MAY 10, 2009
I like when things tie together nicely. For example, as I was watching Sam’s Lake, I was noting how much I liked the cinematography, because it reminded me a bit of Gravedancers. Then I took a look at the credits, and discovered it was the same guy (David Armstrong). He also shot every one of the Saw films, so why they aren’t giving one of the sequels to him instead of the goddamn production designer is beyond me.
Sam’s Lake also shares a producer or two with Gravedancers - though they would apparently rather play up their Twilight connection, seeing as the same goddamn suspect quote appears on both the front and back of the DVD. Speaking of the quote, it’s more than a little forced: “The producers of Twilight bring you this true supernatural horror that will leave you trembling!”. Why would anyone say that first part? Wouldn’t “This movie will leave you trembling” suffice?
As always, the film’s “true” origins are a complete mystery, because it’s more than likely to be total bullshit. The relationships between the characters are a little specific, suggesting that they may be based on writer/director’s Andrew C. Erin's own friends, but the horror angle seems less “real” than movies that are wholly fictional in every regard. I would think that a pseudo brother/sister team killing all their friends in the woods, only to be done in by the ghost (?) of their father, who had they killed a few years before, would make the news. Indeed, according to the wiki page, it’s based on a campfire story that Erin’s dad told him when he was a kid. So I guess as long as a movie is based on ANY story the writer was told, it’s true? Hey, guys who wrote Star Trek: Once upon a time Kirk and Spock were stranded on the Klingon planet and it was up to the rest of the crew to save them. There, now Star Trek 2 can be advertised as being based on a true story.
Another quote on the back plays up the truthiness, which makes me wonder if these critics just accepted what the guy told them at face value. The other quote is a bit notable, mainly for being so awkward: “Delivers all the campy thrills so expensively promised by large studio productions!” Huh? Not only is it a back-handed compliment, since the film avoids camp and plays everything rather seriously, but it’s like they are trying to take a shot at studio horror and failing miserably. “So expensively promised” doesn’t mean that the studio film doesn’t deliver those campy thrills, Ms. Lafsky of the Huffington Post (since when they do review low-budget indie horror anyway? In fact, all of the quotes come from fairly respectable sources, the types that never review these movies.).
Well, whatever. In the end, the movie’s pretty dull, based on a true story or not. Nothing happens until the twist is revealed, and then everyone is killed within minutes. Points to making the presumed Final Girl into a killer (it’s kind of botched, since the REAL Final Girl gets all the traditional Final Girl scenes, such as seeing something strange and being the first one to meet the character who throws a wrench into the proceedings), but it just doesn’t work. The problem with these movies that take a well-worn setup (friends going to a cabin in the woods) and try to blow our minds by going off the expected track is that you can tell that the filmmakers are not sincere about making the cabin in the woods movie right from the start. In order for their final twists to make sense, they can’t have anything that would make the movie feel genuine. So our “heroine” can’t ever be fake scared, because that wouldn’t make sense once you know she is the killer. Also, no one can go off alone and die, because that would mean having to explain why the surprise killer left the group as well. But in any REAL cabin/woods slasher, there would be at least 3-4 deaths by the time the killer revealed him/herself. So again, it just doesn’t work.
I will say this though, there is a fucking great moment in this movie, and it’s a shame it has been wasted in this and not in Scream 4 or something. Two of our heroes are running from one of the killers. Suddenly, the male hero stops and tells the female hero to “go on ahead!”, as he plans to stay and fight. He turns to the killer, still running toward him from about 100 feet away, and says “Come on, bitch!” or something equally banal. Suddenly, the OTHER KILLER tackles him out of nowhere, as the first killer, without missing a beat, keeps running straight at the girl. I actually cheered at its awesomeness, and if the movie had 85 other minutes like that, I would be singing its praises.
The fact that Erin (or whoever, filmmaking is a collaborative process and all that) came up with a scare that played so good makes me wonder why he botched so many others. For example, as the group drives to the cabin, he suddenly cuts to the interior of a house, camera facing out the window at the car. A silhouette whooshes by in between the camera and the window. Fine, except that it’s not the house they are going to, so why does our real Final Girl get so concerned about it? Are people not allowed to walk around their own houses?
Also, while we’re not even remotely on the subject, I want to know what happened to Fay Masterson. She was incredibly hot in Eyes Wide Shut, but she looks like Cynthia Nixon here. Get your hotness back, please. Your name is what drew me to this movie in the first place. Luckily the other two girls are nice to look at, helping the movie feel less dull in certain scenes (i.e. sunbathing). Please note - I hate when a movie forces me to sound like a pre-adolescent loser; a movie can be stocked to the gills with fuglies as long as it’s good, and I won’t care. But if it’s bad, eye candy is the only thing keeping me from shutting it off. See: The Eye.
I wrote down “Coldplay” in my notes, in reference to the fact that all of the music in the movie sounds like the original tunes from a Coldplay cover band. But I have no actual insight on the matter.
So the movie’s well shot, fairly well acted, has a decent twist (which I spoiled, but if I didn’t there’d be no review beyond mocking the pull quotes), and is relatively short. But it’s also incredibly dull and misses its mark by a country mile. And I hate when a movie leaves its genre up to our imagination. Was the dad real or a ghost? Was Masterson’s character possessed by his spirit, or just crazy? Who the hell knows. All I know is this: I’ve often said that a horror movie has to let its genre be known by the halfway mark, and literally seconds before the exact halfway point of this movie, a character sitting in a car by herself suddenly says, apropos of nothing, “This is stupid”. Take from that what you will.
What say you?