I don't write nearly as many reviews as I used to. I couldn't begin to tell you why this is, except that once I started covering horror news, I found I didn't have half as much time write longer pieces of film criticism. I still see a lot of movies, but I come from this school of movie reviewing that says if you can't spend a thousand words on a flick, then it's not worth doing. I'm working to get over this mental hurdle of mine, and I think the second step in the recovery process (after the first, which is admitting you have a problem) is stepping outside your comfort zone and confronting your issue head on. So, consider this piece on the three latest films I've watched not only an informative selection of mini-reviews, but also your chance to be my therapist (albeit without me paying you anything for your services--it's a win-win situation!). I'll try to keep the weeping and mother issues to a minimum.
Now that we've cleared that up, jump beyond the break to read my thoughts on Seventh Moon, The Butcher, and Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead. em>
Seventh Moon, directed by Eduardo Sanchez, 2008
Ten years ago, Eduardo Sanchez was a big deal. As co-director of The Blair Witch Project, he appeared to be destined for a career working on studio projects with gigantic budgets and big name stars. For some strange reason, this never came to pass. Instead, the filmmaker has spent the past decade making two small genre films, Altered and Seventh Moon. Altered, which was a story about alien abductions, was much better than I expected. Seventh Moon, on the other hand, is a more ambitious project, but that serves only to make its failings that much more profound.
Amy Smart and Tim Chiou play a young couple honeymooning in China when their tour guide (played by Dennis Chan, who some of you will undoubtedly remember from his work as Xian in the Kickboxer movies) gets lost in the countryside-at night. He leaves the car to ask for directions, but never returns. Smart and Chiou investigate, but when they discover the car they're riding is now covered with blood, they decide to cut and run. Doing so brings them face to face with the film's demonic creatures (who're released from Hell on the full moon of the seventh lunar month)-and what ensues could have been either a fun or serious fight for survival. Instead, it's just a jumbled mess of terrible cinematography, half-baked situations, and scenes cribbed from Neil Marshall's The Descent.
Smart is likeable in her role, but she's incapable of overcoming the shoddy cinematography (which relies on lots of handheld camerawork that's so shaky it makes Blair Witch feel like it was shot on a tripod bolted securely to an immovable object), poor lighting (watching some of the scenes in this film is like trying to watch television through a glass filled with ink in a room with no lights), and a plodding narrative. I still believe Sanchez is a director who can deliver the goods, but Seventh Moon is a definite blemish on his track record.
The Butcher, directed by Kim Jin Won, 2008
If you ever wondered what a movie based on Rockstar's controversial PlayStation 2 game Manhunt might have looked like, Kim Jin Won's The Butcher is likely as close as you'll ever get to your answer.
The South Korean flick doesn't feature the game's main characters, but it does borrow the snuff film element that propels the story, and more importantly, the ancillary character of Piggsy, who is arguably the most disturbing videogame character of all time. The Butcher never calls its pig-masked chainsaw-wielding madman Piggsy, but the parallel is pretty hard to miss for anyone who's played the game.
Won's faux snuff film reminded me a lot of an Asian version of August Underground, with its over-the-top gore, handheld camera work, and aesthetic decisions designed solely around creating the illusion that what's happening on camera is real. I could probably end this review right there, because most horror geeks have a definitive opinion on films like August Underground (either you love them or you don't), and it's unlikely that anything else I say will sway the opinion one way or the other. However, I like to be thorough.
The Butcher finds several people trapped in an abandoned building. They soon discover they're going to be the "stars" in a snuff film being shot on the location. What ensues is a fight for survival with some impressive gore and a philosophical tone best described as "nihilistic". Won adds to the ambiance by filming the entire movie through two cameras--each victim has one taped to their heads (to better capture their demise) and a static one that gives viewers the filmmaker's POV--and shooting the entire film without a musical soundtrack. I don't know that anyone other than the most clueless film viewers (I'm looking at you, Charlie Sheen) would buy that The Butcher is real, but fans of Asian horror cinema who remember the golden years before everything became about some pissed off teenaged ghost girl will likely find The Butcher to be a bloody stroll down memory lane.
Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead, directed by Declan O'Brien, 2009
I liked the first Wrong Turn a whole lot, and Joe Lynch's follow-up sequel has grown on me over time, but Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead is an absolutely irredeemable steaming pile of crap.
For this third outing, someone in charge has decided that mutant hillbilly Three-Finger should be the main antagonist. I'm not entirely sold on this decision, but it's a moot point anyway, since Three-Finger is barely in the film. Instead of focusing on inbred hillbilly cannibals stalking people through the woods, Wrong Turn 3 makes the unwise choice to spend most of its time focusing on the cops-and-criminals who're traipsing through Three-Finger's territory instead. If the film had anything resembling real characters, this might have been interesting (if for no other reason than because I might have actually felt something other than pure joy when one of them died horribly), but since calling these characters "cardboard" would be insulting to paper products, it becomes quickly apparent why this decision was a bad one.
The shame of this is that Wrong Turn 3 fools you in the early going. It opens with one of the most gratuitous boob shots in the history of cinema (literally like two minutes in, no less) and then unleashes some wholesale slaughter. That's great, except that the "wholesale slaughter" part highlights another of the film's greatest failings: it features truckloads of really shoddy CGI gore FX work. One would hope that at the very least a film of this nature would entertain through a number of gruesome set-pieces, but the film can't even get this right.
If it can't even get the gore right, then what reason is there for a film like Wrong Turn 3 to exist? None that I can think of, which probably serves as the prime example of why you shouldn't waste your time on the film in the first place.