NOVEMBER 16, 2009
I have a theory, and if you have time and wish to investigate it further for me, I’d be most obliged. The theory is this: the 1995 film Heat, while pretty great, is cursed. Witness the careers of its four main stars: Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro have only made a couple of good films since, Tom Sizemore has been battling drug/hooker addictions for the past decade and had a reality show about how he was “fighting back” in order to star in the god-awful Bottom Feeder, and Val Kilmer seemingly appears in more DTV movies a year than Wesley Snipes and Jean Claude Van Damme combined. Christ, The Thaw is one of TWO thrillers about global warming that the former A-lister has appeared in this year alone!
But the real shame is that The Thaw is actually a pretty good movie, and could have conceivably gotten at least a limited theatrical release - if Wind Chill did, there’s no reason why other “small” horror films like this couldn’t. Plus it stars Martha MacIsaac, who was the main love interest in the mega-hit Superbad as well as the best friend in the remake of Last House On The Left. And Kilmer still has the occasional big release (Déjà Vu is the last one that comes to mind, unfortunately, though he also appears in the upcoming MacGruber film). But maybe it’s for the best - the lowered expectations of a DTV horror film (not to mention one lumped in a “series” with a bunch of other titles, which suggests it couldn’t have found its way into homes on its own accord) are probably why I was able to enjoy it as much as I did.
The first thing that drew me in was that the film had a Crichton-esque setup. Science gone amok, a few experts grouped with a few “everyman” type folks, a confined setting... it’s the same template as "Jurassic Park", "Sphere", "Prey", "Congo"... not the worst stories to be reminded of (OK, maybe "Congo" I can do without). Hell there’s even a bit of "Timeline" in there, as our main heroes are really a group of students, as well as MacIsaac, the spoiled and estranged daughter of Kilmer’s character, who has come to the base in order to settle some nonsense about her mother’s inheritance. I would have liked it if the students actually did a bit of what they were there for before all hell broke less (especially since I am still a bit unsure what exactly they were supposed to be doing anyway), but on the flipside, it’s cool how they introduce what seems like the main group and then kill them off, leaving just the kids to tackle the problem (it’s a far more successful attempt to trick the audience than the Friday the 13th remake managed).
And I like that the insects were normal sized insects, instead of oversized mutant things that are never as terrifying as the type of bugs I might find near my car (or, in a super creepy moment, on my couch - it was a house spider, but still - gah! Bad timing, little now-dead spider!). The film’s queasiest gag is given away on the trailer (a bug pokes its head out of a hole on a girl’s forehead, only to retreat when someone attempts to pull it out), but there are a few other choice moments that will make Entomophobics run out of the room crying, particularly the male ones.
Indeed, one male character IS an Entomophobe, and it’s a shame that they didn’t put him in danger more often. Traditionally, the main character would be the one with the phobia, and he would have to overcome it in order to save the day (i.e. Jeff Daniels in Arachnophobia, which I really need to revisit). But here it’s a guy you know will probably die anyway, because he’s not the main guy and he’s played by professional asshole character actor Kyle Schmid (the asshole from Joy Ride 2, The Covenant, History Of Violence...), and so they could have milked his eventual demise a bit and really played up his fear (i.e. by making him go into an infested room, or whatever). But they just sort of use his phobia as another means to make him look like an asshole.
I also liked that it had one of the Ashmore brothers (Aaron), but not the one from The Ruins (Shawn). Like The Ruins, there is a scene involving an Ashmore brother and someone losing an infected limb. And also, Shawn is about to star in his own snowbound horror movie, Adam Green’s Frozen. Those crazy Ashmores, always trying to one up the other. No offense to Aaron, but I think Shawn has the edge, since he was in X-Men and Aaron was a regular on Smallville (that one's gotta hurt...).
The only thing that really hurts the movie is a dumb final “twist” that hardly even makes sense, and stinks more of padding than anything else. Maybe if the character involved was already dead and this part of his character was merely discovered, it would be one thing, but since it involves him literally leaving a loved one to die for no reason, it just doesn’t work. I was also a little perplexed why well known character actors William B. Davis and Gary Chalk appear for a single shot each during the opening montage (playing pundits), and that’s it. I was thinking the film would end with more of their pontificating, but alas it just sets up a sequel in the most obvious way ever. A shame really; it’s a really good movie for 80 minutes and then the final 10 is just a series of missed opportunities, cliché plot developments, and a complete lack of bug action. How do you have a killer bug movie and let the requisite human villain die in an explosion? It would be like if Paul Reiser merely fell down an elevator shaft or something in Aliens.
The DVD has a pretty basic making of (Kilmer talks about how he drew on his life experiences to play an environmental nut - I assume he means all of the waste involved with the multiple reshoots for Island Of Dr. Moreau) and the aforementioned trailer, plus some stuff that’s on all of the Ghost House releases. It also contains one of the most misleading taglines of all time - “From the makers of the Evil Dead Trilogy!” the front of the DVD proudly exclaims. Yeah, well, no, it isn’t. The makers of the Evil Dead Trilogy are pretty much Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert, Bruce Campbell, Scott Spiegel, and Ivan Raimi, none of whom had fuck all to do with this film. The only connection is that this film, shot independently of any studio, was picked up for distribution by Ghost House, a company that Sam Raimi owns (but is usually too busy making Spider-Man films to have any real involvement with even the legit Ghost House productions such as Boogeyman). So that’s like three degrees away from the Evil Dead "makers". I know it’s a good way to hook people in, but it’s blatantly false and sort of insulting to the actual makers of this film - Mark A Lewis (co-writer/director), Michael W. Lewis (co-writer), and Rob Neilson, Trent Carlson, and Marry Anne Waterhouse (producers). And if anything, the studio should be trying to DOWNPLAY the involvement of a guy who has made some of the highest grossing films of all time and is beloved by nearly everyone whose ever liked a horror movie - all you’re doing is setting the audience up for something bigger/better than it is, instead of being honest and letting people discover a small, but surprisingly engaging and largely unique horror movie.
What say you?