JANUARY 24, 2013
Just as the news came in that S-V/H/S had been picked up by Magnolia (who put out the original as well), I was watching Barrio Tales, another horror anthology in what is becoming a bit of a trend (is someone listening to me?); I saw more than twice as many anthology films in 2012 as I did in 2011, in fact. My article explains why I think it should be a more attractive prospect for studios, but all of them are indie productions like this - there's still a long way to go before we can expect to see such fare in the multiplexes.
Anyway, Barrio is decent, but it lacks the element of surprise (well, to me anyway - maybe you'd be surprised by its story turns. In that case, don't read the review! I honestly can't tell if any of the things were supposed to be surprises). It's pretty easy to see where each one of its stories (and the wraparound) are going, which is a big faux pas in this particular sub-genre. Inspired twists or just plain out of nowhere revelations are not only common, they're encouraged! Let's face it, the number of amazing characters in these films is a pretty short list, which is why it's common to get popular actors in those roles - it gives them a boost of depth and sympathy that the short format doesn't allow for. We don't like Laurie in Trick R Treat because she's interesting or has an identifiable character motivation - we like her because she's Anna Paquin. This being a low budget production with unknown actors (no offense to any of them), it doesn't have that benefit, so they should be making up for it by blowing our minds or giving us something completely new.
Alas, they're all pretty standard tales, albeit given some Mexican flavor and a touch of humor. The first one is your basic "wronged person seeks revenge on the assholes that hurt them" tale, focusing on a maid who is employed by an absentee pair of rich folks and harassed by their jerk son and his equally dickish friends. There's a slight variation, in that it's her grandmother who gets the revenge via voodoo, but that just makes the outcome even less satisfying. These kids are quite possibly the biggest bunch of pricks in a movie ever, to the extent that pretty much any comeuppance wouldn't have been satisfying - but at least if it was done by a ghost/zombie/whatever of the girl, it'd be slightly more cathartic than her grandmother (who we've never seen before) doing it from hundreds of miles away. And it's pretty simple, one guy just sort of chokes to death and that's the grimmest one! These guys should have been torn asunder like Frank in Hellraiser!
The second is the most overtly goofy, which means it's also the best. Some neighborhood kids are obsessed with this taco track, and its owner "Uncle" Tio who is awesome and remembers everyone's preferred orders and gives stuff on the house and such. But what's the secret to his delicious tacos??? You don't need to have seen Soylent Green to guess, and it's a pity they delay this reveal until the halfway point or so, since it could have been fun to just focus on Tio going about his business, instead of presenting it from one of the neighborhood kids' point of view as they solve this non-mystery. It doesn't help that we get the most obvious giveaway in the history of cinema, when a character goes out of his way to point out his class ring (accompanied by a closeup), so we know someone's going to find that ring inside a taco later on. Come on guys, we're all smarter than this.
The third is interesting; sort of a sped-up version of that movie Undocumented where a couple of red-blooded Americans (read: extreme racists) catch a bunch of Mexicans who are sneaking across the border, bring them to their compound, and proceed to torture/kill them. This is the weakest of the segments, the villains are too cartoonish and the heroes too ill-defined to care much about any of it, and the attempts at a mythology of sorts (on both sides) fall flat. But it moves along, and like all the segments is well made and acted, and thankfully avoids too much soapboxing as it devolves into general entertainment, mimicking any Hostel type movie where folks escape their tormentors and become just as violent in the process.
The wraparound is too brief to care much about; two kids who sneak across the border to buy drugs run afoul of the guy telling them the stories as they wait for the dealer to show up. Like the stories themselves, you can see where it's going from the start, but it never makes sense on any level. There's a bit in one of the stories where we see a newspaper headline about a pop star dying, which I thought would tie into the wraparound (or one of the other stories at least) somehow, but nothing comes of it. Perhaps I just had Tales From The Hood on the brain (which DOES tie a story into the bookends, quite cleverly) because the movie steals one of that film's jokes (the "refried beans" bit). But I can be generous and call it an homage to another minority-centric anthology horror film, I guess.
Not much more to say, really. I wasn't too bored, it was professionally made, and the acting was above average for this sort of thing. And even though I'm sick of the "film damage" filter, it had some pretty sweet credit sequences, so it's all good. If you're starved for some anthology action, you can certainly do worse. Order up some tacos first though; human meat or not this movie made me damn hungry.
What say you?