FEBRUARY 4, 2013
A few years back (well, more than a few, it was pre-HMAD!) I saw a movie called Fingerprints, which concerned an urban legend about a bus full of kids that stalled on railroad tracks and were killed by an oncoming train, and now their ghosts would push your car if you let it idle on those tracks. It wasn't a great movie, but it held my attention and had some decent performances, and focused on a pretty cool little legend. Munger Road tackles the same legend, but doesn't quite succeed at the "held my attention" part, and none of its idiot teens are as likable as that film's Leah Pipes.
It also largely leaves the story behind after the first 25 minutes, focusing instead on the four teens sitting in their broken down car waiting for help to arrive and disappearing one by one. Meanwhile, a pair of cops (Bruce Davison and Randall Batinkoff, the film's only recognizable actors) investigate the possible return of a serial killer to their quiet town (the box art claims this is a Halloween type thing, but it's actually more like My Bloody Valentine), which means they spend 75% of their screentime waving flashlights around in abandoned buildings and such. His story has nothing to do with the thing that the kids are investigating, so there's a disconnect between the two storylines that never quite gels together. We're supposed to assume that the killer HAS returned and is the one stalking the kids, but it never quite feels like that.
Plus (big spoiler), it isn't, anyway. As with MBV, the chief learns that the killer actually died already and thus couldn't possibly be the one who killed 3 of the 4 kids. Which means.... uh, I have no idea. The movie doesn't explain it. Davison gets the call that the killer has been dead for 24 hours (he got hit by a truck shortly after escaping the institution), turns to the survivor and asks "Then what happened here?" as another character looks at the footage from their video camera. So now you're thinking they're gonna go all High Tension on us and show us video footage proving the surviving character was the one who killed everyone, but no. The movie just ends, with a "To Be Continued" text that should go over slightly worse than the URL at the end of Devil Inside, since at least that movie didn't leave it up in the air as to what IT WAS ACTUALLY ABOUT. Is this a serial killer movie? Psychological slasher? Ghost? All of the above? Or none?
Don't mistake my questions for genuine interest, however - I couldn't care less if Munger Road 2 ever came to pass. I used a public restroom the other night, and I'm more concerned with the health of the total stranger in the adjacent stall; sounded like he was having a tough time getting things done in there. Even if the movie was terrific up until that point, this kind of an ending is a complete slap in the face to a paying audience - I don't care if the sequel was already in production at the time this one was released (and it wasn't/still isn't), you do not end your first movie like that and just hope the audience wants to come back for more. We tell YOU if we want a sequel, not the other way around. It's fine to leave a movie OPEN for a sequel, like Halloween, or pretty much any monster movie ever made that shows that one last egg remaining, but that's only after the story is completed. Michael Myers gets away, but Laurie is safe, Loomis feels validated that he wasn't crazy, etc. If writer/director Nicolas Smith was making Halloween, he'd end it right around when Loomis sees Tommy and Lindsey running out of the house or something.
Of course, someone will point to the low budget as an excuse. Well I could counterpoint that you don't need an Oscar nominated actor playing a major role in this sort of movie, but for all I know he did the movie for free so I'll just say that the movie's problems don't seem to be budget related, unless they were shooting the movie in sequence and ran out of money with 10 pages of the script to go. It doesn't look any worse than most indie horror films of late (read: it's shot on less than perfect digital equipment, all of which looks bad to my eyes but I guess I just have to live with it), and I've certainly seen worse acting. The production moves around a lot; the kids are just in the car but the cops go all around town, and just the fact that it's Illinois instead of goddamn Louisiana is enough to satisfy me on a visual level. No, it's all scripting issues: the time wasted on a go-nowhere pregnancy subplot, the constant bickering between the girls and the guys, the disconnect between the two storylines, and (most of all) the pitiful "go fuck yourself" of an ending - THIS stuff is what brings the movie down, not poor FX or cheap sets that can take the blame in some of these movies.
Unsurprisingly, the writing process is one of the areas NOT really covered on the quintet of making of featurettes, which all together run about 35 minutes. Much is made of the town helping out by closing roads and such, and of course the real life legend, but not "We thought it'd be cool give you cinematic blue balls with our unfinished script". I did get a slight sense from the producers that their primary interest was spending a small sum of money on a movie that would be easy to market (the occasional POV/camera sequences will certainly help, which is probably why they feature prominently in one of the trailers), but Smith at least seems to be passionate about it, and I liked seeing how young everyone was - the DP probably couldn't officially go see R rated movies until like, 2003. They're pretty dull to watch, however; the only one I'd recommend for a laugh is the post-production one, which starts with Smith, completely sans irony, saying that when production ended he felt that the movie was only 50% done. Yeah, I felt the same way after watching the DVD that I grabbed off a store shelf.
In closing, I'd like to offer Mr. Smith and his producers a quote that I quite like, just in case any of them are reading real reviews when not posting fake ones on the IMDb (I counted at least 7). It's from Javier Grillo-Marxuach, who worked on Lost during its first two (best) seasons: "bad cliffhangers withhold...good cliffhangers reveal." Keep that in mind for next time.
What say you?