DECEMBER 27, 2008
The only reason I rented Dead Of Winter (aka Lost Signal), besides the awesome “It looks like Duel but in the snow” cover art, is because it was directed by Brian McNamara, who was the nemesis/fonzanoon in Caddyshack II and also popped up in Arachnophobia. I found it somewhat amusing that he turned to directing (he also appears as the sheriff), and was curious to see if his directing style was as non-descript as his acting. Unfortunately, Spielberg himself couldn’t make a good movie out of this script, so whatever directing skill he may possess is pretty hard to critique based on this drivel.
One thing he needs to learn is proper lighting though (or how to yell at his DP for such errors). The outdoor scenes are OK, but interiors are overlit to the point of blindness:Christ, I’ve seen pornos with more natural lighting.
He also needs to get his ego checked at the door. The full on-screen title is actually Brian McNamara’s Dead Of Winter, as if he was John Carpenter or something. First of all, he's not John Carpenter. Christ, this is his first movie! Second: putting your name in the title is kind of ballsy when you were not one of the producers and/or writers on the film. If you look at the Carpenter films, he only puts his name on the title when he did something BESIDES direct, i.e. write or producer or hell, even merely composing. When he DOESN’T do any of those other things, his name stays off (See: Memoirs of an Invisible Man).
He should also reprimand his props guy, because early on we see a fridge with a “Lost Cat” poster on it. Uh... shouldn’t that be outside? Unless your home is the stomping grounds for all stray cats, it’s not going to do much good to anyone as long as it’s only visible to hungry family members.
But the real problem with the film is how nonsensically set up it is. We know that the two kids are merely hallucinating because of the crystal meth they snorted, yet the entire movie hinges on the idea that we believe the kids are really in danger from snow plows and killers and such. Plus, their hallucinations go on for about 6 hours, despite only snorting a single line of the stuff. (hallucinations aren't even a primary side effect of crystal meth, and only then in high doses, which I would think a single line would not count as). So you spend the entire movie wondering why screenwriters Robert Egen and Graham Silver couldn’t be bothered to have them use a drug known for strong/long-lasting hallucinations, such as LSD. Then, about five minutes before the film ends, we learn via flashback that LSD was indeed added to their (one) drink. Why was this information hidden from the audience? It’s not like it’s a twist or anything, and it simply results in explaining something that had probably caused most of the audience to lose all interest in the narrative (NOTE - Apparently there is a shot of this early on, that I missed. I was wrong. Movie still sucks).
Not helping matters are our annoying leads, both of whom I wanted to freeze to death before they even went into the snow. They spend the entire movie yelling at each other, talking nonsense, or shrieking at a killer that’s not really there. At one point the boy half of the couple makes a tired Shining reference, and then yells “Didn’t you see that movie?” Yes, and I wish I was watching it again right now, instead of enduring the 45th “guy yells at his girlfriend” scene in this movie. Plus, they are both drug users, which makes them hard to sympathize with. Let ‘em rot.
Also, beware of any movie in which the casting is done by one of the producers, because you end up with mother-daughter pairs that couldn’t look less alike:
The real bummer of it all is that the finale is actually kind of sad. There’s a dumb and uninspired little twist that apparently took the red eye from horror movie land, but otherwise, the final five minutes play out like a tragic drama, and damned if I didn’t feel kind of bad for McNamara’s character, as well as the kids’ respective parents. Since it’s essentially an R rated horror version of an after-school special, I fully expected this sort of “SEE WHAT DRUGS CAN CAUSE!” wrapup, but it was still somewhat moving.
What everyone in the production failed at though, was making any one moment in the film even half as creepy and unnerving as the transcript of the 911 call made by the people that this really happened to (yes, for possibly the first time in ages, the “based on true events” disclaimer at the top of the film isn’t bullshit). Obviously, if you read the news report I linked, you will get the end of the movie kind of spoiled, but unless you are a Brian McNamara completist, there’s no reason to watch the movie anyway other than to learn what happened to the kids, and the article does just that, sans bad lighting.
What say you?