Questionable Millennial Horrors
by Kristin Battestella
These split decision frights from recent decades collapse under could have been good potential and pedestrian try hards – perfect examples of the ho hum, missing the mark horror run rampant in the early millennium.
All Soul's Day – Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator), Danny Trejo (Machete), and David Keith (Firestarter) anchor this 2005 Dia de los Muertos opening with Victorian looting, Mexico locales, immortal trickery, and human sacrifices. Ritual bones and mortar and pestle powders accent the church bells, graveyards, whispering old ladies, and Spanish references. Of course, the chanting shakes look more laughably orgasmic than frightful, and silly opening credits with bombastic music promise an epic instead of low budget horror. Fortunately, a colorful terracotta palette fittingly contrasts the mid-century teal as classic cars bring a Beaver family vacation with of the time errs – they're appalled these people don't speak English but they're going to learn Mexican and bribe the policía because that's how they do it here. This period dialogue, bullet bras, and boobs to match are off to a unique Victorian meets fifties horror start. However, the story reboots with contemporary on the road yuppies whom the sheriff warns of crazy stuff beginning on November 1 – such as car accidents, naked painted chicks in coffins, and cut out tongues. These xenophobic jerks insult every cultural aspect with unnecessary cursing, oral sex jokes, or movie references, leaving the script over-reliant on quips and clichés. All their movie knowledge yet no one recognizes the zombies? The bimbo who repeats everything isn't funny, and they debate about staying in their hotel after eating bones in the bread! Trite strobe visuals, pathetic sex scenes, and typical white guy with a gun mistakes dumb down the sinister masks, costumes, and siege attacks against zombies both shuffling and inexplicably swift, undead ninjas. The possibility of past guests descending into zombie chaos is more interesting, and off-putting racist jokes or stupid people suddenly becoming smart fighters don't make the audience care. The mature cast is wasted in favor of standard kid yarns while Aztec motifs, horror dioramas, and flashback explanations are traded for compromising lulls in the action. This modern encounter should have been a coda on the renewed ritual rather than the main story, and the dude who runs to the car's passenger side when he cold have gotten in the backseat driver door deserves to get eaten by zombies! Instead of embracing the not-Halloween atmosphere, contrivances, punchlines, and American attitude hinder the nasty good stuff. One has to ignore the unrealized promises or be able to laugh at everything as parody to fully enjoy this one.
Room 6 – Frightful Hospital nightmares of masked surgeons and aware as the scalpel cuts but immobilized patients open this 2006 in limbo experience starring schoolteacher Christine Taylor (Hey, Dude! people, Hey, Dude!), creepy kid Chloe Grace Moretz (Let Me In), and the mysterious Jerry O'Connell (Sliders). Our couple has moved in together but rushed proposals and reluctant answers escalate to car accidents with realistic shocks, injuries, and intensity. Retro taxis, old fashioned nurses uniforms, and a sickly green surreal add to the unfamiliar hospital fears and confusion aftermath. Overhead or looking up from the operating table camera angles increase the bizarre afoot – lots of blood needs to be drawn and disappearing patients aren't sure how they got there or why they are being treated. Resorting to pay phones or phone booths and avoiding suspicious bums increase the uneasy unknown as the accident survivors look for missing victims. Everyone seems to know their names and histories while freaky voice messages and blood splatter create disturbia. Unfortunately, from boo visions, dream splices, and false wake ups to rapid fire images, phantom bloody faces, and cryptic child warnings – a lot of unnecessary clutters the already weird, which world is real, obvious purgatory tone. Less is more, even if it means ditching the naughty naked nurses and interesting levitating demon church battles that should have happened much sooner if they were critical to the plot. A lack of modern technology leaves the research to an old lady in a dusty archive telling stories of fiery devil worship that should have been seen and not told in cliché explanations complete with background thunder and lightning. The ensemble struggles as the contrived connections, suspect characters, and required twists get silly, and the disjointed nature of the onscreen reality does not excuse the disjointedness in the film. While clearly about the titular past reconciliations, the finale strays with zombies, ridiculous flickering lights, and a nonsensical, realm mixing maze akin to a hospital themed house haunt. There are some quality, entertaining moments here, and this isn't as bad as I thought it would be – but the big reset button mood is no secret and this never cashes in on any of the potential intrigue.
Shackled – Very slow fading in and out credits spliced with rituals, black robes, and silver goblets open this 2010 Irish release. Misty beaches, crashing waves, and funerals add bleak mood, however amateur lighting and cinematography compromise the could be atmospheric visuals. A lamp without the shade would have illumed preposterously shadowed interiors – moments so dark the screen may as well be black – and not shooting cross coverage with a window on one side would have been tremendous. Isn't it standard knowledge to not shoot in front of a natural glare? While the accents will be tough to some, half the time viewers are missing what is said simply because our eyes need to repeatedly adjust to every dim or bright aside. Likewise, the acting is poor, with some players struggling over the family drama while others pretend at a crime thriller mumbling in a wannabe The Godfather. Though home invasion attacks contribute to the something suspicious afoot murder mystery, the shocks are confusing with too many lookalike men. Who is helping? Who is interfering? There's precious little time in these eighty-two minutes yet the muddled story is slow to get rolling with hokey dream sequences providing the requisite low budget strobe. While good, chanting and creepy masks can't save poor effects and attempted stylish but nonsensical, wasteful scenes that will be too unpolished for modern audiences accustomed to digital perfection. Fortunately, further dreams give more pieces to the puzzle alongside journals and reading aloud information filling in the blanks on this spooky mansion, asylum secrets, and hidden upbringing. The twists are interesting when they do come with shady characters, dead patients, creepy caretakers, cult abductions, and recreated rituals. I've seen worse, but ultimately, the confusion undoes the good shootouts and tense rescues. Between more vendetta mob plotting, paranormal pursuits, and the raw filmmaking, this picture never decides what it wants to be – and it could have been a freaky good if not scary story.
Thirst – Talk about a Y2K throwback! Lacey Chabert (Party of Five), Mercedes McNab (Buffy), and Brandon Quinn (Big Wolf on Campus) take their desert photoshoot elsewhere because “Death Valley has been done to death” and end up stranded in this 2010 parable. The dumb yuppies trespassing in an unforgiving locale premise has a seventies feeling, and the beautifully rustic scenery contrasts the prior poolside fun while bizarre dreams add pops of color to the fine sea of beige cinematography. This tale also stays mostly in one place with only a handful of characters facing survival adversity – car accidents, sans cell phone service, and no food but a can of mints. Sadly, lame dialogue, Valley speak or dude slang, and convenient morning sickness turn the plot into OMG! Unprepared and Unable to Save Themselves Millennials can't call 911! Viewers have time to know the characters, but they all have unlikable, dry personalities. Despite the onscreen countdown and bleak passage of time, dated pop music and obligatory driving montages don't help the odd pacing – by Day Two folks are debating a course of action, dying, and arguing about who is being more melodramatic or petty by not sharing the water bottle. Others slow sequences, however, are dense with hollow despair, as when reluctance to pee in the empty bottle is really a guy's hidden fear about his wife being the doctor breadwinner. Everybody's playing Survivorman yet they all get the science wrong and never attempt the obvious like larger signal fires, utilizing the crashed vehicle, or making any use of their cameras or filming gear. Injuries create false procedural tension ala Emergency! and our medical student is drilling holes into the skull while checking her textbook, no big. Although she's stuck in flip flops for the long walk, Lacey's somewhat symbolically named Noelle becomes a survival know it all who doesn't tell the macho guys drinking the snake's blood that they can cook it, eat it, and you know, not starve. By Day Four they drink their own urine – a dastardly twist complete with guitar strings crescendos as if this is the worst thing that has happened dun dun dun. A wild, implausible finale twist never capitalizes on the suggested wolf mysticism, leaving intriguing potential as a nothing more than a red herring in a script lacking the necessary psychological chill. This could have been more entertaining with sensible, worth rooting for adults able survive rather than one obnoxious mistake after another. Thanks to the too cool for school cast, we're always aware this is just hipsters in a horror movie – which works if you view this as a tour de force lampoon: cue “dramatic guitar instrumental” yes girl, stumble, crawl!