JULY 1, 2010
And so it ends. Another collection of After Dark titles is “complete” in my eyes, as The Reeds was the only one of the eight I had yet to see. Now that this year is done, I will say that they sort of stepped back compared to last years above average set. While films like Dread and Hidden elevated the “franchise”, this year had a few stinkers, with The Final nearly hitting the 2nd year’s lows (that was the one with Unearthed, Tooth and Nail, and Lake Dead). As for The Reeds, well it falls right in the middle; it’s got too many problems to be considered good, but it’s got enough effort and some decent suspense to elevate it above stuff like Kill Theory.
Some spoilers ahead!
For the most part, it’s squarely in the ‘good’ category. Maybe not too original (a group of six 20ish folks go on a little excursion in an unfamiliar area and things, shockingly, go wrong), but it’s slightly unique within those limits, as they are on a small boat traveling through swampy marshlands, instead of the usual woods or desert locales. That alone gives it a unique element of suspense - they can’t really run around without risking falling into dangerous water, but there IS enough land for someone who knows the area (as their pursuer or pursuers most certainly does) to stalk them, even from a few feet away, hiding in the reeds.
Also, with the exception of the requisite asshole who is also the first to get knocked off (yay!), they’re a very likable lot, something that, as I’ve mentioned before, is sadly rare in modern horror films. I was actually a bit bummed when one of them died (it balanced nicely with the fact that the death in question was horrifically ironic), and even the asshole guy didn’t exactly make me root for the killer (and it didn't take long for me to realize I'd watch Anna Brewster in anything). And while I don’t condone the behavior, it’s actually nice to see protagonists smoking every now and then (you know, like a normal person does) without calling attention to it or making it a plot point (i.e. Avatar). Plus I didn’t recognize any of them, so it gives the characters a natural, lived-in feeling that you simply cannot get in a studio horror film, which will be peppered with cast members from Gossip Girl or whatever, all of them with squeaky clean (or generic “bad”) appearances.
Unfortunately it starts to go off the rails, becoming too bogged down in twists, some of which are never quite clear (anyone understand the closing shot? I sure as hell don’t). On one hand, the APPARENT meaning of the ending (that our heroine has been dead the entire time) allows for an otherwise ludicrous coincidence to make a lot more sense, but it also just adds too many questions, such as how she died in the first place. And again, that’s if my guess at the closing scene is correct - if not, then it’s even sillier and more frustrating.
Also, there’s a reason why you don’t see the survival genre crossed with too many others (in this case, ghosts - I left that out of the tagging to keep spoilers limited to the folks who chose to read the full review) - having supernatural elements goes against the basic appeal of a survival horror film, which is that it’s based in reality. I’m not talking about “this really happened” (the Saw films are survival), but that they COULD. So while they’re just being fucked with by locals and getting lost and such - that I can buy. Once they start getting chased by ghosts (and having far too many nightmare scenes on top of that), it makes it harder to buy into any of it as a genuinely possible situation.
Not helping matters is that the film, like Feast, seems to have been under-shot, rendering some of the carnage borderline incoherent. There’s a scene near the end of the 2nd act where the bad teens (who so far we believe to be our villains) are all running around with machetes, cut back and forth between two of our hero characters, and I’ll be damned if I could figure out what the hell was going on, how one of our guys got stabbed, or why the teens all disappeared all of a sudden. And it’s not the only example - it seems whenever things get really frenetic, they get needlessly confusing as well. It’s one thing to have some basic confusion when a particularly upsetting event occurs (i.e. when their boat crashes), but the kill scenes should be crystal clear - we’re supposed to be scared when they occur, right? Not going “wait, who was that?” and reaching for the rewind button.
Also, there’s a scene where one of the good guys accidentally kills one of the other good guys, because she was badly burnt and thus he didn’t recognize her. It’s the type of scene I’ve seen in other movies, where someone accidentally attacks a friend, but there’s something I never got (particularly here) - why don’t they recognize their clothes? They were just together a few scenes earlier, and even though her face is half burnt off, her attire is somehow not too damaged and thus easily identifiable (not to mention that you’d sort of be expecting to see one of your friends nearby anyway in this situation). Perhaps the scene could have been blocked a bit differently so it would be slightly less plot hole-y (I couldn’t help but think of the perfect execution of such a moment in The Descent, when Juno spins around with her claw out and stabs Beth in the neck).
But it’s still a decent enough time killer. Like I said, there’s a lot to like, and they do manage to take one of the most over-used plot setups in the world to deliver something a bit outside of the box, so that’s laudable. Maybe with better editing (assuming that he had the footage to work with in the first place - given the film’s low budget it’s possible that they never got to film as much coverage as would be necessary for some of the more exciting scenes) and a more coherent ending (which again, could be the result of a “we didn’t get to shoot an important scene” situation) it would be an overall winner instead of a mixed bag. Sadly, that, plus the fact that the disc has no extras whatsoever (a trailer is not an extra!), puts this one in the rental category. However, I do look forward to Nick Cohen's next film - editing snafus aside, this is easily one of the more visually interesting ADF titles of this year’s batch, and I think with some more dough and a less muddled script he could deliver some great stuff.
What say you?