APRIL 15, 2012
SOURCE: CABLE (CHILLER)
A few years back I was recommended the author Brian Keene, and bought one of his books more or less at random ("Dead Sea"). But as with 95% of the books I buy, it still sits unread, because I watch a horror movie a day and thus have next to no time for any other leisure activities beyond the occasional non-horror film (I also watched The Descendants today; good stuff!) and Xbox. But I figured if I really dug Ghoul, based on his novel of the same name, I'd grab that book off the shelf and at least put it in my desk at work, where I'm more likely to read it (it is there that I've been reading "The Strain" for almost two years. 100 pages to go!).
Sadly, I did not love Ghoul, though a quick check to the book's Wiki page pretty much proved that the film version was a poor adaptation and thus was not reflective of his writing talent. In fact, as I read the page I kept thinking "Why did they change that?" over and over, along with "Oh that makes sense now," regarding things that were glossed over or unexplained entirely in the film. The movie jumped around a lot; I was actually afraid that my DVR had cut out short because there was so little of the movie left and it felt like the climax hadn't even really started yet. As it turns out, nope, the recording was fine - the climax was just rushed and thoroughly unexciting.
And it's a shame, because there's actually a really solid story here, and for a while I was chalking the movie's issues up to budgetary constraints and possible restrictions of the censors (like Syfy, Chiller is a basic cable station and thus has commercials and a "PG-13" equivalent tone). Maybe there will be a longer cut when it hits DVD; there were a couple of muted profanities, so they definitely had something more explicit at one point. Being an in-house production, it would baffle me that they'd get this far in the post process without realizing that you can't say "shit" or whatever - in fact they should have known it before they even shot the scene! And perhaps the time constraint forced them to make a few cuts here and there, which would explain the occasionally awkward editing and rushed finale.
However, no amount of editing (either way) could save one of the movie's biggest flaws: the lousy acting from the three leads. I hate to knock on child actors, but I've seen many great performances from kids in this age group, so I know it's not impossible to find at least ONE that is capable of delivering. One of them was far too showy and forced, the others just awkward, and none of them really felt like good friends. With a story that hews so closely to Stand By Me, it's hard not to be constantly reminded of those four and their largely great turns (and more importantly, strong chemistry). To be fair the material was a bit heavy, and only one of them has any real experience, so I put more blame on the casting/producers than the actors themselves - even if it meant setting the entire movie behind a Denny's and drawing the title monster with MS Paint, they should have put as much of the budget and resources as they possibly could on finding quality actors, since so much of the movie rested on their shoulders.
That heavy material is actually the movie's strongest asset - after a while I was more interested in it than the damn ghoul. All three of the kids suffer from abuse of a different sort; one was smacked around by his dad, one was being molested by his mother, and the other was just ignored/under-loved by his distracted parents (emotional abuse, basically). It's an intriguing backdrop, and it's their opposition to being at home that allows them to catch on to the growing ghoul problem, who is feeding on locals. Its activity is covered up by one of the kid's dads (the physically abusive one), and there's a back-story about a mining accident that plays into it... again, the story is actually pretty solid, and for an hour or so I was fine with the movie's casting/pacing issues, because it was far more interesting than I was expecting. But ultimately it just crumbled under the weight of those issues, and ends with a whimper. If I've said it once I've said it six or seven times; you HAVE to deliver a solid ending for your movie to work as a whole. Leaving the audience on a shrug is a surefire way to get them to dismiss or even completely forget all of the good that came before.
And that's an even bigger problem when they HAD a great ending! The book ends with an epilogue, where the main kid comes back to the town 20 years later and discovers that the abused kid is now an abusive parent himself - the cycle continuing and all that. The third one actually died in the book during the battle with the ghoul, something the movie didn't retain, apparently out of fear of being exciting or suspenseful (another major problem with the movie - the kids are never really in any danger, the few victims are anonymous nobodies). This would have been chilling/good to see, and also paid off the abuse theme that they spent a lot of time on throughout the film, but alas.
It bummed me out that I didn't like the flick. I am a champion of both Chiller and Fearnet doing original productions, because it's probably going to provide jobs for some friends once they're going at it full time like Syfy is, and if there's one thing television definitely lacks its original horror programming (with a mere five shows on the major networks that are genre-based, one being the more sci-fi Fringe). Perhaps they should be sticking to less ambitious material (they were also behind the "Zombies take over Reno" action/horror flick Remains), something like a haunted house or even a straight up slasher film might be better options. Those are proven commodities that don't need a lot of bells and whistles to work well. I mean, Christ, if MTV can pull off a decent slasher (the Super Psycho series), I'm sure the Chiller guys can knock one out of the park. Then when the originals start bringing in more revenue, they can up the budget and tackle meatier stuff like this.
But they inspired me to buy another book that'll take me years to get around to reading! Success!
What say you?