AUGUST 13, 2011
You all know how much I love Shocker, but it wasn’t until the New Bev screening that I realized why people give it so much shit – the pacing is atrocious. It takes almost an hour for Pinker to finally get “shocked” in the chair, because there’s just too much back-story to cover. The same problem plagues Medium Raw: Night Of The Wolf (only the first part of the title appears on-screen), which someone would probably describe as a movie about a bunch of folks trapped in an asylum where the patients have gotten loose, but that doesn’t happen until the halfway point of the nearly two hour movie.
Hey, and it also has an X-Files cast member! Much like Shocker had Skinner, Medium Raw has The Cigarette Smoking Man himself, William B. Davis, as the head of the institute who seems to be enjoying the idea of his patients being loose. Could he be harboring some secret? (Yes.)
Sadly, the pacing isn’t the movie’s only or even worst problem. Obviously I can deal with a wonky structure as long as it’s good once it gets going, but I can NOT handle a terrible lead actor, which is what Medium Raw gives us. The supporting cast is pretty good (if a bit miscast in some cases; Mercedes McNab as a tough lawyer?), but the guy playing the hero is just terrible, trying to sound tough/witty as well as portray a broken, obsessed man. It’s a role for someone like, I dunno, Eric Bana or maybe my boy Michael Fassbender, but instead we get Andrew Cymek, who is also the film’s writer, director, production designer, and editor (and he’s married to the producer, so he probably had a hand in that as well). On the commentary he talks about how hard it was to get the film going financially – maybe if they secured some sort of name (it’s a Canadian production so hell, why not just grab a guy from a Syfy show?) they might have not only had an easier time getting their money, but they also would have had a better film. Not only does his acting all but wreck the movie, but by doing that he was taking time away from focusing on his writing/directing (and possibly letting Andrew the actor boss Andrew the editor around in editing).
Another, less troubling but still puzzling issue is the strange tonal shift in the 2nd act, where the film not only loses focus but also becomes a bit of a black comedy. I dig that they decided to do a sort of Don’t Look In The Basement meets "Arkham Asylum" (the graphic novel, not the game) movie, with 4-5 different nuts to deal with in addition to the main one, but the movie’s first hour is entirely humorless (save for Cymek’s occasional attempts at one-liners), and then all of a sudden there’s a crazed cannibal making cooking puns, a religious nut, and a fetishist who wants to lick everyone’s toes taking up most of the screentime, with the “Wolf” (the movie’s main villain, who killed the hero’s sister when they were kids) being reduced to just another supporting character instead of the focus. It’s not that the humor in these scenes doesn’t work, it just doesn’t FIT; it belongs in a different movie, one that had this sort of tone throughout and also didn’t spend the first hour painting one guy as the real villain only to more or less forget about him later. It’d be like if halfway through a Friday the 13th sequel, Jason goes MIA and our campers have to deal with bears or something for a half hour until Jason comes back.
And I know he knows how to do this, because the team's previous film Dark Rising (which also had a wonky structure, now that I think about it) had humor throughout, so it was never an issue. On the commentary he explains that they needed something light to break the tension, and maybe he’s right, but this isn’t how to do it. Se7en’s little running gag about the loud subway train was a perfectly decent “tension breaker” that didn’t seem too out of place; the cannibal character here literally seems transplanted from another film entirely. And since her scenes are so disconnected from the others (she never interacts with or even mentions the Wolf, I think), they all could have been excised from the movie and helped reduce its ridiculous 111 minute runtime.
It also could have cut down on the movie’s most obnoxious subplot – the little girl who is at the asylum for the dumbest reason possible and continually gets lost, found, hides, gets lost again... a cycle that repeats itself throughout the entire second half. I honestly lost count of how many times an adult character tells her to “stay put” or “go hide” (including in the extended cannibal sequence), and the fact that she shouldn’t even have been there just makes these moments more obnoxious. I understand the need for her character – giving the hero a chance to make up for failing to save his sister (who was about the same age as this little girl), but they should have come up with a better reason for her to be there than “visiting her grandmother” (one of the nurses). Hell, why not just make her one of the patients? Or some homeless girl that snuck in to stay warm on the winter night?
And that’s the problem with the movie as a whole – they had a good idea and a great location, but just did everything “wrong”. It’s not without entertainment value, and it looks terrific despite the low budget (though the CGI snow is grating – it’s Canada, you couldn’t just wait for it to snow for real?), but throughout the movie I just kept seeing ways that it could/should have been better. For example, the aforementioned clunky pace – why do we spend so much time on the pre-institution part of the movie, when all of it just amounts to “a serial killer is caught and institutionalized”? Half of this stuff could have been covered in voiceover. John Rhys-Davies plays a cop who was looking for the killer since Johnny was a kid, and his scenes are fine, but they don’t really serve much of a purpose in the long run, since (spoiler) he dies 25 minutes in and is never mentioned again. It’s like they had enough ideas for 2-3 movies and decided to cram them all in instead of simplifying things. Or perhaps wanted to make a more attractive movie for distributors regardless of how it hurt their narrative; who cares if the scenes are worthless if you can boast having a Lord of the Rings cast member in your trade ads?
Hilariously, on the commentary we learn that these scenes were extraneous to the production as well, shot a couple of years (!) before the rest of the movie. Apparently they had John for a few days and wanted to shoot his parts of the (presumably finished) script before all of their financing was in place, and for one reason or another that dough didn’t come through for quite a while (if I am understanding Cymek correctly, Dark Rising was shot in between these scenes and the film’s asylum-set 2nd and 3rd acts, which also might explain why the directing gets a lot less “showy” there – Dark Rising perhaps taught him a few things). He also admits on more than one occasion that the movie didn’t quite turn out the way he wanted, which is admirable, and perhaps that’s why he frequently goes into long stretches of silence; either he was afraid of making too many excuses, or he WAS and the track got re-edited later. Either way, it definitely seems like he could have used a co-participant, such as Brigitte Kingsley, his wife who is the aforementioned producer as well as the film’s female lead. She definitely has more screen charisma than he does, and as the producer could probably have a lot of good insight to share, but alas she has no presence here or on the other bonus features, which are just a bunch of extended/deleted scenes, with forced commentary by Cymek explaining why they were cut (no explanation necessary; I’d rather hear about why he didn’t cut MORE). There’s also an alternate ending, which probably should have been used (and he prefers it), but apparently test audiences hated it so out it went. Way to stick to your guns, man.
I really wanted to like this one, and at times it works really well (I particularly dug the crazy suit the Wolf wore), but the erratic pacing, tonal shifts, and Cymek’s lousy performance constantly kept me from ever really getting into it. And sadly, it’s too long to even recommend as a fun “background” viewing (I just realized it actually shares Shocker’s running time as well), though if some bored kid with Final Cut Pro had the initiative, he could make an 85-90 minute version that comes closer to being a worthy time-killer. Get to it!
What say you?