Women in Perilous Places
by Kristin Battestella
Horror loves nothing more than placing women in danger. Will the girl power be bound by the usual horror cliches or can the ladies from this semi-recent trio of scares overcome the natural disasters, perilous places, and island risks?
Creep – Franka Potente (Run Lola Run) and the delightfully disturbing Sean Harris (Prometheus) anchor writer and director Christopher Smith's (Black Death) 2004 Tube terror amid slippery sewer tunnels and panning flashlights with surprising reveals. Although long credits, a prologue scare, and a colorful party create several restarts, there's already an innate sense of danger with a pretty woman left on the platform alone late at night. She's locked in the station – gates across the doors, still escalators, empty ticket booths. Mysterious echoes, screams, hidden panels, and underground access build fear as disappearances, rats, and maze-like corridors add to the harassment and assaults. Claustrophobic surroundings and confined movements lead to apparent safety on the next train, but the homeless alcoves and search for the control room are to no avail. There's nowhere to run, but security camera flashes and fuzzy black and white footage breaking the solitary point of view emphasize the uh ohs while gory slashes and terrible lashes heard on the speakers create red blood trails across white floor tiles. Panic and heavy breathing are enough without brief herky jerky running camera perspectives thanks to high voltage passageways, chases on the train tracks, ladder climbs, and nasty swims with bodies in the water. The gray claws, amphibian slender, and deformed scaly of our subterranean culprit are well done with the greenish hues and underwater cages contrasting bright flashlight beams. It's cold and dirty in this old medical station – harpoons, dolphin sounds, and specimens in jars accent the gruesome with hints of procedures gone wrong, playing doctor, and bone saws. While mostly what you don't see horror rather than torture porn, some audiences expecting a scary explanation may not like the slightly fantastic turn. A lack of subtitles can make the assorted accents difficult, and background answers storyboarded but not filmed would have helped deepen the statements on sex, drugs, abortion, and homelessness. At times, the tunnel pursuits become a house of horrors room to room with assorted scary themes, and internal logic bends as needed. Couldn't she use her lighter to set off a sprinkler or cause fiery damage to call for help? Why doesn't she initially utilize emergency call boxes and cameras that are apparently everywhere? Fortunately, that skewed realism taps into the ugly visage and unlikable bitchy at work with doubts about the mimicry and where the audience's sympathy should lie.
A Lonely Place to Die – Beautiful but perilous vistas, thunder, and misty but dangerous mountains – a risky place to whip out the camera! – open this 2011 hikers meet kidnappers parable starring Melissa George (Triangle), Alec Newman (Dune), and Ed Speleers (Downton Abbey). Eagles and aerial views quickly degrade into mistakes, hanging frights, and upside down frames. Ropes, gear, risk – people cause disaster among the otherwise still, respected beauty where they aren't supposed to be resulting in cuts, scrapes, and falls. Weather interferes with their plans to climb the next killer facade, but wishing one could paint the lovely forest and rocky scenery uncovers mysterious echoes from an ominous pipe and a trapped little girl. The hikers split up – several take the longer, safer route back to the nearby town – however there's a more difficult path called Devil's Drop that one couple brave climbing to reach help faster. Unfortunately, short ropes and sabotaged equipment create shocking drops and fatal cliffs. They aren't wearing helmets so we can see the heroics, but no gloves against the sharp rocks, rough trees, and burning ropes, well that's as dumb as not having a satellite phone. Unnecessary fake out dreams, annoying shaky cams, and distorted points of view detract from both the natural scary and the mystery of who else may be out there – fear on people's faces is always more powerful than effects created for the audience. Guys with guns encountering more crazed men all in black with yet more kidnappers in pursuit also break the isolated situation too early. Unknowns snipers would better layer the environmental fears, raging river perils, terrain chases, and gunshots. Attacks from an unseen culprit are much more terrifying than knowing what poor shots they are even up close and with scopes. Injuries, screams, thuds, and broken limbs provide real menace, and we really shouldn't have met the killers until they are over the victims asking them how much the price of their nobility hurts or what good compassion did for them today. Although double crossing criminals playing the mysteries too soon compromises the good scares and surprise fatalities, fiery sunset festivals progress the mountain isolation to a ritual village suspicious. Fireworks and parades mingle with hog masks and alley chases – again suggesting people are where they shouldn't be as the hiking dangers become congested public confrontations. While the crooks' conspiracies get a tad ridiculous when innocent bystanders are killed in plain sight, this is a unique natural horrors cum kidnapping thriller remaining tense and entertaining despite some of those shout at the TV flaws.
A Split Decision
Black Rock – Childhood friends Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush) and Lake Bell (Boston Legal) revisit a Maine island with co-star/director Katie Aselton (The League) in this 2012 survival tale from writer Mark Duplass (of the 2014 Creep). Hip music, packing inventories, and crass jokes join the scenic drive to the horrors, but one has invited the other two ladies without telling each one, lies about having cancer, and admits she wants an we're all dying anyway last hurrah. Fortunately, the speedboat, cold water, and barren coast are already chilling as the women revisit a childhood map with old forts and time capsules. There are no distinguishing characteristics such as jobs or even last names, but it's easy to see why the two similar brunettes dislike each other – none of them really seem like friends but they go along with their pushy blonde leader anyway. Despite tough hiking and mosquito complaints one brunette can't get over the other sleeping with her douche boyfriend six years ago. They shout and nearly come to blows as the blonde between them insists she isn't taking sides just as she confers with one and not the other. Instead of discussing their problems, the conversation is of men and childhood lesbian crushes amid try hard cursing every other word. Of course, there are three suspicious dishonorably discharged soldiers turned hunters on this island and the women are obviously their game. Fireside flirtations with drunken blow job talk reveal the once shy brunette as a tease liking attention who thinks a make out session will suffice. Unfortunately, these guys don't play by the rules or take no for an answer, and assault becomes a typical plot point as each trio falls into bullying peer pressure from its strong arming leader. Our sexually dominate alpha male has a meek black follower and his white pal is perhaps so in love with his commander that he is impotent without the rifle he uses against the women. Rather than exploring catty women snapping in the isolated horror, men hit and bind them while the helpless girls say they fear rape – putting the sexual violence back in the minds of the weak trying to prove they are real men. Though directed by a woman with an understanding of shit men, this is written by her husband as a male fantasy. These women are called cunt slut bitch and said to be getting their deserve symbolic impalings and kicks in the crotch for denying the superior war-fighting male his pleasure. Graphic gunshots, action filming, and chases in the woods are well done, and up close camerawork draws in the fear or intimidation. However, the mixed message on whether the violent men or the teasing woman is at fault takes away from the tense women's point of view. The jealous blonde insists they can't escape and dislikes her previously at odds pals working together when they don't need her cowardly to fight back – which becomes more male viewer titillation as the lookalikes strip off their wet clothes. Panties and all in the itchy woods with killer men in pursuit! The brash gal with the masculine nickname quivers as her once meek pal slaps her, and the cheek to cheek, heavy breathing, and hair pulling is almost sex scene coy. They walk around in the woods naked, bonding while making spears, yet for all the girl power, this becomes less about defending oneself over an assault and more about two women psyching each other up to slit a guy's throat. Instead of a horror movie by women, for women, this becomes a bizarre he said, she said. It's worth a viewing discussion, but it skews toward male tropes disguised as a women's piece.