Thursday, September 2, 2010

Short Film: Wild Oysters (USA, 1941)



Charles R. Bowers is a name mostly forgotten in his native homeland, the USA, seldom found in any tract on the history of US American live-action or cartoon comedy shorts of the silent era and early talkies. In France, on the other hand, he always enjoyed a (very, very) limited amount of recognition, if only because he was championed by Surrealists such as the painter André Breton. As of recent, Bowers has slowly begun gaining belayed recognition as an inventive if forgotten “before his time” filmmaker; his known surviving films can now even purchased as an extremely expensive DVD collection from 2004 and can also be found on diverse other compilations.
Born Jun. 6, 1887, in Cresco, Iowa, Bowers claimed to have spent two years in a circus when kidnapped by one as a child; this—along with such other alleged temporary jobs as bronco busting and performing vaudeville—would, perhaps, explain the nimble acrobatic abilities he occasionally displays in some of his few surviving live films done for R-C Pictures and Educational Pictures.
Called by some "a poor man's Buster Keaton", the inferred insult is unjust: aside from the fact that Keaton had a totally different screen presence and was less coarsely slapstick, Keaton's films, while notable better produced and poetic, never featured such outrageous surrealism as seen in the outtakes of the short silent There It Is found here. (Due to its "cultural, aesthetic, or historical significance", There It Is was named to the National Film Registry by the Librarian of Congress in 2004.
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Prior to his one-of-a-kind slapstick shorts combining live action and stop-motion animation, Bowers also made an untold number of animation films while he was in charge of the Mutt & Jeff animated shorts for Barré Studios, where Bowers’ creative book-keeping eventually resulted in the studio’s closure. The excellent website Bright Lights Film Journal suggests that “Bowers's own personality—his loose relationship with truth, and the cruelty evident in some of his practical jokes—may have helped sabotage his film career, as they did his earlier career as an animator.” (Full BLFJ article on Bowers here.)
In any event, by the early 30s, Bowers was pretty much out of the film business, living in Wayne, New Jersey as a newspaper cartoonist for The Newark News (amongst others) and, allegedly, writer/illustrator of children’s books. Prior to becoming seriously ill in 1941, he did only three more films, all stop-motion. On Nov 26, 1946, Charles R. Bowers died in Paterson, New Jersey, where he was laid to rest in the city’s Cedar Lawn Cemetery.

Of the Bowers films found on the web, the best to be found in its complete form is his last, Wild Oysters (1941). Like many of his films, it is hard to really say that Wild Oysters is funny. It is technically amazing and visually astounding, but the laughs are few and light and mostly of a mean streak. But for all its faults as a less-than-amusing “comic short”, even today, 69 years after it was made, Wild Oysters is a visual mind blower.

Zombie Strippers! (USA, 2008)




"Badgers? Badgers? We don't need no stinking badgers!"
Paco (Joey Medina)

No artsy-fartsy and oblique title here—this exploitation flick says what it offers and offers exactly what it says: Zombie Strippers! So, if you're into strippers and like zombies movies, this is the film for you—but if either ain't your bag, you should leave this film on the DVD store shelf.
Zombie Strippers! was written and directed by Jay Lee, a relatively unknown name but one that seems to hold promise. In 2006 he offered the world The Slaughter (2006 / trailer), a low budget B-film that took one of the world’s oldest plots—the same one, essentially, as found in The Hazing (2004 / trailer), Hell Night (1981 / trailer), Demon Slayer (2003 / trailer) and thousands of other films—and added enough cheap gore, humor and breasts to make the film fun. He more or less does the same thing in Zombie Strippers! and once again the final product is a well-shot and relatively well-acted (in a campy way) B-flick with no pretensions that never overstays its welcome and offers a lot of laughs, gore and plastic tits. Camus it ain't, but fun it is…
OK, the flick's opening is a bit dated already, but it is nonetheless still good for a giggle. In the not so distant future—or in a parallel universe, take your pick—President Bush has just been elected for the fourth time (with Arnie as the Vice Pee) and the USA is at war with, well, about everyone who ain't a Republican, and some who are (Alaska, for example). The ever-increasing number of soldiers needed to protect the American Way of Life is excelled only be the ever-decreasing numbers of soldiers available, so in the conservative nest of Sartre, Nebraska, a secret government labia—I mean, lab—is developing a "chemo-virus" to reanimate the dead so as to have a never-ending supply of patriots for the fronts. Of course, as to be expected in a government project, things go S.N.A.F.U. and the Z Squad, special military unit, is called in to clean the mess. When the odd-man-out of the unit, Byrdflough (Zak Kilberg of Sweet Insanity [2006 / trailer]), is bitten, he goes on the run so as not to be terminated and takes refuge in an illegal, underground strip joint run by Ian (Robert Englund, slumming it and having fun). After turning, he bites the star stripper Kat (Jenna Jameson, so lifted and shifted and full of plastic that she almost looks like a zombie before she puts on the make-up) and before you can say "lap dance" the place is full of super zombie strippers pulling in the cash (and filling the basement with zombified customers). One by one the remaining strippers are confronted with the decision of whether to go with the flow or not, but then inter-zombie stripper rivalry results in the release of the imprisoned dead males and the shit hits the fan…
The story, like the film, is hardly intelligent, but then Zombie Strippers! isn't aiming at the intellect. Jay Lee uses his slim plot as an excuse for a never-ending flow of laughs, gore of variable quality and dancing naked babes with bodaciously bulbous but mostly stationary boobs—and in all three aspects, he deals a Straight Royal Flush. The concept of "thinking" zombies might be blasphemy within the realm of the traditional zombie flick, but it fits logically when the early explanation of the development of the virus as explained by the woman scientist is kept in mind (at least it does all the way up to the big climax, when some zombies that should be able to "think" don't and one who shouldn't does).
Love that donkey, by the way—but not as much as the babe who plays Berenge (Jeannette Sousa), whose unnecessary demise does end the film on a bad note.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Tracker (USA, 2000)


Also (un)known under its Japanese title Blood Chase, The Tracker is pretty much what you might expect of the directorial debut of Jeff Schechter, the man who penned such thrilling, violent direct-to-video films as Dennis the Menace Strikes Again! (1998 / trailer), Care Bears: Journey to Joke-a-Lot (2004 / trailer) and Care Bears: Big Wish Movie (2005 / trailer)—in other words, it ain’t all that good. The Tracker is predictable and by-the-numbers, with a narrative that is less a story than a series of predictable, generic scenes with predictable, generic characters strung together so as to have a start, middle and finish. The film is, perhaps, comparable to a scentless fart: you might know that it’s there, but you won’t really notice it. Obviously inspired by Rush Hour (trailer), which hit the screens two years earlier in '98 (and in turn was simply a rehash of any number of thousands of mismatched buddy films), The Tracker tells the tale of two mismatched dudes that can’t stand each other but slowly gain respect for one another and end the film as deep-throating lovers. (Na, not really, but the last bit might have made the film a tad more interesting.) In truth, the two never even kiss, and they don't gain respect for each other as much as they do re-gain respect: the two are former best-buds long estranged.
The ex-buds are played by Casper van Dien, "the biggest named B-movie star that you've almost certainly never heard of" (according to The Unknown Movies Page) as Connie Spears, a former NY cop and current LA tracker, and Russell Wong as Rick Tsung, the brother of Kim Chang (Lexa Doig of Jason X [2001 / trailer]), the babe who broke Connie's heart by moving to New York and marrying the Paul Chang (George Chiang), the son of a Chinese Mafioso named, appropriately enough, Mr. Chang (Zenhu Han). When Paul is deflated by machine-gun-wielding killers and Kim kidnapped, Rick convinces his reluctant ex-pal to fly back to NYC to help him find his sister. In NYC the constantly squabbling pair hire Carmen (Françoise Robertson), a spirited Yellow Cab driver who has a hard punch and good aim with machine guns but can't use a Zippo as their driver, and begin to investigate amidst the gang war that the killing/kidnapping has ignited between the local Russian and Chinese mafias. Along the way Jack 'Chick' Cicollini (Jason Blicker), a wheelchair-bound cop and Connie’s former partner, joins the team; and as love blossoms between Chick and Carmen, Connie tracks the bad guys down….
That the film is as uninteresting as it is, is almost odd, for the guy who wrote The Tracker, Robert Geoffrion, is not incapable of taking generic plots and making them entertaining. He helped pen the generic but entertaining Dolph Lundgren flick The Peacekeeper in 1997 (trailer), and in 1996 he spit out the wonderfully deadpan and funny take on the stereotypical mismatched male-female buddy flick, Hollow Point (trailer). It would seem that by The Tracker he was drying up... which might explain why he doesn’t have a credit listed on imdb after 2001.
As mentioned earlier, The Tracker is comparable to silent, scentless fart. As such, one must add, it doesn't totally stink. True, it is generic from start to end, and Van Dien is an oddly repulsive and unlikeable actor this time around for someone that looks so much like a living, moving, blond-haired Ken doll, but the film is in focus and relatively well edited and shot, so even if every twist of the plot can be seen miles away—including the “big” one at the end—The Tracker manages to fly by without being too painful, no matter how much of the supposed humor falls flat. But even if this scentless fart is not a stinking turd, there is no real reason to watch it voluntarily when there are so many better (or far more entertainingly worse) films out there.
The Tracker is simply unmemorable, from start to finish, and as such really deserves to remain as unknown as it is.

Web of Death / Wu du tian luo (Hong Kong, 1976)




Many, many years ago in LaLa Land (that’s LA, for those of you who don’t know), back in the days of spiked hair, pointy shoes, padded shoulders and torn sweatshirts worn inside-out (early to mid 1980s, in other words), it was still possible to go to the real grindhouse theaters where the films being shown inside weren’t always the ones up on the marquee outside. The Casino on Broadway (R.I.P.) did that occasionally, as did all the grimy Asian-run porno holes on Main Street the few times I checked them out, but the place where I went the most often and that did it most often was a now long-gone hole in the wall a few doors down from Langer’s Deli on Alvarado between 7th and 8th Streets in the Westlake district.
The films, usually with Spanish subtitles, seldom matched the names outside, and one had as good of a chance to see some second-run exploitation film as an obscure Bavarian lederhosen comedy or a scratchy Chinese costume flick. (Probably the oddest combo I caught there was Pyun’s The Sword and the Sorcerer [1982 / trailer] with, I think, Beim Jodeln juckt die Lederhose [1974].) It was there that I was introduced to the wonders of the Shaw Brothers, in copies so scratched and torn that they remained un-understandable no matter what language they were in. In all truth, I was less than impressed by them and for years they stood alongside Bavarian lederhosen films as my least favorite film genre.
But whereas the lederhosen films still leave me cold, over the years, through the experience of the later Hong Kong costume classics of the late 80s/early 90s—Chinese Ghost Story I (1987 / trailer) & II (1990 / trailer), Bride with White Hair (1993 / trailer), etc.—and the occasional incredibly strange oddity—Miracle Fighters (1982), Mr Vampire (1985 / trailer)—I have warmed up substantially to Hong Kong Chop-Chop Suey and, in turn, the Shaw Brothers. Particularly now that so many of their films have been digitally cleaned and made available on DVD, I have to say, the Shaw Brothers are awesome.
Take The Web of Death, for example, currently available as a digitally remastered DVD. Little did I know that in 1976 Mario Bava did a job for hire for the Shaw Brothers…. OK, maybe he didn’t, but director Chu Yuan, a man well-known to Shaw Brothers and classic Wuxia film fans, does a damn fine imitation of the Italian master in this film, filling the screen with wonderful shades of vibrant, deep color (mostly reds and greens) and wafts of fog. The colors and wonderfully intricate artificial sets of the film also bring to mind the films of Hammer, for the interiors of The Web of Death have a richness of detail and scope found in the best studio-bound set pieces of the great house of horror (far more so than the Shaw Brothers & Hammer joint production of 1974, the cheesy but fun Seven Brothers Meet Dracula [trailer]). Sure, the special effects of The Web of Death are often cheap and tacky, particularly whenever the spider with its elephant roar shows up, but for that there are some cool acid-bath deaths, spurting blood, fun (but too few and too short) fight scenes and enough plot twists and intrigue for a dozen films. Indeed, the plot of the film is almost Shakespearean in its intricacies, side tangents and sheer breadth of characters. There are dozens of characters of differing importance that show up just long enough to move the plot (and plot tangents) forward and then disappear again until needed again later—or to die. Good and bad characters come and go, as do clans and clan leaders and disciples, not to mention identities and loyalties and love and betrayal; for much of the film one can’t help but wonder how all the narrative strands are ever going to mesh together into a coherent whole—but they do.
The Web of Death starts in the middle of a fight in what must be somewhere in the distant past; this brief scene serves to show just how deadly the "Five Venom Spider" is in full Ed-Wood-like glory. Then the film moves forward to some other time in still-ancient China, to a meeting of the five clans of the Five Poison Web, headed by Wang Hsieh (Ku Feng), the clan leader of the Scorpion Clan. Liu Shen (Lo Lieh, who taught Dr. Evil how to laugh diabolically), the leader of the Snake Sect, wants to regain the respect of all other clans by using the Five Venom Spider to win the next boxing meeting, but Wang Hsieh refuses to bring the deadly, virtually unstoppable weapon out of its hiding place of the past centuries. Little does he know that Liu Shen is bonking his concubine (Angela Yu Chien) and that the two plan to dispose him. Liu Shen spreads the rumor that the Five Venom Spider has reappeared, upon which the other clans send out the young disciple , Fei Ying-hsiung (played by Yueh Hua) to find it. He crosses paths with a martial-arts-gifted bum who, unknown to him, is the daughter of Wang Hsieh (Ching Li). Before long, as clans die and drop along the way, both his brother (Wong Chung) and a female co-clan member (Lily Li) who’s hot for him are also on the trail of the Spider. A spider’s web of love, death, betrayal, death, marriage, death, loyalty, death and tragedy follows…
The Web of Death is a fanciful wuxia film with shades of horror, complicated and over the top, both fun and tragic in its narrative developments. It is not the most action-packed of the genre, but it is nonetheless often thrilling and enthralling. The occasional unintentional giggle is instigated—particularly the bit about an obvious girl dressed as a boy that no one notices is a girl and whenever the spider goes into action—but the film never bores, and it has far more highlights than low points. The camera work is often startlingly fluid and stylized (and, once or twice, amazingly unfocused), as are some of the finer set pieces (such as the Indiana Jones like episode in the Five Venom Tomb), and while some out there say the film is not the best the Golden Age of Flying Chinese sock-em chop-em costume “dramas”, it is nonetheless one of the better ones easily available.
The Web of Death
gets a hearty recommendation from us as yet another fine film to waste your life watching.

Turistas (USA, 2006)




Don't take this personal, okay? If it makes you feel any better, please know that I'm doing this for a good cause.
Zamora (Miguel Lunardi)

Actor/director John Stockwell has been quoted as having said that "[Screenwriting is] a lonely, miserable profession—but the pay can be okay and you get to spend a lot of time in Hawaii." Well, directing is not a lonely profession—what, with the cast and crew and all the rest—but the pay is probably OK and, if you’re lucky, you might just get to spend your time making your film in someplace like Brazil. And that is surely the only reason that this film, yet another mindless example of US-fueled xenophobia caught on film, was made: Stockwell and others involved wanted an excuse to get paid while catching a tan and drinking pina coladas. Whether the film they made was good or not was definitely a secondary consideration…
Turistas rehashes the basic plotline used by Eli Roth the year earlier for the far more offensive Hostel (2005): in short, privileged airheads are no longer safe in foreign countries. This time around, however, it isn’t vegetarian Dutch men who eat with their fingers that the never-to-be college students have to worry about, but rather South American doctors supposedly sick of their lands being drained by the richer occidental lands of leaches.

Run right now. This guy has plans for you and your friends and his plans are pretty fucking elaborate and pretty fucking fucked. So if I were you, I'd just run.
Nurse (Julia Dykstra)

Unlike in Hostel, where the three main characters are unlikable dickheads, the endangered westerners of Turistas are a mostly likable pack. Handsome, level-headed Alex (Josh Duhamel) is accompanying his hot sister Bea (Olivia Wilde) and her hot, happy-go-lucky girlfriend Amy (Beau Garrett of Unearthed [2007 / trailer]) through Brazil when they barely survive a well-filmed bus wreck (undoubtedly the carcass of that bus is still rusting away today deep down in the gorge of some beautiful coastal ridge of Brazil). Joining up with a babe named Pru (Melissa George of 30 Days of Night [2007 / trailer]) and a couple of fun loving lads named Liam (Max Brown) and Finn (Desmond Askew, who played one of the cannibalistic mutants in The Hills Have Eyes [2006 / trailer]), the group stumbles upon a dream beach with a tropical bar full of friendly Brazilian fuckables. But paradise turns into paradise lost when they awaken from a drugged sleep the next morning to find all their money and belongings gone. Their reception at the nearby village is less than friendly, and act of stupidity on the part of Liam wins them no additional popularity. Saved through the intervention of the seemingly friendly local dude Kiko (Agles Steib), they follow him deeper and deeper into the jungle to the supposed safety of his uncle named Zamora (Miguel Lunardi)...
The message of Turistas, if there is one, is less "American go home" than "American don’t leave your homeland"—the basic lesson of so many an urban legend dealing with people’s experiences abroad. Indeed, although the “nasty others” concept is lifted from Hostel, the nasty intentions of the nasty others in Turistas are a simple riff of an old timer amongst urban legends: organ harvesting. But unlike in the urban legend, in which the victim awakens later in the hotel without a kidney, in Turistas the victim no longer awakens anywhere...

The whole history of our country is taking you from us and our land – rubber, sugar, gold. And from our bodies – for slaves, for sex. And now, for – for our insides.
Zamora (Miguel Lunardi)

(Spoilers.) Turistas is well shot, the scenery fabulous, the main characters good looking and (due to the inordinate amount of time given to character development for a film as slim as this one) relatively likable. Still, they are all dimwitted idiots, and particularly the long scenes in which they follow Kiko like well-trained dogs (despite the fact that they first met him at beach-side bar where their troubles started) leave the viewer cringing in exasperation at their brainlessness. The horror in the film kicks in too late and is too little, and the film seldom reaches any level of tension or suspense, but at least the intermittent but effective moments of blood and violence are not as pointlessly or nihilistically sadistic as in Hostel or the endless Saw series. Again, as in so many of these cheesy films, a gun in the hand is about as useful as a water balloon because no one can hit the side of a house. The resolution is particularly unbelievable in many ways: the long underwater cave scenes in which no one drowns, the sister that stops her bro from the final act despite having herself killed to survive, the continual crossing of paths of the hunted and hunters in the final chase, the change of attitude bad guy's minion, the bad guy’s obvious supercilious distaste of the native races despite his supposed altruistic reasons for his actions, etc., etc.
In short: Turistas is perhaps good to look at but it is not very good, lacking either tension or true scares, and it functions better as a tax write off and excuse for a film team to take a vacation in Brazil than it does as a real film.

Dante 01 (France, 2008)




When the titles of the modern French classics Delicatessen (1991 / trailer) and La cité des enfants perdus / The City of Lost Children (1995 / trailer) come up in conversation, the director that comes to mind is usually Jean-Pierre Jeunet, a man with a quirky, magical eye who has gained and maintained international attention and repute through the above two films and, respectively, the black comedy Alien: Resurrection (1997 / trailer), the two love stories Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain (2001 / trailer) and Un long dimanche de fiançailles (2004 / trailer), and his latest exercise in free-form, phantasmagorical aesthetics and whimsy, Micmacs à tire-larigot (2009 / trailer). For the most part, it has long been forgotten that the first two films mentioned—Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children—are not solo directorial projects: both films were directed by Jeunet and another man, one Marc Caro. But unlike Jeunet, Caro has been relatively inactive in film and thus slipped into obscurity; since 1995 he has only made one short film, the sci-fi dildo fest Exercise in Steel (1998), and finally, in 2008, his first solo feature-length film, the sci-fi Dante 01. Despite the long pause between feature-length projects, Caro's initial two co-directorial turns were enough to put Dante 01 at the top of A Wasted Life's must-see list once the film was stumbled upon—regrettably, the must-see turned out to be a why-did-we-bother.
Co-scripted by Pierre Bordage, who also supplied the screenplay to the 2007 French sci-fi mental mindfuck Eden Log (2007 / trailer), Dante 01 is also a major mental mindfuck, if not a fuck-up, and as interesting as it is in parts on a visual level the film leaves behind highly dissatisfying aftertaste and feeling of dissatisfaction. The basic set up is intriguing if beyond believability even for a sci-fi film—what major corporation, no matter how rich or how unethical, is going to build a huge space-station nuthouse two years out into space for a total of seven inmates?—but once the plot gets going it seems to go nowhere before ending in a mythically religious manner that only the most drug-addled Pope could ever have contemplated, an ending that seems as rushed as it does forced despite all the possible clues that might maybe possibly perhaps sort of hint at the eventual destiny of the character called Saint Georges (a buff Lambert Wilson [of Catwoman (2004 / trailer), The Belly of an Architect (1987 / trailer) and Babylon A.D. (2008 / trailer)]). For awhile the film does keep the viewer intrigued, for the most part due to the excellent color scheme and captivating visuals, but about the time the nutcase hacker uses a primitive computer to hack into the main computer (visualized by those typically retarded computer graphic onscreen puzzles—this one complete with little alien heads interspaced in the squares—that appear only in films and never on real computers), the viewer has pretty much stopped contemplating what the filmmaker might be trying to say and, if not already asleep, is simply wondering when the film will end.
And end it does, in such a way that will raise jeers in even the most deeply sleeping viewer—both due to the sudden cheapness of the overall look of the final scene and due to the sledge-hammer religious symbolism. But then, the whole film bathes in sledge-hammer pretentiousness—the pubescent philosophical voiceover and mythology-derived names of the characters being two of the most glaring examples.

Two new inhabitants arrive at Dante 01, a galactic loony bin rotating around the molten planet of Dante: Elisa (Linh Dan Pham), the ethically dubious representative of the financing pharmaceutical firm and most attractive bald babe since Persis Khambatta in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979 / trailer), and an unnamed and unknown sole survivor found on an intergalactic ship full of dead people that is christened Saint Georges (after the tattoo on his shoulder) by the other prisoners. In no time at all the political stability within the two social subsets of the space station begins to fall apart as Elisa dethrones the head doctor Perséphone (Simona Maicanescu of Splice [2009 / trailer]) to do less-than-ethical medical experiments on the imprisoned “guinea pigs” involving nanotechnology and St. Georges inadvertently splits the prisoners into two camps by performing what must be called miracles, included that of bringing Moloch (François Hadji-Lazaro of Dellamorte Dellamore [1994 / trailer]) back from the dead. With incredible stupidity, the secret mechanisms of co-director Charon (Gérald Laroche of Maléfique [2002 / trailer]) unknowingly give Attila (Yann Collette of Immortel [2004 / trailer]), a psychotic computer genius, the chance to doom the space station, which he does by programming it to crash into Dante. Is there any hope left?
Dante 01 is a film full of platitudes sugar-coated with visual verve, but all the sheen in the world doesn't make junk food any more palatable. The plot gets lost in the symbolism, while the fine camera work and nifty visuals fail to make the story either all that comprehensible or interesting, much less give it direction. The final scene clarifies everything like a sledgehammer against the head, but the resolution only serves to make the film all the more disappointingly pretentious (not to mention to also make the painful and tragic death of César [Dominque Pinon of Diva (1981 / trailer), La lune dans le caniveau (1983 / short scene) and virtually any film directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet] all the more unnecessary).
On the other hand, if you like Eden Log, you’ll probably like Dante 01, too.

Gone (Australia, 2007)



Two years after Greg McClean’s depressing and bloody feature-length debut Wolf Creek (2005 / trailer), a film of innocents vs. psycho in the Australian outback, Ringan Ledwidge brought out his own feature-length debut film of innocents vs. psycho in the Australian outback, Gone. But unlike Wolf Creek, which garnered both good and bad pressRoger Elbert famously gave it zero stars for being a film made only "to establish the commercial credentials of its director by showing his skill at depicting the brutal tracking, torture and mutilation of screaming young women"—and a lot of attention, Gone sank into instant obscurity. Well, that’s what happens when you do away with the brutal tracking, torture and mutilation of screaming young women (but for a few, final minutes) and instead concentrate on building dread, psychological terror and the feeling of unavoidable doom.
The tale told in Ringan Ledwidge's Gone, written by Andrew Upton (otherwise known as Mr. Cate Blanchett) and James Watkins (who upped the brutality ante in both his screenplay for the unnecessary The Descent: Part 2 [2009 / trailer] and his own self-written directorial debut Eden Lake [2008 / trailer]), is yet another film ala Hostel (2005 / trailer) or Turistas (2006 / trailer) that warns the young adults of today against traveling to far places—only this time it isn’t the locals that are the threat, but rather a fellow traveler.
Alex (Shaun Evans of Dread [2009 / trailer]) has flown to Sidney from Liverpool to join his gal Sophie (Colin Farrell's delicious ex-wife Amelia Warner, of Quills [2000 / trailer], Nine Lives [2002 / trailer] and The Echo [2008 / trailer]) in Byron Bay for a cross-country, backpacking-by-bus trip. Delayed in Sydney, he hooks up with the friendly US American Taylor (Scott Mechlowicz of Mean Creek [2004 / trailer]) and, after a night of drunken carousing, awakens in a sleeping bag with a strange gal just as Taylor snaps a Polaroid of them “as a souvenir”. Taylor offers to drive Alex to Byron Bay, and before Alex knows what’s happening he and Sophie are driving through the outback with Taylor as a traveling trio. Three’s company quickly changes into three’s a crowd as the increasingly odd Taylor begins to turn the psychological screws so as to break up the couple and get into Sophie’s shorts...
Gone is anything but a mindless bloodfest and concentrates instead on the increasing dread instigated by the growing feeling of unavoidable disaster arising from both the film’s languid photography of the landscape and its overt symbolism of isolation and death. Many of the apparent plot holes of the narrative are resolved by the deleted scenes, most of which shouldn’t have been cut as they make certain sequences of events far more understandable. (The doctor that was said to have been called at one point but that never shows up and is never referred to again remains an obvious flaw expedient to the plot development—as is Alex’s willingness to open doors.) An interesting play of viewer’s sympathies is caused by Alex’s increasing assholism as his paranoia rises, causing him to be less likable for the audience even as the likable-looking Taylor’s psychopathic nature becomes more apparent. An incriminating Polaroid aside, the inability that Alex and Sophie have in communicating is also slightly less than believable; for a couple, they are oddly incapable of talking to each other. Sophie reveals herself to be more than fodder in the long run, but some of her actions reveal a certain level of brainlessness; likewise, she is truly incapable of simple mathematics when it comes to her total obliviousness of Taylor’s machinations.
But for all the flaws the narrative might have, the film is highly effective in building tension and establishing a sense of unavoidable tragedy—and an ending that, for a change, is truly consequent to the events preceding it. Gone is a flawed but effective film, and if it’s initial wallop is less than that of the numerous kinetically violent and blood-drenched “travel = death films”, Gone at least lingers longer in one’s mind.
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