Pig Hunt / Dark House / The Tomb / Grimm / Hunger / Fragile / Road Kill / The Haunting
STUDIO: Phase 4 Films
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
•Trailers for all 8 Fangoria Frightfest titles
•Making of featurette
Character thriller featuring five people trapped in an extreme situation. Cannibalism ensues
Director: Steven Hentges
Writer: L.D. Goffigan
Cast: Lori Heuring, Linden Ashby, Joe Egender, Julian Rojas, Bjorn Johnson, Lea Kohl
Waking up in a dark cave, confused and scared, five individuals must figure out why they’ve been taken prisoner and figure out how to escape. They don’t have any food but enough water to survive for several months. What does it mean when a surgical scalpel shows up with a note in forming them that they can only survive 30 days without food?
I was afraid this was going to be another no budget torture porn bore. It’s not. This seems to be wholly in the realm of a thriller/horror film featuring a group of people put into extreme circumstances. The sort of thing that counts both Lifeboat and The Mist among its cinematic brethren. Usually these can interesting affairs, filled with growing dread and heightened tension as the stakes get raised and the doom closes in. Seeing how several disparate personalities interact in such a situation is usually the meat and potatoes of this sub-genre. Creating realistic characters and instilling the fear they must be feeling in the audience is where they shine. When it works it’s a treat, when they don’t it’s a chore to sit through. So where does this one land in that spectrum? The wrong end, that’s where.
“I’m sorry? You say I have somebody on my face?”
The movie opens with a young boy trapped alone with the corpse of his now dead mother after a car crash. From this vague moment we’re then transported to pitch blackness and a women calling out for help in the darkness as the other four people trapped along with her awake. They all realize they’ve been kidnapped and taken prisoner, after some initial mistrust (something I thought they could have run with but instead undercut by showing their captor watching them on a monitor not too long afterwards). Taking account of their surroundings they soon realize there is no way out, and that their captor has a plan for them.
This is where it becomes a little obvious the film makers flirt with the torture porn style trapped characters making gruesome decisions ala Saw, but the villain never forces the issue. Placed in a circumstance that will eventually lead to his intended results. He is billed as the Scientist and this is his experiment. Played by Bjorn Johnson, the character isn’t a movie monster just a psychologically fucked up adult that wants to prove a point or exorcise his personal horrors through others. I hope he wasn’t meant to be scary, because getting the actor from the Castrol oil “think with your dipstick, Jimmy” commercials may not have been the best choice for the role. He is a decent actor, but he is either woefully miscast or just never given anything very scary to do.
“Oh my god! You don’t have a heartbeat!”
One reading of the film may very well be that the Scientist is intended to be an audience stand-in. In this version it is our voyeuristic tendencies that have placed these people in this situation and it is our wishes that they enact violence and horrors upon each other. The sort of dispassionate performance of Johnson may be revealing in this way. The moments he shows any emotion is when the experiment goes “off script” and the actors in his narrative start to exhibit sacrificial or selfless actions. Ultimately, I think this falls apart when he forgets that there needs to be a survivor for the audience to be absolved of the horrors and he gets personally involved. If this was the intended path that the film makers wanted then I believe they didn’t complete the idea in any satisfactory or logical manner.
Going back to those trapped. Here we have the absolute biggest pile of cliches you’d expect in this sort of film. First is Jordan(Lori Heuring), she is the level headed one in the group. She is a doctor conveniently enough. When the shit goes down, you know she is going to be the one calming the others. Grant(Linden Ashby) is the good guy who has had a hard life, but deep down you know whatever happens he’ll do the right thing. Luke(Joe Egender) is the asshole. He will always be causing rifts between the prisoners. If this was Night of the Living Dead, he’d be Harry, pushing for the worst most cynical solution. Anna(Lea Kohl) is a former dancer that was responsible for the death of her sugar daddy, abusive boyfriend. She is in best situations a good person, but in extreme circumstances she is susceptible to bad things. Finally there is Alex(Julian Rojas). During the scene where the characters reveal that they’ve all been involved in the death of another person, Alex is the one that claims perfect innocence. He is a quiet loner, the wild card of the group.
The look of flesh hunger
It isn’t that the actors aren’t any good. Actually, I found that they were pretty good filling the highly expected characters. If anything these are actors that knowing what kind of movie this is, I could have guessed what their characters were before they had delivered line one. Linden Ashby seems like he could play this role in his sleep. He just has that natural fit for playing upright yet disappointed men. Joe Egender is maybe too spot on. He is slimy and self serving from moment one. Lori Heuring is lovely and capable. Julian Rojas is creepy and isolated. I’d hate to fault the film for casting on type, but maybe it might be nice to have been surprised a little bit more.
This is my main complaint with the film. I really dig these character pieces. The Mist proved that you could make this sort of film in this day and age without it being expected. The Mist was surprising despite being a sort of tried and true type of film. I’m more than aware that I shouldn’t have expected this to measure up to a Frank Darabont film and I don’t think I held to that sort of lofty standard. As it is, I just couldn’t find anything new that this film had to offer the sub-genre. Doing what has come before in a competent fashion is fine, but I can’t say that even in that way that it measures up.
That’s thinking with your deathtrap, Jiggsy!
If you’re hoping to find something violent or gory, this isn’t for you. It’s about an hour into the film before anything actually happens. This is a character piece with some gruesome moments. If you’re standards are suitably low, and want some comfort food, you might enjoy it. The actors are all good, but I can’t say they’re playing very interesting characters. With a better script and maybe a more interesting villain this might have worked a lot better for me. As it stands it’s a solid effort that is more than happy to sit in the middle of the pack.
The DVD includes a making of featurette which is the usual EPK stuff and runs about 15 minutes. There is a deleted scene included. Director’s commentary is also on the disc. Steven Hentges gives the usual background and covers stuff that is more succinctly covered in the making of. Oh and there are the trailers fro this and the rest of the Fangoria Frights series.