JUNE 5, 2010
I am really bummed that Frozen got such a bum deal on its release (zero advertising, a roll out to areas without any awareness whatsoever, resulting in a lackluster per screen average), but the silver lining is we won’t see TOO many wannabe survival thrillers. The positive reviews will obviously inspire a few, but not as many as we’d have to endure if it was a major box office success, a la the slasher craze of the early 80s or the “let’s remake every other Asian horror movie” after the success of The Ring. That said, Thirst is most definitely NOT a response to Frozen, as it was shot a year before and is just now being released.
The real shame, however, is that it’s also coming after The Canyon, a woefully stupid movie that Thirst improves on in just about every way. The two films are similar - young couples (2 in this case) get lost in desert canyons and are hunted by wolves - but as the title suggests, the main problem here is the character’s thirst, which was completely ignored in The Canyon, which had the female running for miles in the sun to retrieve a knife without even the slightest hint of exhaustion, let alone dehydration. Our characters have some water, but not enough to last for the 4-5 days the film takes place over, and they begin to rely on other means, some of which have disastrous results (i.e. one drinks the juice from a poisonous cactus, which makes him vomit and thus become MORE dehydrated).
They’re also more intelligent for the most part. They panic, sure, but like the kids in Frozen, they do the things I would try - lighting the car’s tires on fire for a smoke signal, for example. In this respect seeing The Canyon first helped, because I know now how idiotic (and then some) movie characters can be in this situation, making the kids here look like geniuses in comparison. Not sure why they all decide to stay put for a day and a half before trying to go for help, but otherwise, I wasn’t puzzled by their actions.
And this is very beneficial, because the film’s first act, leading up to the accident that strands them all, was very trying on my nerves. In just 10 minutes, screenwriters Kurt Volkan and Joel Newman telegraph every single inconvenience to their plight: they get drunk the night before (they’ll be thirstier), except for Lacey Chabert’s character, who doesn’t drink and gets sick the next morning (she’s pregnant); they put ‘do not disturb’ signs on their door, fearing the maids will steal their belongings (no one will notice they haven’t come back); there are no cell phone signals (duh), they are going to uncharted areas that one of them heard about on the internet (that one doesn’t even make sense if you think about it), etc. I mean, I understand the need to set this stuff up, but it’s just so obvious, and the fact that it all comes one after the other (added to the fact that this isn’t exactly under-explored territory for a movie) makes it a real chore until everything goes south. Some of the things are fine (the pregnancy), but others could have been written in a less cliché manner: why not just have them get kicked out of their motel for being rowdy, or a canceled credit card or something, and thus their plan could have been to find a new motel after they took their “3 hour tour” of the desert? And for the cell phones - they got into a car accident, so just have them all break in the process. Shit, I’ve broken phones just by holding it to my ear when my hair was damp - certainly a rollover could do damage, and you’d be saving yourself another generic cliché.
On the plus side, they pull out the stops in the third act, with not one but two WAY outside of the box solutions to their problems (one of which is sadly telegraphed in a nightmare scene that should have been removed). For whatever problems the movie has in its early parts, it more than makes up for them with the potentially icky (but seemingly plausible) idea one character gets to try to survive, in addition to other “water alternatives” that they try. And I also loved that, for once, the group doesn’t spend the entire time yelling at each other, which is what made the original Open Water not really work for me - I HATED the both of them. I actually like these kids (even Mercedes McNab, playing yet another bimbo), and the fact that they refrained from playing the blame game (for the most part anyway - there are two spats that are resolved quickly) was pretty refreshing, and made later parts of the film more upsetting. As much as I loved Frozen, the resolution for Shawn Ashmore’s character was a bit anticlimactic to me, robbing the audience of a gut wrenching moment (hey, I like to cry at movies). As there is a similar dynamic (best friends and the girlfriend of one of them) for most of the movie, the guy in Ashmore’s “spot” gets that moment here.
The sound editing was criminally bad at times. I know a lot of exterior shots in movies are ADRed, but it’s rarely as obvious here. Not only is it out of sync in spots, but it’s not even mixed properly. There’s a scene of Chabert and her boyfriend arguing with the other guy, and the boyfriend is a bit muffled (on set audio) while she is obviously saying her lines in a booth months later. It’s really amateurish, and considering the movie was shot two years ago, I’m amazed that no one bothered to fix it in all this time.
Director/DP Jeffery Lando puts some effort into the proceedings, however. First of all, I was amazed to discover that the film was shot in Canada - our northern brothers have deserts? But it all looks great, and he makes some interesting choices as well. At one point Chabert and her boyfriend have a long conversation, and it’s presented in an unbroken 5 minute take. Kudos to both Lando and the actors for pulling it off - it’s a fairly emotional scene with a LOT of dialogue to remember, and it most certainly would have been easier for everyone to just shoot it normally. Some of the edits (also by Lando) are a bit jarring at times, however - there’s a REALLY awkward transition early on when the four of them are sitting around a pool, and at one point Chabert returns to an earlier spot in what seems like minutes when she had been supposedly walking in the other direction for nearly two days.
If I may go a bit off track (warning: there’s a sort of “no shit”, but vague, spoiler ahead) - I began noticing something in movies/TV shows a while ago, and 99/100 times I end up correct: the sides that a couple sleep on determines their fate. If the girl sleeps to the left of her man (as Chabert does here), then one of them will die (if it’s an action/horror type thing; if it’s a drama they will most certainly break up). But if the man sleeps to the left of his girl, then they may have problems, but will ultimately stay together way more often than not. If you think of it, next time you see a couple in bed together in an action or horror movie, note which side they’re on and see if my theory holds up. I highly doubt it’s intentional, but it’s interesting how many times I’ve seen it come true.
(For the record, I always sleep to the left of my wife.)
Back to what I was saying about Frozen and such, the only real “problem” with the movie is that this sort of scenario can only play out in so many ways, and between Open Water (and its “sequel”), The Canyon, Frozen, parts of The Ruins (look for a similarly gruesome impromptu surgery scene here), and possibly others, the beats of the story just feel a bit too familiar at times. And it’s not a weakness of the writers - there’s only so much you can do. You can’t have other characters show up, they can’t be rescued anytime soon, they need to have survival issues (lack of water, shelter, etc), and they need to kill someone in order to show how dire the situation is (usually the character who is immobilized due to injury - the others need to be able to try to go for help). If you haven’t seen any of those others, then Thirst will be a pretty gripping tale. For us horror junkies, it’s at least one of the better ones, but it’s also impossible to escape the déjà vu.*
What say you?
*And that’s just from the plot. This is at least the FOURTH horror/thriller film named Thirst in the past 5 years. Remember when Sony sued Miramax over calling a movie Scream when they had one called Screamers a year before? Guessing those lawyers are kicking themselves for pissing away the possibility of a precedent. At least this one doesn’t have anything to do with vampires (though there IS a vampire-centric action taken by the male characters).