MARCH 15, 2009
It’s not every day you get to watch a horror movie on a giant boat known for being haunted, so I was pretty excited to attend the Paranoia Film Festival aboard the Queen Mary, located about 30 miles south of me. Lots of movies have been shot there, and I was bound to run into some folks I know, so I bought a day pass for 20 bucks, and arrived in time to give me two hours of looking around before the day’s first feature film, Necrosis, was scheduled to begin. Sadly, within 5 minutes I had seen the entire convention, leaving me ALMOST two hours to wander around and wonder why I bothered. By the time Necrosis started, I had walked the length of the ship, had a drink at the bar, and more or less exhausted all "free" options to kill time on the ship, and thus sat in the theater from 4 until around 930 without leaving.
Anyway, It’s a wonder you don’t see more movies about the Donner party. It’s a freaky story, a true one at that, plus it would be nice to see a cannibal movie that wasn’t set in the jungle. So I was pretty hopeful that Necrosis, a modern day horror tale set at the site of the Donner tragedy, would be pretty solid and maybe inspire a few knockoffs. But I can’t imagine the resulting film would inspire anyone to do anything except make fun of Tiffany (yes, THAT Tiffany, who plays one of the main characters) more than they already do. Of course, in a perfect world, a good concept mangled by poor filmmaking/acting would in fact inspire someone to try to do it right, but that never happens. The only remakes we see, for the most part, are of films that were perfectly good to begin with, while the ones that COULD have been good are left forgotten. But I’m getting off track here.
The main problem with Necrosis is the stilted acting/dialogue that sounds forced throughout the entire film. The group is made up of 6 friends (and maybe a pair of sisters, I never quite figured out the exact relationship between Tiffany and some girl that sort of looked like her), but they have no natural rapport or chemistry. Lots of lines are supposed to reflect their longtime friendships, but none of the actors manage to pull them off properly. Maybe they all hated each other in real life, I don’t know. At one point Tiffany raises her glass and the others follow suit - one of the most common and basic actions in the world - and even that seemed staged. As a result, I never got attached to the story, so when one of them went nuts and began killing everyone, I couldn’t care less.
Of course, screenwriters Robert Michael Ryan and Jason Robert Stephens (2 guys, 6 first names!) don’t seem to care either. Two of the characters are killed off so unceremoniously (and never mentioned again) that it’s possible to miss their deaths entirely. Worse, the only one who sees their bodies is the one who is seeing things, so until the movie actually ends you’re never sure if he just imagined it or not. “Oh it’s over, I guess those 2 folks WERE dead.” And it doesn’t help that the movie never bothers to make it clear whether or not he IS just seeing things or if the ghosts of the Donner party are actually wandering about. It’s one thing to leave a climax up to interpretation, but they leave the entire fucking movie that way.
PLUS, adding to this annoyance is the fact that we aren’t told that the crazy character is schizo until an hour or so into the movie. Had that information been provided early on, the movie could take on an interesting “is he crazy or are the ghosts real?” dynamic, a la Emily Rose. But without any reason to believe that they aren’t real, the curiosity factor is non-existent. And, possibly needless to say, it’s hardly a rollercoaster ride - at one point they cut from a scene of two of the guys playing Foosball to a scene where they all suit up to go Snowmobiling (which leads to a hilarious moment when a girl, who goes off on her own to take pictures, falls into some quicksnow and screams for help, and somehow they hear her despite being on a snowy mountain with wind and at least a quarter mile between them). With a cast of only six, you know the body count will be sparse, but even with that in mind, this one's a snoozer.
Stephens also directed, and he matches the script’s lapses with his mind-numbingly dull visual sense. I can’t be sure, but I don’t think the camera ever moves unless absolutely necessary. He also worked closely with his editor to ensure that the movie constantly called attention to itself, with random cutaways to people smiling at jokes that didn’t work, not to mention what has to be a record for the most amount of cross-dissolves in a single film. At one point, they fade to a different angle of the same room! Maybe if he had used star wipes the entire time, he’d have something, but as is - good Christ it’s fucking annoying.
The only reason that the movie generated any surprise was a result of the baffling credit order. James Kyson Lee (Ando!) gets top billing, even though he is the least developed character (he likes to drink, and... that's about it) and isn't on screen the most. But my initial dismay at seeing the always welcome Penny Drake given 5th billing led to joy when it became pretty obvious that she was the Final Girl. Tiffany gets 3rd billing, despite getting killed halfway through and barely factoring in before then. At least they were on the mark with “Special Appearance By Michael Berryman”, who indeed only has a brief appearance.
So does anything work? Well, again, the concept itself is strong. The cabin where everything takes place is an interest location, and a snowy climate is always welcome in a horror movie. Drake gets her biggest role yet, which made me happy even if it meant forcing her to say even more lame dialogue. And uh... Tiffany is mercifully refrained from singing AND isn’t required to say much either, so there’s something.
As this was a film festival screening, I don’t know when it will be released or who will put it out, but needless to say, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for it. Just rent Cold Prey or wait for Adam Green’s Frozen if you’re in need of a worthy snowbound horror movie.
What say you?