FEBRUARY 24, 2013
Some fans may not want to admit it, and others will argue, but the "fact" remains that many of the slashers in the "golden era" (post-Halloween, pre-Nightmare on Elm Street) aren't very good. We love them all (well, mostly) because they're all kind of the same and (for my generation) we had access to them during our formative years, so they coast on our nostalgia more than a lot of genres. And they're fun and usually made with a certain degree of enthusiasm, which keeps their oft-cynical reason to exist obscured. However, movies like Nobody Gets Out Alive (aka Down The Road) don't have the benefit of that nostalgia, and their filmmakers are fans of the same movies, so it's easier to spot that they don't have much identity of their own.
I mean, when it comes down to it, this is basically a combo remake of Friday the 13th parts 1 and 3. In the opening scene, a careless teen causes the death of a child, leading their parent to become a local boogeyman of sorts - which is the same thing Mrs. Voorhees was in the first movie (even if it never bothered to tell us that until the final reel), and the characters are pretty closely modeled on the ones from Part 3 - the main girl has had some emotional trauma she's looking to get over, her pal has a kid (though in F13 she was pregnant, this one's a toddler), there's a weirdo no one likes (a la Shelly) who gets them in trouble with a couple of local thugs after an encounter at the convenience store, etc. Once you remove all the Friday stuff (intentional or not; though special thanking series creator Victor Miller for his advice is a sure sign I'm not far off), there isn't much time left in the 78 minute film for its own personality. The killer is slightly more interesting than the typical masked boogeyman (this isn't a whodunit), but that doesn't help much - in some ways it even hurts since he's just some guy with a beard instead of "the guy in the hockey mask", "the guy wearing the miner outfit", etc.
But writer/director Jason Christopher sure knows these movies well, and thus knows what works and what doesn't. The characters aren't really very interesting, but they have enough personality to allow us to tell them apart (you'd be surprised how many I see that can't even get that much right), and there's a SLIGHT bit of sadness when two of them die, because (SPOILER, but come on, it's a slasher movie) one is the mother of a toddler and the guy is the would-be stepdad who plans to propose (and is very loving toward a child that isn't biologically his), so that's a bummer. It's a tricky thing with slashers - we know right off the bat most of them are goners, so you don't want to get too invested in them and thus be bummed out by the outcome since that's what you're kind of there for, but you don't want them to be hateful assholes you WANT to die either - it's not an easy thing to pull off. So Christopher does enough for a couple while letting the others be vague enough to not miss them too much.
I do wish he'd DRAW OUT their demises, however. There's almost zero stalking in the movie - the guy just comes out of nowhere and kills them quickly for the most part; the only time he takes some time is when he explains his back-story to two of them that we know won't live, which is a bit awkward. Shouldn't the final girl be the one he explains everything to? But anyway, spreading them out wouldn't have hurt - I'd say of the 7 characters, four of them are killed or seriously injured within a five minute span, and the low lighting/occasionally murky digital photography (way to go old school! HMPH!*) makes it difficult to see much of what is happening in a few of these brief sequences. At 78 minutes, the movie hardly drags or wears out its welcome - certainly they could have padded things out a bit with some actual suspense rather than quick bursts of violence.
I also had trouble with the ending, which has not one but two twists (one only "revealed" after the credits) that set up a sequel we may not actually get. If I've said it once I've said it 72 times - let US tell you if we want this story to continue, not the other way around. There's a big difference between leaving things open and simply not explaining what the hell is going on, and while it's nowhere near as infuriating as Munger Road's similarly "wait for the next one!" ending, it still left a sour taste in my mouth particularly the post-credits one which may have been hinting at what is always the absolute worst twist in movies ever. I'll let you decide on that one. We also never get the full story on the main girl's past (she's just being let out of an institution run by Clint Howard (!) in the opening scene), which again made me feel like I was watching a prequel to the main event.
But for the most part I liked it just fine, and was relieved it was a straight up slasher rather than some "post" this or that thing that would date it. Cell phones aside, this wouldn't be out of place in that golden era - no one was seemingly "above" these sort of movies or trying to reinvent them. Could they have put a little more effort into having its own identity? Sure, but that's preferable to being too far up its own ass, which is disastrous when the filmmakers aren't up to the task. This is only Christopher's second film (his first he has apparently disowned), so hopefully he's keeping it simple while he learns and will knock it out of the park a bit, er, down the road. And he's got one thing down - I think I spied digital "enhancement" on a few shots (the windshield?), but I'm pretty sure it's mostly practical blood during the kill scenes, which is a sure sign of someone who actually gives a shit. A friend of mine claims that these indie movies are only shot in 20 days and thus they don't have time to deal with that sort of thing on set, but this was only shot in 12, so my friend can suck it. If you're making a horror flick (ESPECIALLY a slasher), then budgeting in the time/money for practical blood should be just as much of a priority as shooting the dialogue and the final battle with the killer or whatever.
There are a couple of supplements, including a commentary featuring Christopher and producer Deven Lobascio, who apparently recorded it at 2:30 in the morning. So their memories are a bit hazy (there's about two full minutes devoted to Christopher trying to remember "The Mackenzie's" from Halloween - he never does) and they dip into silence a few times, but it's a uniquely entertaining track in that they're young and yet honest. Lot of guys their age tend to think they've made the greatest thing in the world, or spend the entire time making excuses, but they point out a couple things that don't work and don't hold back on their opinions, which is nice. This carries over to the making of, in which they recount the rather poor first impression that their lead actress made and show some of their naivety when dealing with the more experienced folks in other departments. And it ends with them winning an award at a film festival, which was nice as it was a couple years ago so I'm glad that the movie is finally seeing release by a respected company (Image) after what must have been a long road. I'm getting older (I'm as old as Bruce Willis was when he made Die Hard! I literally can't wrap my head around that one), so seeing these young guys going out there and getting things done (I swear they're only like 21 or so) was endearing. Good for them. Just next time - don't leave everything for the sequel! Paint yourself in a corner and figure it out later like all the guys you were inspired by had to!
What say you?
*This is a joke - on the making of he lamented not being able to shoot on film, another thing I appreciated.