The Third Annual After Dark Film Festival
Trailer Park of Terror
Directed by Steven Goldmann
It's hard to envision a more objectionable and flat-out interminable contemporary horror effort than Trailer Park of Terror, as the film boasts many of the attributes that one has come to dread from the genre as of late - including uniformly unpleasant and unlikable characters, ill-conceived attempts at humor, and an overall atmosphere of grungy seediness. Based on an ongoing comic-book series, the film opens with a hopelessly protracted sequence in which a trailer-trash bimbo (Nichole Hiltz's Norma) seeks revenge on her dim-witted neighbors for the death of her boyfriend. Some time later, a group of troubled high schoolers - along with their chaperone (Matthew Del Negro's Pastor Lewis) - reluctantly take solace at the eponymous locale after running into car trouble and subsequently find themselves terrorized by Norma and her legion of undead (and bloodthirsty) followers. Director Steven Goldmann has populated Trailer Park of Terror with some of the most eye-rollingly stereotypical figures that one could possibly imagine, with the villains coming off as clichéd rednecks and their teenaged victims falling into easily-recognizable categories (ie the Goth, the Slut, the Douchebag, etc, etc). It goes without saying that Timothy Dolan's unusually incompetent screenplay only exacerbates the film's various problems, as the scripter's obstinate refusal to offer up any interesting or innovative elements will test the patience of even the most open-minded horror buff. The painfully drawn-out third act - in which the demonic antagonists toy and torture their hapless quarry - is compounded by an increased emphasis on an almost immeasurably irritating rock-'n-roll score, and it's ultimately impossible to refer to Trailer Park of Terror as anything other than a bottom-of-the-barrel endeavor.
Directed by Trygve Allister Diesen and Lucky McKee
One ultimately can't help but question Red's inclusion with After Dark's line-up, as the film - though quite good - never entirely comes off as the horrific endeavor that one might've anticipated based solely on the premise. This is despite the presence of several genre-friendly figures both in front of and behind the camera, including co-director Lucky McKee (May, The Woods), screenwriter Stephen Susco (The Grudge, The Grudge 2), and actors Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and Ashley Laurence (Hellraiser). The movie casts Brian Cox as Avery Ludlow, a lonely recluse whose orderly life is thrown into chaos after a trio of teenaged punks (Noel Fisher's Danny, Kyle Gallner's Harold, and Shiloh Fernandez's Pete) kill his beloved dog in cold blood. The majority of Red follows Cox's character as he attempts to exact some form of lawful retribution for the callous act, though Avery's various efforts are stymied at virtually every turn (ie the cops, his lawyer, and even the boys' respective fathers prove unable or unwilling to assist Avery in his cause). And while not a whole lot happens during the film's slightly overlong running time, Red remains engaging from start to finish primarily thanks to Cox's absolutely mesmerizing performance - with a sequence in which Avery delivers a long, uninterrupted monologue recounting a tragic event from past certainly standing out as a highlight. The film's subsequent refusal to adopt the attributes of a typical revenge thriller hardly comes as a surprise, as directors McKee and Trygve Allister Diesen use Cox's Oscar-worthy work as a springboard for a deliberately paced and downright thoughtful piece of work.
Directed by Simon Hunter
There's little doubt that Mutant Chronicles' downfall has been cemented by Simon Hunter's decision to film the bulk of the proceedings against a green screen, as the movie - clearly a shoe-string endeavor - ultimately suffers from a pervadingly low-rent sensibility that proves impossible to overlook. It subsequently goes without saying that the relatively promising premise is virtually rendered moot by the muddled, hopelessly murky visuals, although - to be fair - the movie does a few decent action sequences that temporarily perk one's interest. Set in the year 2707, Mutant Chronicles follows a ragtag group of grizzled fighters (including Thomas Jane's Mitch, Ron Perlman's Brother Samuel, and Devon Aoki's Valerie) as they embark on a deadly mission to destroy a device that's transforming people into bloodthirsty mutants. The degree to which the admittedly talented cast is left floundering is nothing short of staggering, as the various actors find themselves unable to act their way through the film's ineffective, almost uniformly unconvincing set-pieces - with Philip Eisner's laughably stilted dialogue certainly not helping matters. Mutant Chronicles' inherently experimental modus operandi will likely assure its place as a curiosity in the years to come, yet there's little doubt that the film's central question - is it possible to produce an expansive sci-fi epic entirely on sets and with very little money? - is quickly (and firmly) answered with a resounding "no."
Directed by Dean Ronalds
It's certainly not surprising to learn that NetherBeast Incorporated started out as a five-minute short, as the film generally feels as though its been unnaturally padded-out to fill a feature-length running time - with its various problems exacerbated by a relentlessly quirky atmosphere that becomes oppressive right from the word go. The movie transpires almost entirely within the confines of a well-established telephone company, where - for generations - vampires have worked and lived without ever leaving its walls. Problems ensue after the senile top dog (Darrell Hammond's Turner Claymore) forgets that he's a bloodsucker and subsequently hires a productivity consultant (Judd Nelson's Steven Landry), which leaves the various employees (including Steve Burns' Otto, Jason Mewes' Dan, and Dave Foley's Henry) scrambling to ensure that their deadly secret remains hidden. Director Dean Ronalds has infused NetherBeast Incorporated with an exceedingly flat visual sensibility that proves effective in highlighting the film's almost distractingly low-rent production values, with the egregiously shoddy vibe compounded by Tim Clark's headache-inducing score and Bruce Dellis' penchant for punctuating virtually every line of his screenplay with eye-rollingly unfunny bits of comedy. And while Dellis does include a veritable mountain of backstory for the vampires and their various rules (the majority of which is, not surprisingly, absolutely pointless), the film's lack of plot leaves the hopelessly broad characters with little to do other than spout dialogue that's almost uniformly inauthentic and inane (ie there's a long, woefully drawn-out argument revolving around the meaning behind the old "tortoise and the hare" fable). Were this a garden-variety sitcom, NetherBeast Incorporated would still feel like a tremendous waste of time - although, in all fairness, the movie is never quite as flat-out boring as one might've feared (ie it's watchable in an elevator-music sort of way).
Let the Right One In
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Though it boasts a number of admittedly irresistible horror elements, Let the Right One In primarily (and ultimately) comes off as one of the most memorable and flat-out engrossing coming-of-age stories to come around in quite some time. Director Tomas Alfredson has infused the proceedings with a stark, downright eye-catching visual sensibility that effectively mirrors the spare storyline, which mostly revolves around the friendship that blossoms between a put-upon young boy (Kåre Hedebrant's Oskar) and his mysterious new neighbor (Lina Leandersson's Eli). The film's exceedingly deliberate pace certainly demands a fair bit of patience from the viewer, however, as screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist takes his time in setting up the various characters and allowing the plot to organically unfold. And while Lindqvist's head-scratching aversion to exposition does result in a few unanswered questions - ie who's that guy fetching blood for Eli? - the degree to which the scripter has fleshed-out the movie's two central characters and their increasingly compelling bond proves more than adequate in terms of capturing (and sustaining) the viewer's interest. The emphasis on Oskar and Eli's platonic relationship hardly precludes Alfredson from peppering the movie with several seriously sinister interludes, as the filmmaker offers up one brilliantly conceived set-piece after another - including a periphery character's jaw-dropping encounter with a room full of cats and a watery confrontation between Eli and several of Oskar's bullies. That the film culminates with an ending that's just about perfect cements its place as a thoroughly original and consistently engaging piece of work, with Alfredson's innovative directorial choices and the uniformly affecting performances playing a significant role in Let the Right One In's undeniable success.