(Dinky spoilage ahead -- nothing major gets revealed, but be cautious anyway.)
Another day, another highly anticipated horror film goes pffft
. This one, in particular, is absolutely maddening -- by all rights, it should work. Occasionally it does work, beautifully. But it's pretty clear from the outset that Eli Roth is a first-timer, and an accumulation of novice mistakes sink this puppy.
The premise is simple and well-worn: College kids go to a remote backwoods cabin and encounter something nasty; fun with blood 'n' guts ensues. Certainly, the film wants to be a throwback, a homage/companion piece to some acknowledged horror classics. No film with cabin-based hijinx can escape comparisons to "The Evil Dead", naturally, and there's also visual references to "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Night of the Living Dead" (among others). Unfortunately for us, though, Roth's primary source of influence seems to have come from another heralded '70s monster -- "The Last House on the Left". To his credit, Roth imports the man's-inhumanity-to-man theme that gave "Last House" what small redeeming quality it had. It's significant to note that the loosing of the virus into the local reservoir could have been avoided had these five kids just helped the infected man who stopped at their cabin instead of chasing him away with baseball bats and torches and such. There's a neat parallel to that scene later when one of the kids becomes infected and drives into town looking for a doctor; the hostility he meets lies somewhere between callousness and just desserts. But Roth also nicked something else from "Last House", something a little more ill-advised: hick humor.
That's right, hick humor. Lots of it. In places it really shouldn't be. This movie is a tonal nightmare. It's bad enough that the five kids are jackasses for the first third of the film, thus inhibiting any kind of sympathising or identifying with them, but at least that can be overcome. But what are we to do with the other superfluous characters that populate this movie? Did we really need the friendly shopkeeper who may have uttered a racial slur, for example? Or the obnoxious skater with the big bag of weed? Or how about this film's most grievous offense -- the character of Deputy Winston, whose initial scene is so weird and off-putting that I figure it had to be a sick joke on the audience a la Tom Green. But no, Winston is meant to be taken seriously (or at least as seriously as his ridiculous character can be), and he has a major hand in the climax. Which is just wrong, if you ask me.
The biggest shame is that there's actually good stuff buried under this mountain of crap. When the film strips down to basics and actually concentrates on its main characters rather than these daffy asides, it's pretty good. There's some impressively nasty makeup FX and the latter half of the film (involving the rampaging virus, some angry rednecks and a very cheesed-off German Shepherd) works up a nice creepy vibe. The acting isn't that bad, either (though Joey Kern is essentially rehashing his sarcastic stoner kid from "Super Troopers"). I was especially impressed how the character of Bert slowly progressed from standard-issue-dim-jock-asshole into a sympathetic figure willing to stand by his friends. But after all that, we're left with about forty minutes of interesting stuff and fifty minutes of crap. (The last scene, in particular, is godawful.) I definitely think Eli Roth is a talented guy, but he's also seriously undisciplined. Next time, dude, concentrate on the gore and leave the hicks at home.