JUNE 23, 2008
By now, there’s not much that can be done in the way of originality in the “Girl’s car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and she runs afoul of a mutant or two” genre, but bless writer/director Stephen Goetsch for trying in his film Alive Or Dead (aka Inhospitable, a fact that is provided to us right at the beginning of the film in one of the oddest legal language screens I’ve ever seen:
On a basic level, absolutely nothing new happens here; the entire film plays out just like any of the millions of others over the past 30 years. But there’s just enough originality, or at least peculiarity, to warrant giving this one a pass, despite its many flaws.
For starters, the film begins with a girl having phone sex with her boyfriend – as she drives on Old Horror Movie Road. And when she reaches the point where a vibrator is necessary, she uses her cell phone charger instead (the cigarette lighter port end – not the phone end, you sick bastard!) when the vibrator falls under the seat. THEN, as her phone dies, we can assume that her... business makes the thing short out when she tries to use it for its intended purporse, thus providing the most unique reason for a dead cell phone I can recall. The vibrator is also used in another horror movie staple: the dead flashlight. When the flashlight dies, like it always does, she uses the vibrator’s battery to get it going again. What a resourceful sex addict.
After this we actually get a good solid 10-15 minutes of cat and mouse suspense, and the reason it works is because we still don’t know if this girl is our heroine or not. It’s a long standing tradition to kill off someone in the opening reel, and since the girl is a complete unknown, it’s not quite clear whether she is our heroine (and safe) or our first kill (and thus a goner). Once it becomes clear she’s the heroine, the movie loses some of its steam in terms of suspense, but it keeps the randomness coming at a steady clip.
Along the way to its conclusion, we get a castle in the middle of nowhere (instead of the usual shack or rotted house), a guy who loves ice, a monk delivering long exposition rambles in a Shakespearean manner, an incredibly overplotted backstory, a rare reference to the film First Knight, and a redneck who looks like Mark Boone Junior dressed up as the killer from Antropophagus.
So all that is good, but the movie is far from perfect. For starters, the consumer grade digital video does the movie no favors – there isn’t any goddamn detail in any of the imagery! A closeup of a girl’s face should reveal pores, individual strands of hair, etc, but not here. It’s all a blurry mush, looking hardly better than Youtube. They also forgot to color time it, and the sound is quite often noticeably dubbed in later. All of this makes the film feel cheap and lazy, and since obvious effort went into making the film stick out from the others, it would have been nice if the technical aspects followed suit.
Not all of the problems are technical related though. For example, our heroine is one of the dumber in recent memory, as evidenced in the scene where she hides as close as possible to another girl that is chained up inside a bus – hide as far AWAY from her as possible, so when the killer makes his way to the back to get at her, you can escape! Dumb broad. It also gets very padded at times, and even at 80 minutes with credits, feels like it could stand to lose about 10 minutes or so.
The extras are pretty worthless; the commentary track is loaded with gaps (and they pretty much mute the film’s audio, so you’re literally listening to dead air half the time) and the making of is as dull as any other. Strangely, Lionsgate’s usual 4.5 hrs of trailers at the top of the disc include several for films that have been out for ages, like The Descent and Devil’s Rejects. Maybe this is a good sign though; perhaps they are going to return to focusing on quality instead of quantity.
OR, are simply ignoring horror in favor of Tyler Perry. Either or.
What say you?
(Trailer here - they wouldn't let me embed!)