More Rural and Residential Scares
by Kristin Battestella
Be it the middle of nowhere, isolated communities, or dangerous households, such environments are a big how about NO when it comes to these frights and thrillers.
The Commune – Celtic music and disturbing hospital room self-harm open this 2009 creeper before going back nine months (wink) to tell of an ingenue sent to visit her hippie zen dad. A DVD introduction with writer/producer/director/stripteasing co-star Elisabeth Fies (Scream Queen) is also included with commentaries and bonus scenes. However, there are no subtitles for the poor dialogue, and goofy dances, amateur acting, and modern style hurt the attempted seventies feeling. Hectic camerawork may echo the weird afoot, but the flashing dreams are jarring – naked meditations, awkward hugs, vagina symbols, and stag motifs are discomforting enough. Knockoff moon goddess robes, bright colors, hazy purple hues, tarot card warnings, and blended Celtic and Egyptian designs invoke a better heady. Wise viewers will recognize the free love gone wrong thanks to names like Pomegranate and Puck with bonus weak teen moments, guitar playing wannabes, “Frodo Rules” stickers, and a born on the solstice destiny. Everybody seems flaky or suspicious, but the chores and sustainable rustic wouldn't be so bad if not for, you know, voyeurs at the window, naughty moonlight shenanigans, waking naked, poolside weird, and visions of a potentially nasty past. There's enough skin, minimal technology, and a whiff of humor – “You reek of french fries!” – yet no real likable spark or personality. The ninety minutes moves as expected, remaining familiar despite increasingly dark visuals reflecting the would-be psycho-sexual throwback, rapacious rituals, and cult sacrifices. This picture seems mislabeled in its lack of suspense and gives itself away from the start. The grassroots production needed an outside perspective even if being filmed in a commune with family support adds to the weirdness at hand. Yes, it could have been better, but it's not bad if you're looking for something naughty, offbeat, and indie obscure.
Late Phases – A pleasant, mature ensemble including Ethan Embry (Can't Hardly Wait), Tina Louise (Gilligan's Island), Karen Lyn Gorney (Saturday Night Fever), Dana Ashbrook (Twin Peaks), Tom Noonan (The Monster Squad), and Lance Guest (The Last Starfighter) battle the werewolves afoot as blind veteran Nick Damici (We Are What We Are) moves to a fishy retirement community in this 2014 tale. Headstone shopping, senior discounts – it's expensive to die, and such issues acerbate the grief, discomfort, and difficulty adjusting to new surroundings nevermind ominous hooded visitors, suspicious animal attacks, or finding a gunsmith to make silver bullets no questions asked. Cranky encounters with nosy old ladies build humor and drama, investing the audience with a likable protagonist and quips about old people all smelling the same before dog door scares, shadows at the window, and werewolves breaking and entering. Granted, some will be put off by the hokey wolf suit. However, darkness, smart camera angles, and suspenseful canine versus lycanthrope action hide most of the monster design while good gore, echoes on the fallen telephone, and violent sounds on the other side of the wall add fear. Monthly preparations mount as neighborhood clues and a keen sense of smell could identify the wolfy during the countdown till the next full moon. The cops may be tired of answering elderly calls and family ditches their defenseless parents, but those left behind must grapple with religious redemption, Vietnam fallout, and haunting sacrifices – familiar topics not often discussed in horror. Yes, there are some flaws here with confusing logistics, poor editing, and weak effects. Fortunately, this grown up Silver Bullet and endearing last hurrah makes its scares and emotions felt with horror and mystery amid a refreshing real world honesty.
The Passion of Darkly Noon – The titular Brendan Fraser stumbles injured upon the unwittingly tempting Ashley Judd and her mute but charming boyfriend Viggo Mortensen in a surreal wood for this 1995 psychological thriller. While the DVD has low volume and an odd aspect ratio, there's a golden glow and crisp country white to match the pretty outdoors and should be quaint cottage. Minimal music parallels the natural cricket sounds and rainstorms – but the idyllic springs and hidden grotto are no match for ostracized Judd's tight tops, tiny dresses, and sweaty mellow. Extremist Ma and Pa picked my name from the Bible Fraser stutters over past cult persecutions. We don't see the trauma he recounts but immediately sense the disturbed attraction and late blooming Oedipal complex as “Lee” remains buttoned up in the heat and standoffish, not hearing the notion to leave strict religious groveling for not necessarily sinful ideals. There's much to explore, a fresh start on a new homestead, but he's too distracted by the nineties Skinamax. The naughty atmosphere rises with obsession turning into mea culpa harm, but Viggo (“He is Vigo! You are like the buzzing of flies to him!”) does well with no dialogue as the tensions mount. Backwoods colloquialisms add to the kooky yet friendly characters, but what's with the literally flaming, giant, glittering shoe floating down the river? A Circus, elephants, apples, religious stewing – viewers must be in the right mood to digest this slow burn symbolism. Here tell of who's crazy, a witch, or the monster of the woods adds to the secrets and rival testimonies. Is it an evil bewitchment when your husband has a heart attack over a tempting woman appearing in the forest? Fear mongering, curses for one's sins, justice, punishment – where's the happy medium beyond the escalating blood, barbed wire, and bizarre visions? The brooding drama becomes increasing unreliable as this purgatory cycle repeats, for each fanatical person entering this Eden-like grove ruins it a little more. A savage siege leads to red warpaint, hellish flames, and howling in a fine performance from Fraser, who is perhaps more known for his comedies rather than dramas. While this could have been totally horror or straight steamy, some serious, tender, or scary scenes are dated, laughable, and bemusingly infantile. Fortunately, this character study on passion as both sex and sacrifice is an interesting in limbo morality play with saucy fun and temptation extremes perfect for a late night trippy.