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STUDIO: Lions Gate
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes
• Commentary with cast and crew
• Behind the Scenes
• Storyboard to Screen
• The Production Team
• What Scares the Cast and Crew?
• Also from Lions Gate
WARNING: There are plot details forthwith, herein, and henceforth, which some may consider spoilers. However, this film doesn’t hide the fact that it’s a rehash of the first Reeker, which spilled the noxious, purgatorial beans in its own trailer.
“The Hitch-Hiker” episode of The Twilight Zone meets “The Great Stink” episode of Gilmore Girls.
“Seriously, though, just tell me straight up: what’s the meaning behind that last scene in Synecdoche? I’ve been banging my head against a brick wall trying to figure it out.”
Michael Muhney. Desmond Askew. Mircea Monroe. Stephen Martines. Valerie Cruz. Lew Temple. Robert Pine.
A bald guy kills people, claiming to act out the will of voices. It turns out that he’s right, and that the universe has been using him to bring wayward souls to their final destination. It also turns out that apparently the universe quite liked him in the job, since, instead of being replaced by a new culler, our bald guy gets dropped back into the world immediately following his execution by gas chamber. Somehow this is related to the fact that he smells like rotting Steve Buscemi.
Caption A: They didn’t even mean to kill the guy, just disable his ventilation. The rest he did himself.
Caption B: Michael Reeker.
I bet if you talked to him, you’d discover that writer/director Dave Payne likes the same stuff we like. I bet he’d be able to carry on a conversation about cartoons, video games, and the things one notices when one listens to too many DVD commentaries. He likes a little humor in his horror films. In all likelihood, he remembers the night in ‘97 when he came upon The Langoliers at 3 a.m. and decided to put down the remote and stay awake for the whole thing. But does any of that mean that he can write and direct a great movie?
For one thing, No Man’s Land looks very nice, even before taking into account its relatively tight budget and shooting schedule. The visual effects especially will surprise you with their professionalism; there are gore and creature moments here that look better than what you might see in theaters, and yet they’re not over-the-top or showoffy in any way. The actors are pretty good, too – most notably Michael Muhney, of Veronica Mars fame (still wearing the same costume) and his legitimately entertaining performance as Chris Evans doing Tom Cruise doing Peter Facinelli. Unfortunately, no, this is not a great movie. It’s a good one, but even that is closer than you’d think.
The next time the sheriff tells Deputy Donaldson that he’s fashioned a semi-sentient Kuato out of upper chest hair, Deputy Donaldson will believe him.
The script is fine structurally, and it leaves the “not quite dead” concept vague enough so that all plot holes are merely arguable, but so many little things about the story are just dumb and weird. There’s a Native American character who exists to be an expendable outsider and to add a bland spiritual component to the monster; however, his outsider status mucks with the idea that these people are in their situation because they were all present at one specific event. Also, by the middle of the movie, half the characters have lost their sense of smell. An excuse to do this once would have been perfectly acceptable, but when it happens again and again, it becomes an unintentional joke.
Bad dialogue can be tolerable, even enjoyable, in a horror film. However, too much dialogue kills a mood like nothing else. A character walks on screen and says, “The tires of my motorcycle were slashed,” and an older, wiser character responds, “Yeah, well, they don’t want to be followed.” This is soon after we’ve been shown one of the “they” producing a knife and commencing said slashment on the adjacent vehicles. We could infer the motorcycle’s eventual part in this endeavor, since it’s right there, or we could be shown it with a quick insert shot, or this information could be slipped into a funny, interesting conversation sometime within the next few scenes. Instead, this movie just tells us, and it’s really annoying.
For all its competency at every other level, No Man’s Land is simply not scary and not funny. (I didn’t even know it was trying to be funny until Payne said so on the DVD.) There’s a story that makes reasonable sense. There’s violence that is sold believably by the actors and the effects team. There’s a monster who perpetrates this violence and looks uniquely cool while doing so. These things alone make the movie better than most horror you can find in theaters, but that shouldn’t be enough. I know you guys have low standards, but I’m just sayin’, horror fans, you don’t have to watch this.
“Christ on a crime spree… Honey, what madness is this?”
“Oh, yeah, I flayed a few hawks one summer and bequeathed their carcasses to Gaia’s loving embrace. Forgot about it, though, heh.”
The package is very good, and this is where the DVD will pick up a few points not earned by the movie itself. If you are a fan of the movie, you should definitely buy this; Ghost House Underground and Lions Gate have put together a nice release. The physical package looks good and respectable. The technical specs of audio and video are quite good. There are some solid special features and not a lot of useless ones. You’ve got trailers for this film and others, of course, and a “what scares the cast and crew” piece of fluff, but then there’s a featurette about the production that actually includes some information. Best of all is the commentary track, including many different people from the cast and crew, but led by Payne. He’s listened to many a commentary in his day, and he tries to stay away from the common pitfalls.
6.5 out of 10