Monday, June 15, 2015

Spring (2014)

Title: Spring
Year: 2014
Director: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead

Spring is the hotly anticipated feature length follow up to Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead's impressive directorial debut Resolution (2012). The protagonist Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) is a lost soul in L.A. His father and mother have both died recently, he has no career path, his best friend Tommy (Jeremy Gardner) is high all the time, and he's emotionally disconnected with his girlfriend, who on a whim suggests he travel abroad to find himself (as well as escape a potential scrape with the law stemming from a severe bar beating inflicted upon a richly deserving target). Evan eventually lands at a beautiful coastal Italian town, taking a job assisting a kindly local farmer in exchange for room and board. He also finds instant attraction to a local woman, Louise (Nadia Hilker).  With the cover art as it is and the tagline "Love in a monster," it isn't much of a spoiler to say that Louise turns out to be more than Evan bargained for.

The relationship between Louise and Evan is one of the more intriguing and thoughtfully crafted horror romance stories of recent genre memory. Early dismay over Louise's seemingly inexplicable motives and actions toward Evan is cleared up later on in the movie. The performances are also spot on. Pucci plays the role of an inexperienced young person disoriented in a strange land very well, one further burdened by grief and loss. Hilker effectively projects an ambiguous ethnic and national background that is an important part of her makeup (literally) but she also convincingly carries a world weary practicality to the question of where the relationship is going. The dialogue between the two is a clever concoction. It's alternatingly chippy and seductive, intimate and cold, inviting and distancing, the reasons behind Louise's constant emotional pushing and pulling becoming readily apparent past the film's midpoint.

** SPOILER ALERT ** As it turns out, Louise is a 2,000 year old immortal human and Evan has arrived during the time of her 20-year cycle of rebirth.  During this time, her body becomes unstable, sprouting random monstrous and often violent expressions of our evolutionary forbears, the transformations outwardly controlled to some extent by stem cell injections crafted by Louise herself. The "science" behind all this, explained in some detail by the scientifically trained and employed Louise, is completely absurd but no less so than legions of other horror and sci-fi movies.  In this instance, the filmmakers might have better gone the route of less is more.  ** END ALERT **

The effects in the movie, a mixture of CGI and practical, are quite good, especially those in the brilliant scene portraying a Lovecraft-inspired chimeric Louise-monster squirming around on the floor of her apartment. It's also interesting how the transformations (many of which are recognizable genre staples) keep the viewer guessing as to what's really going on.

Problems are relatively few.  The over the top extreme depiction of the "ugly American" tourist in the movie is offensively unnecessarily and lacks any of the smartness that characterizes so many other aspects of the film. One would think also that the wisdom of two millennia would make Louise's choice of mate (especially given the consequences to her personally) a much less random affair. The ending, however, was the greatest source of disappointment. Unlike the final scene of Resolution, which was enigmatic but satisfying and wonderful, the conclusion of Spring seems commercially inspired, of the kind producers and nervous financial backers think viewers want rather than the movie needs.  It might make many moviegoers feel warmer and fuzzier about the whole experience (especially if they're seeing it as a date movie) but it cheats the established tone of the film.

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Extraterrestrial (2014)

Title: Extraterrestrial
Year: 2014
Director: The Vicious Brothers

Any viewer would be justified by being dismissive of any filmmaking duo ridiculously styling themselves "The Vicious Brothers." Fortunately for Canadian filmmakers Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz, their first movie Grave Encounters was actually pretty good, one of the better found footage films. Extraterrestrial, however, is so very bad.

The movie begins with a group of twenty-something-going-on-twelves (April, Kyle, Melanie, 'all dickhead all the time' Seth, and Lex) who are all looking forward to a weekend of drinking, pot smoking and pill popping at a rather palatial cabin in the woods. Unbeknownst to them, the entire area has been plagued with unexplained disappearances. Soon after they arrive, an alien craft crash lands and all hell breaks loose after the group shoots and wounds a prospective alien home invader who apparently believes people should just come quietly. Blocked in their attempt to escape the kids are hunted down one by one.

Movies like this that employ celebrity cameos and check off an entire screenplay checklist of genre tropes typically are not meant to be taken seriously but rather are intended to be fun rides. Extraterrestrial did not go this route, utterly failing as serious alien invasion/abduction horror and then committing the cardinal sin of not being fun. The film obviously had some budget, with presumably a significant portion going to name actor cameos by Michael Ironside, Gil Bellows, and Emily Perkins. Ironside probably enjoyed hamming it up as a backwoods John Bircher but all three are rather misused, with Ironside mainly existing to impart his oddly intimate knowledge of U.S. intergalactic foreign policy and foreshadow the movie's groan inducing ending.

The characters are zero dimensional and dumb horror movie decision making abounds (ex. when the group is surrounded by aliens, Seth decides that pistol whipping his best friend, abandoning the rest of the group, and wandering off into the woods alone is a solid survival move). Moments meant to inspire empathy with members of the group (like the failed marriage proposal) and their fates fall flat and, in typical genre fashion, one character (Seth) is built up into an uber a-hole of the kind that no one would ever have been friends with just to make his ultimate comeuppance all the more satisfying.

Nothing related to the aliens themselves constitutes a fresh take on the alien invasion/abduction genre. There's the same flashing lights and loud noises, the same tractor beam technology, the same experimentations, the same skinny grays, and so on. The bodies of the aliens and their movements are rendered entirely in truly terrible CGI effects of the Saturday SyFy monster movie variety. There are some skillfully crafted scenes, perhaps the most memorable one being the nighttime sequence when the rain directly overhead suddenly stops, but they're few and far between. Sadly, no element from the movie comes close to countering the deep impression that the entire thing is a misstep best forgotten.

Rating: 2/10