including Sean’s loyal dog, and each of the three have a large X marked on their forehead with marker. From there things become a gripping story of survival, as Mike, Sean, and Wit have to defend themselves against unseen assailants hiding amongst the trees of the forest.
PRESERVATIONAREADENHAMFEATThere were a few surprising moments throughout the film. I wasn’t totally shocked or anything – the kills weren’t particularly gruesome. At least not for someone like myself who watches a ton of horror, and I do mean a ton. Too much even. I’m not totally desensitized. Some say they are, but that’s too bad for them. I still have fun and get excited and get freaked out at the movies. Preservation didn’t really have any awful kills. Though, they were done well, I must say. I liked the tension mostly. Denham did a great job at drawing out the suspense and really grinding on the tense moments. One specific scene I really enjoyed was when Mike gets trapped for a few minutes in a portable outhouse – I thought the tension was thick as hell here. Really good stuff. Being a horror hound, I would’ve enjoyed more raw kills here. This was a good movie, decent enough, but could have definitely turned things up a notch with a bit more gore. Maybe. Maybe not, as well. There was just something missing along with all the tension Denham managed to work into the movie.

One thing I did enjoy was the character of Wit. Past here, we’re getting into SPOILER TERRITORY, so please – if you don’t want to get the movie spoiled you should turn back now!
preservationfeatI think Wit’s whole situation, involving the initially hidden pregnancy, really played into the whole plot and helped her character stay very interesting. Personally, I found the aspect of her not being able to shoot an animal and then having to face off against real human killers a little tired. This sort of angle has been played out far too many times. What I really did enjoy about Wit was the fact she was about to become a mother. I think once we discover these are just kids hunting them down for, basically, a laugh, it really becomes something much more intense for Wit particularly. She has just discovered awhile ago that motherhood is upon her. Now, all of a sudden, these kids are reigning terror upon her life. I mean – if that’s not birth control food for thought, then what is? This angle of the plot was really interesting for me, and fresh. We’ve seen the kid killer thing, even the pregnancy plot, but combining the two worked here. Not exactly unique or wholly fresh material. Just executed nicely.

This is a pretty good little thriller with a bit of horror thrown in. I would mostly call this a thriller. Definitely a psychological aspect. There are a couple really good performances. All three of the main characters are pretty excellent. Though, Pablo Schreiber doesn’t have a huge part I really did enjoy him here. Usually he seems to be pigeonholed into playing the creepy jerk, or the weirdo, the psychopath, whatever – here, he does a great job at playing an outsider type character, but essentially a good guy. He has some acting chops, I’ve always thought that since first seeing him. Aaron Staton is pretty good here, as well. Mostly, though, it is the Wrenn Schmidt show in Preservation. She plays a complex female character who isn’t perfect, who gets the hell beat out of her, and who has to do things no expecting mother would ever want to have to do – and she comes out of it a whole different kind of lady. I loved her performance. This was definitely the shining point.
One other thing worth mentioning before I clue things up – the score is a real treat, and I couldn’t get enough of it. Really added a nice element to the entire film. I’d actually enjoy having it as a standalone soundtrack. Great work.
Preserve_KM_102313_677All in all, this is about a 3 out of 5 star film. I didn’t think it was amazing, but I’ve absolutely seen other movies in the same sub-genre that didn’t satisfy me near as much. Christopher Denham is a pretty good horror director. I’ve enjoyed a lot of his acting – Sound of My Voice is probably his best work in that sense. I do prefer Home Movie over this, although I’d absolutely, and will absolutely, watch this again. This goes recommended for people who enjoy the sub-genre. If not, you may walk away from this less than thrilled. For the fans I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Just don’t expect Denham to have reinvented the wheel on this one. Plus, it’s one of the rare modern survival thrillers where you don’t have to watch a woman get sexually assaulted, or have the implications of such things happening off screen – nowhere to be found here. Personally I don’t shy away from something just because of such things, but I do hate movies that use it as a silly exploitation move. Luckily, Denham does no such thing. Sit back, watch a bit of thrilling fun. Might not be the best of the sub-genre, though, it beats some of the lesser titles to death.

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.

Feed the Gods Leaves Everyone Hungry

Feed the Gods. 2014. Dir. Braden Croft.
Starring Shawn Roberts, Emily Tennant, Britt Irvin, Tyler Johnston, and Aleks Paunovic. Compound B.
Unrated. 84 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★1/2

There are times I’ll admit I am fooled by an interesting title. When I first heard of Feed the Gods I’ve got to say, I was absolutely hooked. Just by the title alone. So I waited, and finally it came to VOD. I wasn’t particularly aware this film had anything to do with Bigfoot, or a Bigfoot type legendary creature, until the poster art showed up. Maybe I’m not in the loop (I know I’m not in the loop – that’s called a joke), but going by the description I basically imagined a sort of strange backwoods cult. It made me think of something similar to Jug Face, which is a great modern backwoods horror. However, this is nothing like that great film. Unfortunately, I can’t really say much positive about Feed the Gods.

feed-the-godsThe premise of the film isn’t a bad one. Two brothers, who don’t really like one another, decide to seek out their birth parents after the death of their adopted mother. It brings them to a mountain-woods town. The locals are a bit strange, a bit quirky. And also there’s the running legend about a Bigfoot creature in the forest. They call it The Wild Man. The Wild Man takes people, they say. Not a bad setup.

I’m not really saying the plot isn’t great because I was really intrigued by what might happen. It’s just that there wasn’t any fear.
Usually Bigfoot freaks me out. Some recent sasquatch centric movies I’ve enjoyed and found creepy are Willow Creek, and most recently the brilliantly executed Exists by found footage master Eduardo Sanchez. Feed the Gods aims to be a really unique movie in the Bigfoot filmography, but fails.
feed-the-gods-3The acting wasn’t awful, at least not to a point where I cringed; though one or two times at the beginning I did wince slightly. Regardless, a few times I actually chuckled at a bit of the humour weaved in. The biggest problem Feed the Gods suffers from is a lack of any real dread, no suspense or tension. They aim to give that backwoods feeling of terror. The town in which the main characters end up almost has a feeling similar to when the boys first show up in Deliverance to try and find someone to drive their vehicle; they wander into such a funny yet creepy, eerie place with the kid and his banjo. I almost expected a scene close to it, but they didn’t go too hamfisted here. Yet there wasn’t enough of anything.

Feed the Gods is a confused film a lot of its running time. There are points, as I said, where I did laugh, but those were essentially in part because of one of the brothers who worked as comic relief. Even at the end, I didn’t expect it to end. Things came to a close so abruptly.  I felt like there was going to be a bit more resolution. Not because I need it – I love when a film, horror especially, can leave things either ambiguous or just plain depressing even – but because it felt as if the film was moving towards some resolution. I’m not saying it’s meant to be a good one. The finale really blew things.
On that note, I did not dig the monster in this film. Near the end there’s a really bad shot. Kudos to the filmmakers for going with their own sort of unique look. Wasn’t my thing. I didn’t find it too frightening, at all. That also had to do with the entire film. A sense of dread and fear comes along with a sasquatch type creature lurking in the woods. Unfortunately for Feed the Gods, and me I guess, I did not have that at all here. So when there’s some real screen time for this creature it just didn’t affect me much. As opposed to a film like Sanchez’s Exists, which in my opinion had one of the best Bigfoots on film. Period. This film did right by not going for too many shots of the creature head-on, however, when they do go for it the creature only disappoints.
Feed-The-Gods-photo11-620x248All in all this is just a rough film. I respect trying to take a new look at the whole Bigfoot idea, and sort of zooming in on a more local legend aspect, but this does not work. The writing isn’t especially good. Not that I’d consider it horrible – I love the story itself. The plot wound up coming across boring when it could’ve been so much more with increased suspense and tension. The acting isn’t awful. It’s wooden, though, and this helps nothing. I did enjoy the older brother, played by Shawn Roberts; he was funny at times, others he was believable. Most of the other characters were either overplayed or just poorly done. He seemed like the only one with an actual personality.

Also, another little thing I didn’t like was the trailer – it is badly cut. I know the difference because I’ve watched the film, but I know a couple people already who’ve mentioned to me they assumed the three main characters were brothers and sister. That’s because the trailer is cut in the beginning with a line from Will (Roberts) stating “we want to go find mom and dad”, or something similar. There’s nothing else in the trailer to indicate the girl of the trio is not a relative; she’s in fact the girlfriend of Will’s younger brother. Nothing to get upset over. You discover quick enough once turning on the film they’re in a relationship together. This is an instance of pure laziness. Careless and sloppy to have a shoddy trailer, which has clearly confused more than a couple people after starting to watch this. It doesn’t ruin anything, but it sort of makes you wonder why they’d cut a trailer that way. The least they could’ve done is make sure the trailer was tight. Because the writing isn’t, and it falls apart basically after the premise gets into place.
feed-the-gods-1I can only give this 1.5 stars out of 5.
I don’t mean to hate on the film. Like I mentioned, I really loved the whole setup. There was a lot of promise in the story for the film, but unfortunately this didn’t extend into the plot and any of the rest of the film. You can’t even really call this a horror, as far as I’m concerned. I would mostly throw this into the category of a dark thriller.

I always try to give Bigfoot movies some breathing room, so to speak, because it isn’t easy to effectively do one right. I can’t extend much courtesy to Feed the Gods. It really let me down in the end. I didn’t even initially realize this was a film concerning Bigfoot. Once I realized it was, though, I got excited. Recently I saw Late Phases, which really came off as a great modern werewolf horror, and as far as werewolves go it’s hard for me to find a movie with their kind in it I really love; I loved that one, and it really did good for the genre in a fresh way. I hoped then that Feed the Gods might be capable of doing the same sort of thing with Bigfoot. I hoped in vain. That being said, I would like to see Braden Croft write and direct another feature because he has great ideas floating around.
Check this out if you have some time to kill, but don’t expect much, and don’t waste your money if there’s something else looking more promising in the VOD queue.