APRIL 22, 2011
I’ll give ROT: Reunion Of Terror credit for one thing – it’s not as generic or even as bad as it appears to be. The amateur actors, obnoxious dialogue, pitiful humor, etc, will lead any intelligent viewer to suspect that this is just yet another shitty slasher movie where you inadvertently root for the killer because the characters are so loathsome, but the last act pulls a switcheroo that, while not entirely successful, at least proves the filmmakers were trying to do something different.
The biggest problem is the tone, which goes all over the place throughout the movie. It starts off, well, as a porno, with a fairly graphic (for these sort of things) lesbian sex scene. But there’s also a dark, rapid fire edit sequence of our killer cutting out the intended victims’ faces out of a yearbook and pinning them up on his wall – and the two lesbians aren’t among the group. So right off the bat I was a bit confused, because if our killer has a purpose, then why is he going after these two? There’s even a brief moment where it looks like he WILL let them go, which would have been pretty cool, but then he slashes them both.
Then we meet our group, the six (well, five - one never shows up so he can be a red herring) now older folks we saw in the photos, and the movie turns campy as all hell. There’s a redneck gas station (with a midget for good measure), run by a guy who is obsessed with porn, and the friends reminisce about their drinking/pot-smoking glory days while drinking and smoking pot, making bathroom jokes, etc... it’s just really breezy and light, if not necessarily fun. And at times it almost seems to be some sort of absurdist comedy, such as when the park ranger admonishes them for driving 23 MPH in an 18 MPH speed zone (18?), and angrily tells them to have their campfires out by 7 pm. It’s summer in California – why would anyone have a fire before then, when it was still super bright?
But something is amiss, because we’re inching closer and closer to the end of the movie (which is only 78 minutes, with extended opening credits and slow rolling end ones) and no one is dying yet. Finally, folks start going off by themselves, and then it becomes this really dark survival type slasher, as the kills are really violent and not in any way like the relatively “fun” types you see in the Friday the 13th movies they seemed to be emulating in the earlier part of the movie. Finally, it comes down to one left standing, and the killer reveals himself and explains why he’s doing all of this... and it’s DEPRESSING AS HELL. I’d feel guilty spoiling it, but it’s certainly not the usual “you guys were mean to me in high school” or “your mom fucked my dad and ruined my family” type excuse that one might expect from this sort of reunion scenario.
So it’s not that the motive is bad (it’s fairly original, in fact), but it just doesn’t fit with this sort of movie in general, and it CERTAINLY doesn’t fit in this one, which at times is sillier and more carefree than even the later Friday sequels. In order to really work, you have to be taking the characters and/or the movie serious, and the screenwriters haven’t given us a reason to do that. I’m racking my brain trying to think of a slasher movie where the tone in the first 70 minutes or so would have been appropriate for this particular revelation, but only French films like High Tension come to mind. So I guess that’s probably why no one’s done it before – perhaps they knew it was too tricky to pull off successfully.
I was also continually puzzled by the movie’s strange sexual hang-ups. In addition to the lesbians, who of course feel the need to make out in front of strangers and turn nearly every line they have into a double entendre, we also have a character who is running away from home because her stepfather was molesting her. Oh, and later she gives the guy who picked her up a hand job and one of the things he says is “Who’s your daddy?”, which just seems odd considering why they met up in the first place. Then he goes to buy condoms and she adds tampons to the mix – ew (and then of course we find out she’s not yet 18). Plus every older male in the movie is characterized as a pervert (the forest ranger is seen sniffing panties and pleasuring himself while looking at the erotic services ads in the newspaper), and the protagonists are constantly making homoerotic jokes and such. There are three credited writers; I think one of them needs to have a healthy relationship before writing another movie.
All this stuff just added to my constant confusion while watching the movie, as I never was sure if I was supposed to be taking it serious or not. Once you have all the answers, I guess it seems that you SHOULD, but that’s not the right way to go about it. Sixth Sense has a bummer ending too, but it’s not like the movie is wacky and loose before that point – it’s a surprise but it fits the overall tone and mood of the movie. On one hand, it’s nice that they “saved” the flick, which improved my overall opinion of the movie, but on the other, it makes it hard to recommend. “Hey, watch this movie that kind of sucks for an hour or so, and then turns out to have a cool ending that doesn’t really fit!”
One thing I wasn’t confused about was the amount of padding. Once I saw the super-slow credits at the top of the film I knew I’d be in for a 60 minute movie stretched to 80, and I wasn’t wrong. We also get a lot of flashbacks to things we just saw, or simply didn’t need to, like when we get a lengthy look at the lesbian girls’ trip to the gas station, even though they’re already dead and we know they aren’t important. And the slow motion! Jesus Christ, every single scene has an action or reaction shot slowed down for no discernible reason; Zack Snyder himself would be baffled by the excessive time stretches.
But then you listen to the commentary and watch the bonus features, and you realize that it’s almost a miracle that there’s a movie at all, let alone a fairly watchable one. Apparently it was so cold where they were shooting that they ended up losing a lot of their footage and thus had to reshoot, which was a problem as the director was located in Florida and the movie was shot in Big Bear, California (if this was explained I missed it; I was tuning in and out since I had just watched the movie). Plus, at least one crew member was hauled off to jail shortly after arriving on set, other folks quit for one reason or another, there was some problem with one of the post houses, most of the sound wasn’t usable due to generator noise, and even writer/director/editor Michael Hoffman is aware of the movie’s tonal issues. And it’s a pretty good commentary; he is joined by two others (one is co-writer Meghan Jones, I forget the other’s name) and they bust each others’ balls and point out some of the bad dubbing and such. Hoffman also points out that he was very much influenced by Prom Night, and thus the rather lengthy wait until we get to the killings was intentional. There are also three short making of pieces, one on the shoot itself, one on the music, and the other on post production, and they are also fairly enjoyable, with a lot of on-set gaffes (such as when they put a hole in the wall of a rented room while trying to get a good foley sound) and an admirable “the show must go on!” spirit.
And I truly admired that. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a zillion times, anyone who can actually complete an independent movie like this, regardless of its quality, has already earned some of my respect – admitting its faults and keeping good spirits about them earns even more. Unfortunately for them, the average viewer of this movie WON’T have as much sympathy (indeed; the only thread on its IMDb page not started by someone in the production is the obligatory “Worst movie ever made!” post), likely due to the fact that they haven’t seen as many horror movies as I have. After 1500+ movies, it’s easy to see the difference between a not-too-great movie with good intentions, and a plain ol’ piece of shit made by greedy folks who were trying to cash in on a trend. A lack of cynicism is always welcome.
What say you?