APRIL 17, 2012
The rarest movies are those where the 2nd act is actually the best part. Lots of movies start strong and fizzle out; others are “slow burns” where any pacing issues are usually forgiven by a knockout finale. But then there are those movies like The Anniversary At Shallow Creek, which starts slow and painfully generic, and then gets pretty ass-kicking around the 40 minute mark, only to drag out the climax and hinge everything on a unique but kind of stupid twist.
The middle part is essentially You’re Next or The Strangers – a home invasion flick. After a shock, sudden death, our group panics and crawls around on the floor trying to avoid detection by the killer or killers outside. They also need to avoid being killed – our guy is a skilled marksman, and most of the kills are via gunshot. That’s unusual for a slasher film, but it actually works here – the bland cast has no obvious heroine or hero, so you’re never sure who is safe, and the rare up close and personal kills are that much sweeter as a result. Plus, there’s a terrific splattered head effect that beats at least half of the stabbing/slashing types I’ve seen in a slasher movie in years, so don’t give me any of that “a slasher doesn’t use a gun” shit.
Also the masks reminded me the ones in the execrable Bryan Loves You, so it’s good that they finally put the design to good use. The pacing here is also quite strong – after the interminable first act, it’s good that they opted for a “everyone knows they’re in danger” version of slasher plotting than the more typical “folks go off one by one and finally the Final Girl realizes everyone is missing hours later” approach. So you get another kill every couple of minutes, and lots of running and hiding and creeping around. Good stuff.
But alas, they throw in a twist. Now, anyone who’s ever seen a movie before can identify the killer immediately since he’s the seemingly nice guy who owns the cabin they’re all staying at (which was the site of a murder a year before) and we even learn he was an Army Sniper, just in case some deaf 2 year old with brain damage wasn’t able to figure it out. The twist is (spoiler) that he’s not alone, and we discover that he has been helped by… SOMEONE! Specifically, his wife, a character we had only seen in a single shot. It seems that this weekend is their anniversary, and they celebrate it every year by renting out their cabin to bland horror movie characters and killing them. It’s novel, I’ll give them that, but why the masks? It was obvious that he was the killer, so the mystery would have improved if it turned out that one of the group of friends was working with him.
And more importantly, why not focus on them the entire time and make it more of a dark comedy slasher? That would be inventive and different, instead of the rather stock slasher thriller they gave us instead. Plus, making a big reveal out of someone we’ve never really met is just baffling. Oddly enough, today I revisited I Know What You Did Last Summer for an upcoming Chiller special, and that movie also builds a reveal around a guy we’ve never met – I couldn’t get a break from cheat endings! But at least this one doesn’t have any red herrings like I Know (which is an incredibly bad movie, by the way); it’s more like they just forgot to film a scene with the other killer and never told the editor to not bother making a big DUN DUN DUNNNNN moment out of it. Even weirder, she takes off her mask first, making it a little confusing since most viewers probably wouldn’t remember who this person that they saw once (not even in a closeup) 45 minutes ago even was.
To be fair, it didn’t help that I just saw Cabin In The Woods, which had a black belt in making something fresh and exciting out of overdone material, but this movie’s weak story isn’t its only problem. They also spend too much time “developing” the characters, but that’s not actually what happens. I still didn’t know or care much about them by the time they started getting killed – the half hour before was just broad, vague dialogue that could be assigned to anyone. “This place is nice!” “There’s some cool shit in the garage.” “”We’ll go, you guys make a fire.” This sort of stuff comprises 90% of the dialogue we hear while we’re waiting for them to die, and even the more specific stuff is just puzzling. “What does some straight laced doctor know about Youtube?”, a character inquires. Um, why wouldn’t he? Like being a doctor somehow prevents you from being forced to watch that guy singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the police car?
Oh yeah, the folks that make up the main couple (by default) are in med school, but they’re just as dimwitted and bland as everyone else; it might as well have been a group of Burger King employees. The only distinguishable character was the little kid that tags along with them for most of the movie, and if you don’t see where HIS plot ends up you’re… well, you’re probably the target audience for this movie.
Oh well. Without movies like this Cabin wouldn’t have been as delightful, so thanks for existing, Anniversary at Shallow Creek. Now I’m going to go listen to Live’s “The Dam At Otter Creek”, which I kept humming anytime the locale was mentioned in the movie. “They took him 3 and 3, in a stretcher made from trees, that had PASSED IN THE STORM…”
What say you?