Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Movies: Idiotic Horror Double Feature

People watch horror movies expecting the characters to do something stupid - "Don't pick up the phone! Don't run upstairs!" But there are some horror flicks where the characters are so boneheaded that you want to hit them with a clue bat. Let's take a look at a couple examples:

The Strangers

The slasher flick has a long and storied tradition, but the home invasion aspect of the whole thing - that some weirdo has entered our residence to mess with us - still strikes a deeply American nerve. "The Strangers," directed by Bryan Bertino and starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman, is a stylish low-budget horror thriller with some good design choices and some awful writing.

I like the film's moody lighting, and the creepy (though eventually trite) use of old musical recordings in the soundtrack. Even the run-up to the actual horror is better than most - Tyler and Speedman are an estranged couple who find themselves seemingly beset by mysterious strangers. Who are they? What do they want?

Unfortunately, as soon as the actual horror starts, all semblance of intelligence goes out the window - characters start wandering around for seemingly no reason, and no one ever thinks to call the cops when things start falling apart. Mild spoiler: there's a particular sequence with a shotgun that seems ripped from gun control rhetoric. I guess it's hard to justify story-wise how some home invaders can stand up against a 12 gauge, but it doesn't give the screenwriter a license to chain improbabilities together.

Rating: 4/10

The Ruins

In "The Ruins," some twenty-something tourists decide to trek deep into the Mexican jungle to visit an ancient Mayan ruin:

Of course, any sane person would want to notify someone where they were going before a trip like that, and would ideally take supplies for hiking - water, food, first aid kit, etc. The scatterbrained tourists bring a couple bottles of water and a bottle of liquor. It only gets worse.

"The Ruins" is one of those on-the-cheap studio horror flicks that has a lot of good ideas but no place to put them. The main antagonist is a mystery until a good part of the film goes by, but let's just say that it's an interesting concept, executed well. I hope I'm not giving too much away by saying that there's a certain biohorror element going on here, almost like a poor man's Cronenberg.

So the effects are good, the gore is good, and the cinematography is good, especially considering the limited budget (heck, even the actors do a decent job with the material). If the script was better, if the characters weren't quite so stupid or quite so foolhardy, this could have been a fine horror flick, but as it stands I give it a--

Rating: 6/10


At 4:26 AM, Blogger James R. Rummel said...

I had a different impression of "The Strangers" than you did. It seems to me that, if you watch it carefully, there is an explanation for every decision the protagonists make. It might not be a very good explanation, but at least the scriptwriter/director tried.

But, even though someone tried to inject some logic behind the actions of the good guys, I found the villains to be ridiculous. They were ninjas! Ninjas with super powers!

How else could they get inside of a locked house, without breaking any windows or smashing a door lock? How else could they stand around, in plain view, always being able to keep the protagonists from noticing that anyone was there? How else could they subdue desperate people who were fighting for their very lives without breaking a sweat, or taking those idiotic masks off?

There needs to be tension and danger in horror films. This is usually achieved by having the good guys make moronic decisions that put them in harms way. This movie tried hard not to fall into that cliche, but that didn't alleviate the need for some form of physical jeopardy. So they made the bad guys some sort of unstoppable, untouchable, unseeable threat.

I still found ti to be as disappointing as most horror films, just in a different way.



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