SEPTEMBER 3, 2009
Two cult movies in one week! All hail Satan.
Not sure how Borderland got by me when I was going through all of the After Dark films; I’ve already seen all but one (Butterfly Effect 3, because I haven’t seen 2) of THIS years’ fest, and the newest one is fast approaching, making it almost two years old. Sorry about that, Lions Gate. Even more of a bummer, it’s better than half of the other entries, so I wish I had gotten around to it sooner.
Being part of the weakest of the three lineups is the film’s burden, but on the same token, it benefits from my late viewing as I’ve seen so many terrible Hostel ripoffs in the past two years (such as Train, the worst of the worst). I expected this to be equally banal, but as it turns out, it’s relatively decent. It’s engaging for the most part, well-acted, somewhat unique (since it deals with a cult instead of random torture mavens), and largely proficient on a technical level.
Two big red marks in that area, though. One is some truly hideous ADR work in a few scenes. The not quite syncing with the actor’s lips I can almost forgive, but the fact that it still SOUNDS like it was recorded in a sound booth (instead of on a crowded city street) is a major distraction. Also, there’s an overlong “drugged” sequence where the characters go to a carnival after eating a few shrooms. It’s fine to have the overused “let’s smear the colors and give everyone a Snorri-cam” look when they are riding the rides and such, but when they are just standing around talking it’s fucking annoying. Director Zev Berman also has everything play at like 10 frames per second, which is even more irritating since the characters are talking and you can’t focus on what they are saying because you’re probably starting to wonder if your DVD player is broken (it actually looks like you’re watching a poorly compressed Youtube video with a lousy connection).
But like I said, it’s better than the average “Never travel anywhere” scare piece, due to the cult stuff. You see a movie like Train, which sucks enough without them trying to give the villains a gray area by shoehorning in the “they want your organs for poor people” stuff, and you really can appreciate the fact that these guys are actually evil. They kidnap tourists and sacrifice them, using body parts as necklaces and such. And it’s not the usual slasher type setup, where every 10 minutes another kid is taken and sacrificed. It’s more about the two pals looking for their buddy (Rider Strong), and we cut between their often hindered investigation and Strong’s attempts to escape. To the film’s credit, the obvious hero is never taken, because one of the writers was obviously smart enough to understand that a hero being help captive is never as suspenseful as a co-star being held while the hero tries to rescue him.
It does start to flounder near the end though. After a great sequence of one of the other guys trying to evade capture, it becomes a generic sort of “exact revenge” series of fights, with our hero (who looks exactly like Jim Caviezel) going after these guys and somehow subduing them all despite the fact that they have been obviously doing this for years and he couldn’t even handle himself in a bar fight earlier. He also kills an unarmed cult member who was never really part of the sacrifice/torture stuff, which doesn’t sit too well with me. It would be like John McClane pumping Theo full of lead at the end of Die Hard just for good measure.
I had forgotten that the AD films used to have extra features (nearly all of this years’ films were bare bones). Best of the lot is a half hour look at the real case that inspired the film. I would definitely NOT watch it before watching the movie, because the real story is far more interesting and even somewhat more disturbing than the fictionalized version (for example, the real cult guys had fake police badges that they would use to lure people; in the movie, Strong just gets in the car with them for no real reason). Another “holy shit” fact is that the cops found the bodies thanks to a cult member who truly believed that no harm would come to him (there’s video footage of the guy casually pointing out who killed the guy, where he was buried, etc), due to the leader’s teaching, which is an idea that the film completely glosses over. Then there’s a segment where Berman talks about the film’s production and some of the things he was going for, all the while coming off as a guy who thinks he’s re-inventing the wheel (“People don’t want to see the tired genre conventions!” - he says about a film where a guy claims he has to go to the bathroom and uses the distraction to mount a failed escape). Because of this, I didn’t listen to the whole commentary (which he shares with the main star, his DP and a producer) because I didn’t want to listen to him anymore, despite the fact that he sounds like Paul Giamatti, which is kind of amusing. But to its credit, the track seems to be, like the film itself, slightly above average; enough to warrant a listen if you’re not annoyed by the guy talking to you like you’ve never seen a film before.
So now I’ve finally finished the After Dark 2007 list. Mulberry St. remains the best, Lake Dead is still the worst, and Borderland is somewhere around the number 3 or 4 position (with Ian Stone). The scope is larger than any of the others (it’s actually the one film of the set that I could reasonably see getting a wide release; I assume the box office failure of Turistas and Hostel Part 2 factored into its eventual fate as a glorified DTV film), but the rather generic ending turns it from a nice surprise to just another OK movie.
What say you?