JULY 4, 2008
My interest in seeing The Plague was piqued a week or so ago when an online article about Midnight Meat Train fans attempting to get the film a wider release caught the attention of the former film’s director, one Hal Masonberg. In a comment on the article, he related a story of how his film, which was also produced by Clive Barker, had a heated post production process and was ultimately dumped on DVD in a form he didn’t approve of, and thus he was mounting his own campaign to get his version of the film released. You can check out the info here if that sort of thing interests you. I am all for filmmakers getting their vision presented in the manner they intended, but his comments on the article seem a bit spiteful, so I have no opinion one way or the other as of this time (12:53 pm on a different day than the one this review is dated).
Whoever’s vision the released version of The Plague’s is, it’s a pretty good one for the first hour. We essentially have a sort of traditional zombie movie setup/execution, except the zombies are not actually undead. Ten years prior to the film’s events, every child under the age of 9 suddenly went into a comatose state. New children were stillborn, and the kids just old enough to avoid the plague have seemingly all become delinquents. Anyway, all of a sudden they wake up, and begin killing everyone, naturally.
None of this is ever explained (the deleted scenes are no help), but the pace and tension are above average for a horror movie starring a Dawson’s Creek cast member (the Beek himself, faring far better than in Final Draft). Like the best zombie movies, eventually we get all of our characters trapped in one location, and the movie truly shines here (though the slower stuff at the beginning is also pretty good – I always like the “hometown boy returns and everyone now hates him” scenario).
Unfortunately, almost the instant they leave the movie falls apart. The tension is gone, for starters – there are two people left with 20 minutes to go, so we know they’ll be OK for most of that time. Worse, the ending doesn’t make a goddamn lick of sense – it has something to do with Dawson being reincarnated, and his new body not only has his memories, but also his copy of "The Grapes of Wrath". Huh? Plus it comes out of nowhere, and since the plague itself is never explained, this is a bit problematic. Maybe the original cut explained this more, but if so, why not have that stuff in the deleted scenes? I don’t require explanations for these types of movies – none of Romero’s zombie films ever had a real explanation for it all, but at least provide an explanation for the film’s resolution, if nothing else.
The film was shot by Bill Butler, who also shot Jaws. Since I was going to see Jaws in a backyard screening the next day, I found this interesting. Maybe I should always string my movies together via a cast or crew member, like Quint does on his movie a day column (to sort of return the favor). Not surprisingly, it’s also a much better looking film than I expected (bonus points for almost tricking me into thinking Canada was New Hampshire, where the film is set). And I don’t know who is responsible for them, but there are two shots in particular that really impressed me. One is a shot of all the comatose kids (before they wake up and start killing everyone); we watch as they convulse (which they do every day at 10 am and 10 pm) while their attending nurses chat and laugh because they are so used to this disturbing event by now. The other was an insert shot of a sugar cube – the guy puts only one corner of the cube in his coffee, and the liquid sort of sponges itself over the rest of the un-submerged cube. I dunno why, but it’s fucking cool, and I’m totally doing that next time I have sugar cubes.
The aforementioned deleted scenes ARE actually worth a look, even if they don’t help clarify the film’s events. It’s mainly extensions of existing scenes; character touches that wouldn’t have hurt or slowed the film any (it’s pretty short anyway – 88 minutes. Surely another 3-4 of character stuff wouldn’t have been the end of the world). One of the few full blown DELETED scenes involves a priest who is the first to see Dawson when he comes back to the town, something that definitely should have been left in as his first appearance now is incredibly awkward, and also gives the priest more to do, as he is later killed without ever really being introduced. There’s also a fairly entertaining commentary track by two of the actors and the film’s editor, who briefly mention the film’s re-editing and such, but mainly ramble about other stuff (at one point, one of the actors tries to explain how hot Ivana Milicevic is without sounding like a creepy dude. Doesn’t quite pull it off.). Sadly, they don’t bother explaining the ending either. Oh well.
All in all, worth a look. I am very curious to see the director’s cut to see if these problems are corrected or simply made more glaring. I can definitely sense a completely solid (though not perfect) movie in there.
What say you?