NOVEMBER 30, 2009
I have liked each Jack Ketchum film I’ve seen a bit more than the one before, so I was hoping Offspring would continue the trend. And since it involved cannibalistic children, I figured it was a shoein for one of my favorite movies of the year. But alas, the film simply doesn’t work, due to an almost criminally bland approach to everything but the kill scenes, laughable costumes for the children, and an unnecessary mean streak that even I, lover of Silent Night Deadly Night, couldn’t appreciate.
The casting is one major issue. Now, it’s a low budget movie and all, but with the other three Ketchum films (Red, The Lost, and The Girl Next Door) garnering praise and a few great actors in each, I’m a bit baffled why everyone in this film was a complete unknown. There’s a major character death that occurs around the halfway mark that should be a huge shock, but it doesn’t really work because I had no attachment whatsoever to the character. Since there are so many other plot threads to deal with in the first act, they never really develop the guy beyond setting him up as a stock hero. At least with a well-known or even recognizable actor in the role, the audience would form that instant attachment to him and thus spare the need for excessive and time-consuming character development anyway. So what should be one of the film’s most shocking events is hardly even interesting.
And again, the costumes are just horrendously silly. If your villain looks like some stage kid in a leftover costume from Hook, then how am I supposed to ever buy into the reality of the situation? I kept waiting for Rufio to show up (and then die). It should have been priority one for the filmmakers to make sure their cannibals looked as menacing and real as possible, but it appears as if they threw them together right before turning the camera on (same goes for their wigs too - Jesus Christ).
Also, Ketchum’s script (adapted from his own novel, something the credit designer decided to split into two separate title cards for some goddamn reason) is overly vile, for no reason. There’s an ex-husband character who we hate before we even meet him, because we know he slapped the wife around and forgot his kid’s birthday. So why spend five minutes on a scene where he picks up a teenage hitchhiker and tries to seduce her (and then throws her out of his car when she refuses, but not before groping her breast)? This is time that can be spent further developing the “hero” guy. Then, later in the film, he sells out his ex to the cannibals, and smirks as they rape her. Again - why? Like we don’t already hate this guy? And then they don’t even offer us a particularly nasty demise for the asshole. He should have been castrated or torn to shreds by the children, but nope, he gets a simple decapitation. Big deal.
And even at 75 minutes, it’s a very repetitive and largely plotless movie. Countless scenes revolve around a group of cops and an ex-cop playing catch up and trying to figure out what is going on - scenes that would be a lot more interesting if we the audience didn’t already know exactly what was going on. It’s fine to have a scene or two of characters with less information than the audience, but if you make a habit of it, all you’re doing is slowing the movie down (or, in this case, obviously padding out a non-existent story into a feature length running time). Plus, if these cannibals live so close to the family, why haven’t they ever noticed each other before?
The DVD has a lot of extras, but none of them changed my mind on the film. There’s a standard 20 minute making of fluff piece of little use, especially if you’ve already watched the eight “webisodes” that cover the same goddamn material. Then there’s a little piece about one of the actors being arrested for driving with a suspended license, which I guess is supposed to be funny. The full script is also available, a feature I haven’t seen for quite a long time (I skimmed a lot of it and didn’t see a single difference from the film).
Finally, Ketchum, director Andrew van den Houten, and DP William Miller provide a decent enough commentary track, giving props to crew members, pointing out shooting locations, and, of course, describing the hurdles one needs to jump in order to make a low budget movie. But like I’ve noted I dunno how many times before - there is never any good reason to shoot this sort of movie if the funds/resources to do it correctly aren’t available. It’s not like there was a dearth of killer children movies; Christ there was another one in the same damn set (The Children). And certainly the relative success of the other three Ketchum films would attract funders with deeper pockets. My guess is that they got the rights cheap and did the movie quickly before their option expired.
Lots of folks tell me the book is better; I will give them the benefit of the doubt, but the tone of Ketchum’s script was just as big of a problem for me as the low-budget trappings, so I am wary to spare him any of the blame for this film’s shortcomings. The best thing I can say about it is that at least it was shorter than Vinyan.
What say you?