Portal (2009)

APRIL 6, 2011


I haven’t bought a game day of release in quite some time (I think Final Fantasy XIII was the last one), but that might change on April 19th, when Portal 2 is unleashed (depends on reviews and how much my paycheck is on the 15th). I loved the hell out of the first game, and fondly thought about playing it in my head whenever the movie Portal got a bit slow, since it was sadly not based on the game. No one even ate cake!

But it’s not that bad, as 2 am cable offerings go. In fact it’s probably the best movie I’ve found while hunting through the channel guide trying to justify the 100 bucks a month I spend on cable. To be fair, most of the movies they show I’ve already seen/reviewed (various Saw sequels, the Platinum Dunes series of remakes, and Twilight come up all the time), but the likes of Dismal and Kinky Killers keep me from being too vigilant in finding HMAD selections on Showtime and TMC. I mean, these are the movies that aren’t even good enough to be on Netflix Instant! In fact, it seems this movie isn't even on DVD (in Region 1 anyway), unless it's under a different title. Anyone know what's up with that?

Anyway, the cool thing about the movie (spoiler!) is that it starts in the middle of what has been an ongoing problem for two guys who were trying to get to a concert and had to pull off the road due to excessive fog. As we learn around the halfway mark, they’ve been there for a while already, stuck in a time loop of some sort, and suffering from amnesia caused by drugged food/wine. It’s a fun reveal – sort of reminded me of the underrated Circle of Eight in that respect. Especially for this particular type of story, in which our hero puts a stop to something that has been going on for a while – it’s easier to buy. I know I’ve said this before, but one thing that always bugs me about any horror movie in which the villains have been doing their thing for a while (usually a Texas Chainsaw/Wrong Turn type, but it applies to this cult as well) is that they are suddenly bested by folks who aren’t really doing anything different than you’d assume anyone would do (i.e. running away or fighting back). Same deal here, if the guy had gotten suspicious right off the bat, and then uncovered this cult by himself, it would be a bit silly. But instead, he’s prodded by a rogue cult member into realizing he’s been there for months.

The tone is a bit wonky though. It starts off almost like a goofy, Lesbian Vampire Killers type thing (sans the lesbians), with two affable guys busting each other’s balls with every other line, and villains that seem to have walked out of an old Hammer movie or something. But as it goes on, it gets more and more serious, especially once you realize what the cult folks are up to. It doesn’t help that director/co-writer Geoffrey Schaaf has created a very pedestrian looking film, not to mention ridiculously claustrophobic – everything is in closeup, and there are no real establishing shots or anything to provide any sense of scope. I don’t think we ever even get a real look at the whole motel where the bulk of the movie takes place. Even at the end, when our survivors are giving birth, we just see like one corner of the room they are in. Is it a hospital? A church? Zoom out, man! At any rate, the flat, lifeless look of the film (which I can only assume was a budgetary restriction) betrays some of the screenplay’s more unique and enjoyable ideas.

The actors are a pretty bland lot as well. The only one I recognized was the kid who plays young Dean Winchester on Supernatural, and our Jamie Bamber-esque hero wasn’t particularly engaging in any way. One thing I liked about the way the plot unfolded was that the supporting characters were all sort of on a level playing field; no obvious goners (or obviously “safe” folks either), but I didn’t care for the fact that our alleged hero didn’t really do anything to stick out – he’s only the hero because the camera is pointed toward him more often than the others. His chemistry with his wife is pretty weak too – their reunion should have been a pretty nice moment, but it felt like the two were meeting for the first time. Again, the script deserves better than the production.

And what’s with maggots always being the go-to thing for characters who are fucked? Either they puke them up, or suddenly see them where they weren’t before, etc. I think we need to give maggots a rest. How about mosquitoes? I know if I puked up a handful of mosquitoes, I’d be pretty goddamn grossed out. Or a beach crab? Those things scared the hell out of me when I was a kid; I think if I suddenly felt one crawling around in my throat I’d be pretty freaked out, just as I would if it happened to someone in a movie. But maggots are just overplayed. Plus, no maggot scene has topped Lost Boys’, and that was almost 25 years ago!

I’d really love to read the script for this one. The plot and how it unfolded seemed far more interesting to me than most of the DTV junk I watch, but the movie’s cheap, bland aesthetic kept me from ever being truly engaged by it. At least with the script I can imagine better actors in the lead (maybe even the actual Winchesters!), some visual prowess, and.... well, probably Bruce Willis somewhere in there.

What say you?


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