Synapse release 2011
Directed by Philippe Robert
With Vincent Lecompte, Patrick Mons, and Sophie Michard
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
This is a French film made with a very low budget that has some nice ideas going for it. It generated a low-grade buzz when it came out, causing some chatter at the Festival Mauvais. However rather than grabbing a theatrical distributor it hit DVD in Europe about a year later in 2008. It is finally making its appearance on these shores courtesy of Synapse.
There is an interesting smash up of genres here. At first we’re introduced to a group of guys that seem pretty insular, however on this day they are going out with the girls. They seem as ill prepared for this as The Three Stooges walking down the block carrying daises for their sweeties. There are planning a nice camp out in the woods with a cook out meal. To bring home just how unprepared our fellows are we see that each of them has brought along a huge bag of charcoal and no one has picked up any actual food or drink. It’s kind of cute watching these guys stack the big bags of briquettes into the back of a car.
When the guys meet the girls, it’s clear one has a budding romance that’s just begun to bloom. He doesn’t quite know how to water it. Another guy is fun, but the most interesting one is obsessed with video games and wants nothing to do with the clingy girl that is talking to him. He calls her tuna instead of Tina. The girls are smarter, especially the new squeeze. You imagine she is going to learn that her new beau is not quite the one for her. That’s our cast.
Now we get an escaped murderer on the loose. How many times have we heard about this just when the kids are out driving on a desolate dark night. Coincidence, n’est pas? It’s a French film. Naturally while on the way to the camp our guys run out of gas. The car comes to a complete stop. One of the guys journeys into the ink black night and returns to persuade them to push the car up and down the hills into him in a convenience store / gas station he spotted. They fill up but no one is there. They go inside to pay and fail to notice the attendant strung upside down and bleeding out into a big bucket. There is our murderer casually asking for a ride. Sure, hop in. The plot could use a new wrinkle.
On the way to the campsite we get the third and final element of our story. Apparently there is some huge worm like space creature living under the ground that has developed a taste for take out humans. This thing tosses their cars about and stalks them for the rest of the picture. It can’t see but it can sense movement. Like the worms in Tremors? Sorry, next question. It has tendrils that reach out and grab you in a leafy clutch. Like in The Ruins? Sorry, next question. Oh, like the monsters we see on the SyFy Channel made out of CGI? Okay, yeah like that. Don’t worry, there is a prologue that explains this so it all makes sense – not really. To give this film its due, there are some clever sequences like the one set in a massive junkyard filled with cars. These cars are like the monster’s empty lunch boxes. The kids run through the cars as the earth ripples up beneath the ground chasing them. Some of that is nicely played and there is some good tension built up as the creature hunts the kids down. There are even a few glimpses of the monster that look pretty decent, even for TV movie computer work. The smash up of the three genres sorta works and you can almost actually get caught up in the story, especially as the last two characters are left to match wits with the ravenous monster.
Unfortunately this film simply looks awful. So much of the film takes place outside at night. With a very sub standard camera and little to no lighting we are left squinting at the TV trying to make out what the hell is going on. Whatever interesting ideas director Phillippe Robert has are ultimately shot in the foot by the atrocious camera work and horrid lighting. Given that the equipment was not all that professional it is still no excuse when a fellow like Kevin Smith can use a few credit cards and turn out a black and white film like Clerks that is perfectly watchable. Mr. Smith knew you had to be able to see and hear the film to enjoy it. I’ve read some good things about the director’s debut here but the look of this film is surely one of the reasons why we have not heard much from Mr. Robert since this film came out.
I always find myself rooting for the underdog filmmaker who can achieve a lot with a little. From Edgar Ulmer’s 1940’s poverty row flicks all the way up through something like Hunter Prey. That was a great science fiction film that hit DVD recently. Sandy Collora constructed a gripping tale that played like an extended episode of The Outer Limits. All he had was a few actors and a large stretch of sand that doubled for a planet in outer space. It was shot outside in natural light and looked fine. He did however get himself a terrific costumer who made the two warriors look fabulous. Phillippe Robert wrote, shot and directed this one. This has to rest on his shoulders. Others who have worked with limited budgets have fared far better.
Video – The transfer appears loyal to the non- anamorphic standard def source so Synpase is not at fault here. If you really want to see this one, squint away and maybe turn all the lights out and draw the shades, too. Honestly, this looks terrible. The beginning scenes before they get into the woods have that washed out soap opera quality.
Audio – French 2.0 and 5.1 track with English subtitles. The titles were fine, even adapting soccer for football. Dialogue was clear and the little foley f/x were okay. This plays very much like a TV movie and does not carry the kind of robust cinematic experience viewers may be expecting when they look at the cool cover of the creepy plant monster squeezing a damsel in its leafy tendrils.
Extras – Trailer and chapters. However you do get the neat cover painting. It made me want to watch it.
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic
DVD – Poor
Movie – Fair
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin