Kicking the Tweets

The Three Stooges (2012)

Arched Highbrows

They're watching Snow White...and they love it.

--Zach Galligan, Gremlins

Unlike most Sunday morning screenings, I couldn't just walk into The Three Stooges and plop down wherever I wanted. It took about thirty seconds of scanning a packed auditorium to find a decent spot, and I immediately suspected I'd been wrangled into some kind of sociology experiment.

It was a diverse enough crowd to offer demented scientists a healthy cross-section of moviegoers: from kids and their parents, to elderly fans of the original comedy shorts, to a group of mentally challenged adults on a field trip, and every combination of race and gender. No doubt, the magnetic strip on my AMC Stubs card had registered me as a control subject for the snark contingent. For weeks, I'd dreaded this film and the sub-human morons whose genuine amusement at the horrible trailers would compel them out of their caves and into the theatre with me.

Well, look who's a sub-human moron now. From the retro title card announcing what would be the first of three mini-Stooges adventures, I was hooked. Directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly and co-writer Mike Cerrone have taken the gross remake/update formula audiences have complained about for a decade and turned it upside down. Unlike the recent Smurfs and Chipmunks movies, which impose modern pop-culture sensibilities on classic children's characters, The Three Stooges keeps the star trio pure: you won't hear Moe say "True dat", and Curly's preferred snack is a whole fish, which he devours from the middle--leaving a 1930s-style carp-toon skeleton.

The movie's three episodes comprise a single, basic plot: after having been anonymously ditched at an orphanage as babies, three violent, socially awkward, yet big-hearted buffoons grow up and set out on a quest to save their home from foreclosure. Grumpy, furrowed-brow brute, Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos), leads the curly-haired wise guy, Larry (Sean Hayes), and rotund, metal-skulled giant, Curly (Will Sasso) on an adventure to the Big City, where they are embroiled in a murder plot, become reality-TV stars, and wreak much havoc on high-society stiffs. Along the way, there's much eye-poking, slapping, and countless gags involving random objects as non-lethal torpedoes, accompanied by sound effects that alternately soften (what should be) bone-breaking blows and enhance them.

I didn't grow up a Stooges fan, but I also hated Tom and Jerry, and found Looney Tunes intolerable. I was more of a transforming-robots and Grayskull kid. That lack of interest, combined with Nicole "Snooki" Pollizi's appearance in the trailer made me think I'd be miserable watching this movie. On the contrary, I laughed and smiled consistently at the brilliant performances of the three leads, and the supporting cast's solid work.

Jane Lynch isn't given much to do, comedically, as the orphanage's head nun. But that's an issue of expectation rather than execution: she plays way against type here, and leaves the Mean Old Lady act to Larry David, as Sister Mary-Mengele. Yep, that Larry David.

Sofia Vergara plays the conniving, rich housewife who wants the Stooges to knock off her husband. Again, I was surprised that the Farrellys didn't set up the star of one of America's biggest sitcoms with more laughs. But I admire their commitment to letting the headliners be the whole show. The Stooges work best against squares, and the film's other funny roles reach only minor levels of broad amusement that can't even touch their nutso-stratosphere antics.

The exception, of course, is the appearance of the Jersey Shore cast. Their buffoonery is enhanced not by virtue of being showcased in a Three Stooges movie, but by contrasting characters pretending to be low-IQ hams with those who wake up in that greasy, orange-tinted reality every morning. And, contrary to what you might think from watching the trailers, this isn't a case of zeitgeist stunt-casting: the Shore crew are an integral part of the film's plot.

The biggest complaint I've heard leveled at this movie--mostly by people who wouldn't dare stoop so low as to actually see it--is that it's not the original Stooges; that Hollywood has run out of ideas (itself a cliche that's mostly used by people not inventive enough to come up with a new phrasing). To this, I say two things:

1. Hollywood moguls are ridiculously wealthy and powerful. But none of them, as far as I know, are necromancers. So until Steven Spielberg teams up with the Farrellys to actually put Moe and Curly Howard and Larry Fine back in front of the camera, I suggest this legion of whiny tight-wads just relax and accept the fact that, sometimes, preserving a legacy means making the source material relevant.

2. The Farrellys' Stooges movie is jam-packed with ideas, some of them really big and meta. There's the PG, family-friendly aspect, which should go a long way in explaining to film snobs why there's so much falling down and goofy sound effects in the run-time. But there's also a weird alternate-reality vibe at play, as well as a couple of moments that usher our heroes to the brink of self-actualization.

Take the Stooges' big, blow-out fight, which ends in their splitting up (that's only a spoiler if you're  in the film's rating-target audience). Moe the bully dismisses his lifelong friends as useless, and stands scouring into the blackness of a small theatre. In a matter of seconds, his face dissolves into that of the actor playing him; Diamontopoulos lets his brilliant mask slip just for a second so that the universe can acknowledge that one of its fundamental elements has just been dissolved. It's like water becoming fire for a heartbeat. In the next moment, he's Moe again, playing the fool in front of an acting class who think the whole argument was a breathtaking Method performance.

Personally, I think the film's greatest achievement is that it made me want to watch The Three Stooges again, to see what it was that the Farrellys mined for this material. It's probably asking too much that 20th Century Fox hire Diamontopoulos, Sasso, and Hayes to film new shorts to play in front of upcoming releases, but it's officially near the top of my Cool Things That Should Be Real list. These men so effectively channel the original performers that I wouldn't be surprised to learn (in a Human Centipede 2-style meta-follow-up) that the spirits of the Howards and Fine were reincarnated in this movie's universe--one in which The Three Stooges did not previously exist.

I can't recommend this movie enough. Watching it may help die-hard Stooges fans quit their grousing, as well as spawn an entire generation of admirers among those who think black-and-white movies were just poorly-projected color films. As the credits rolled on the screening I attended, the audience broke out into a volume of applause I hadn't heard since The Hunger Games. This time, I joined in.

Note: Much has been made about the public service announcement that closes the movie. The premise is pretty funny, but the humor drains away at the realization that the filmmakers are making a serious statement about kids not murdering each other with hammers. I guess it's better to be safe than sorry, but this bummer of a tag destroys the previous scene's heartwarming, silly ending.


Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (2007)

The West Virginia Reality Show Massacre

Being an adult is hard, kids. If you think that growing up means combining your current boundless time and energy with the ability to drive yourself places and get fucked up on whisky and ice cream at the drop of a hat--well, sure, it can mean those things. But you just have family, jobs, errands, and homework to look forward to. That's right: homework. Especially if you want to be a movie critic who interviews filmmakers, and you don't want to show up to the chat looking like an idiot.

The best part of adult homework is squeezing it in at the weirdest possible times. While you're plopped in front of the TV with a Mountain Dew and some Algebra 2, the people paying for your house are probably at least two hours away from clocking out, and another forty-five minutes from walking through the door. For this reason, we have to do strange things, like get up at 4am on a Saturday to watch Wrong Turn 2: Dead End--without the benefit of having seen part one.

But sometimes homework can be fun; that's certainly the case with Joe Lynch's insane back-woods slasher movie about reality television contestants facing off against inbred, mutant rednecks. Maybe the eye-rolling death stare you just shot your screen is the reason this sequel went straight to DVD. It came out in 2007, a year after the Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel (not the remake, the prequel to the remake). It's sad, though, because the movie is better than much of the Xeroxed crap stinking up the multiplex back then.

Three things distinguish this film from its peers: its conceit, its unconventional kill-list, and its villains (Henry Rollins really deserves his own category, but I'm trying to keep this brief*). While other horror sequels tried and failed to capture the hand-held, reality TV zeitgeist (most notoriously, Halloween Part Whatever: The One with Busta Rhymes), and future franchises would strip out the contest aspect to focus on the cult of surveillance (Paranormal Activity), Wrong Turn 2 acts as an effective satire and an inventive horror film. Lynch and screenwriters Turi Meyer and Al Septien don't skimp on either, meaning fans (or haters) of both genres may nod in recognition one minute and gag at an entrail explosion the next.

The TV show is meant to evoke a post-apocalyptic survivalist wilderness, where the players must fend for themselves against the elements, mock radiation warnings, and, of course, each other. It's not long before they realize they're sharing the woods with genuine survivalists--incestuous cannibals whose hatchet-throwing and bow-and-arrow skills set them far apart from the limping freaks we usually suffer in such movies. Though their "dialogue" is limited to grunts and snorts of varying levels of hysteria, the performers paint a real(ly twisted) portrait of kinship. The scene where the father and son mutants team up for target practice against two strung-up victims is alternately stomach-turning and touching--it's also a strong indication that the TV crew wandered into a bizarre life already in progress, rather than a nest of as-yet-unleashed stock movie killers.

Despite their drooling mystique, the cannibals aren't very compelling characters. Luckily, the main cast makes the most out of their parts' stereotype constraints. Some of this has to do with the writers' awesome decision to play with slasher film fans' ideas of who should live and who should die, but the actors blur the line between what we expect from the jock, the good girl, the rebel, and the clown. Erica Leerhsen and Aleksa Palladino, especially, form a fast bond that goes through several interesting stages during its brief life. In fact, one of the filmmakers' genius strokes is pairing and re-pairing the contestants so that we're constantly on our toes as to who is important and who is just a cool death scene waiting to happen--much like reality TV does.

Alright, let me talk about Henry Rollins for a bit. I can't tell you how far this man goes in making Wrong Turn 2 a quality slice of sadistic escapism. As the pissed-off ex-Marine host of the TV show, of course he brings physicality and an intense death-stare to the role. But his Dale character is a human being who isn't above showing a tender side to people who deserve it. When evading the experienced woodland killers, he doesn't go into Invincible Super-soldier Mode; he assesses the situation and does the best he can to help out what he sees as a group of dysfunctional but essentially decent kids. His storyline is somewhat splintered from the rest of the hunted, but he becomes a multi-dimensional hero worth rooting for.

Friends have recommended that I check out the original Wrong Turn. And from doing research for this review, I know that the sequel was not, in fact, a "Dead End": two more entries stumbled out of the radioactive slime after this one. I won't go out of my way to see any of the others, mostly because I want to let this one be special for awhile. Wrong Turn 2 is a great companion piece, I think, to The Cabin in the Woods; it's not nearly as satirical as that movie, but both films share enough brains, heart, and gusto to make them worthwhile.

Note: This movie should be of particular interest to aspiring digital effects artists. There's an arrow-through-the-head scene that deserves to be studied and taught across the globe for its perfect illustration of how to make a CG kill look utterly ridiculous. The arrow, I swear to God, floats in the scene, in a cornball bit of bad compositing I haven't seen since The Haunting of Winchester House. Amazing.

*Aside from my strange introduction, that is.


Chillerama (2011)

Long, Hard, and Full of Semen

As a writer/director, the benefit of making movies outside the Hollywood studio system is that you can put whatever you want on film and not worry about studio notes or censors messing with your vision. The drawback is that there's not a lot of money out there in indie-land, especially for funding horror movies. Which is why Chillerama is such a cool idea. Four creators with varying degrees of Tinseltown success and pretty solid track records outside the mainstream pooled their resources to make exactly the kind of grisly, depraved, and over-the-top splatter picture I'm sure they wish would roll into multiplexes every weekend.

These rare situations are win-wins for everyone involved--except, often, the audience, who must trust that the auteur(s) knows what they're doing. As evil and uncomfortable as studio notes can be, sometimes it doesn't hurt for an impartial voice to ask the big questions, like, "Is this gallon of fake semen one too many," or, "Will people get just how bad the zombie outbreak is if I trim the undead stump-screwing orgy?"*

Such is the case with Chillerama. Adam Rifkin (Small Soldiers), Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2), Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs), and Adam Green (the Hatchet movies) join forces to pay the ultimate tribute to the dying drive-in-movie experience, as well as the B- and Z-grade entertainment that defined an era. The directors take turns creating mini movies bookended by teenagers attending the last night of Kaufman's Drive-In. Put-upon widower/owner, Cecil Kaufman (Richard Riehle), oversees his beloved theatre's final marathon, unaware of the fact that his projectionist has become infected by an STD he picked up while attempting to bang his zombified wife (yep, I just typed that).

The evening will devolve into a limb-ripping orgy of horny zombies and screaming patrons, but first we have some fake movies to watch:

We begin with Rifkin's Wadzilla, a clumsy and only intermittently interesting take on Godzilla, in which the antagonist is a mutated, skyscraper-sized sperm. Set, I guess, in the 50s and filmed with the cheesy sensibilities of no-budget, 1980s junk, Rifkin's entry mistakenly assumes that using stop-motion puppetry, rear-projection, and cornball acting is entertainment enough for twenty minutes. It barely holds together twenty seconds. And were it not for Ray Wise and Sarah Mutch, who play the physician and would-be girlfriend of the schmuck with the monster-making testes (Rifkin), there would be absolutely nothing to recommend here.

After surviving Wadzilla, I checked the time counter on my Netflix Instant player and saw that I still had an hour-and-a-half left to go. It was almost too much to take, especially since I was still fighting a cold. Fortunately, Sullivan's entry perked me right up.

I Was a Teenage Werebear is a twisted, beach-blanket musical set in 1962. Sean Paul Lockhart stars as Ricky, a surf-loving, all-American innocent who falls prey to the cooler-than-everyone charms of bike-riding bad-boy, Talon (Anton Troy). This isn't a simple case of hero worship; no, Talon's Brando-esque powers of seduction bring out a side of Ricky that he'd never allowed to be expressed--much to the dismay of his steady girlfriend, Peggy Lou (Gabby West).

The film is essentially a retro-remake of The Lost Boys, with gay werewolves subbing in for vampires of questionable sexuality. Ricky spends much of the story fighting his strange, new urges, while Talon wrestles with either killing all the small-minded haters in his town or working towards acceptance of his (truly) alternative lifestyle. I Was a Teenage Werebear is preachy, hilarious, uplifting, and really fucking weird. And Troy's cool demeanor and matinee idol looks had me questioning some things--I'm not gonna lie.

Chillerama's strongest chapter is the third entry, The Diary of Anne Frankenstein. As the title suggests, the movie takes place during World War II and concerns an alternate-universe (or perhaps just alternate-history?) version of the doomed Frank family. Young Anne (Melinda Y. Cohen) discovers her grandfather's diary, which contains notes on re-animating the dead. Before her father (Jim Ward) can get rid of the book, Adolf Hitler himself (Joel David Moore) barges in and confiscates what will become the blueprint for his greatest soldier. Too bad for him, the resulting experiment yields an ultra-Yiddish golem named Meshugannah (Kane Hodder), who has plans of his own for the Fuehrer and his ultra-slutty wife, Eva (Kristina Klebe).

To be honest, I thought for sure that Adam Green was responsible for Wadzilla, and not Anne Frankenstein. This is the best thing he's ever directed, and shows a flair for the comedic, tasteless, and cheesy that his other work certainly does not; his homage-heavy attempts to be ironically entertaining have always turned me off, but this zany, profane short out-Mel-Brookses Mel Brooks. It helps that Moore is fantastic as an insecure, bumbling maniac, and that Hodder lets loose in ways I never imagined possible after watching him play Jason Voorhees for more than a decade.

The final movie gets cut short by a full-on zombie invasion. Following a pretty funny introduction by dubious medical specialist Fernando Phagabeefy (Lynch), Deathication plows full-steam (or "steamers") ahead with montages of various people explosively emptying their bowels. Mercifully, the chaos at the drive-in halts the screening, plunging us back into Lynch's wrap-around segment, entitled Zom-B-Movie.

A literal orgy of the damned, peppered with Dawn of the Dead references and two love-struck teens who quote movie lines while fighting their way through hordes of ghouls, this stretch feels obligatory rather than thrilling. Lynch does his thing well, and he has terrific, fresh-faced leads in Corey Jones and Kaili Thorne, but compared to the out-of-the-box thinking on display during most of the drive-in movie segments, this pedestrian fight to the death fits snugly inside the box. I must give him credit for the ending, though, which is kind of a touching downer.

It's a shame that Chillerama isn't as consistently funny and entertaining as parts of the film suggest it could have been. At two hours, it nearly buckles under the weight of its own gooey gratuity. But one thing it gets right--which goes a long way in helping us see the thing through to the end--is holding the schlock-horror era in reverence, while also parodying it. In an odd way, this is as much a well-written love letter to B-movies as Joe Dante's Explorers, but with a thousand percent more boobies and jism.

The film had home-run potential, but the giddy, juvenile sensibilities of its directors, I think, allowed the party to run a bit too long and get a tad out of hand. Kaufman's drive-in could have just as easily shown a triple feature on its last night, thus excising a good chunk of the movie's missed-target humor (I'm lookin' at you, Wadzilla). But that's the price we must pay for dreaming of filmmaker autonomy: circle-jerks are a great time, unless the audience is left holding the mop.

*This issue isn't unique to the minor leagues: think of how awesome the Star Wars prequels might have been, had someone smacked George Lucas across the face (literally or figuratively--it's your fantasy) at the first mention of "Midichlorians".


American Reunion (2012)

Saggy Boobs

Once again, I struggle to review an American Pie movie. Sad to say, I'm fighting a hell of a springtime cold, and the fourth film in this series* just wasn't a strong enough dose of laughter to be the medicine I need. Before you get all incredulous and accuse me of harboring a DayQuil-head bias, I should mention that I quite liked American Reunion. It's warm, good-natured, and sweetly nostalgic--but I can't recommend it as a comedy, or a theatrical experience.

Co-writer/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg get their one truly inspired joke out of the way early on, while simultaneously addressing the one issue everyone I know who watched the trailer wondered about right off the bat: aren't the American Pie kids a bit old to be attending their tenth high school reunion? Yes, they are, and thanks to East Great Falls High's bumbling planning committee a thirteen-year reunion is the best the gang can get.

And so it is that the MILF-loving, pie-banging misfits all roll into town. Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) are married--with a kid and without a sex life; Oz (Chris Klein) is a famous sports-caster; Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is an emasculated stay-at-home dad; Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is a world-travelling man of mystery; and Stifler (Seann William Scott) is a corporate temp who still lives at home with his mom (Jennifer Coolidge).

If you suspect that the marriage will work out, that one of the group will turn out not to be what he seems, and that at least one of them will learn to stand up for himself, you've got uncanny instincts--at least according to the filmmakers. Honestly, I expected a lot more nuance and surprise from the guys who made the third Harold & Kumar movie into an uplifting thrill-ride of vulgar imagination. Perhaps the pedestrian, sub-Porky's high jinks are meant as a meta-commentary on the movie's theme of hip kids growing old and fading into irrelevance. As great as that idea is, the audience still has to trudge through nearly two hours of sitcom writing and the occasional boob/crotch shot.

As I said before, though, I liked the movie. When Jim and his crew aren't trying to sneak a drunk, naked teenager back into her parents' house,** or crapping in the cooler of local high school jerks, they're dealing with serious relationship issues in pretty touching ways. Jim's dad (Eugene Levy) is a widower now, and is reluctantly learning how to get back in the dating game; the role reversal of his awkwardly seeking advice from his son is funny and sweet. It's also nice to see Stifler come to grips with not being the young hotshot anymore. Much of Scott's delivery falls flat, and the actor looks to have far outgrown the role--which works perfectly for his character.

Oz and Kevin are still completely useless--as is, unfortunately, Finch this time around. Though Klein has a wonderful scene in which he performs in a Dancing with the Stars-style reality show; he has a spark here that I haven't seen since Election. As this is ostensibly the series' swan song, the filmmakers bring back everyone from the first movie, including, sadly, Tara Reid, whose Vicky character is given so little to do that her arc involves jumping to a ridiculous conclusion so that she and ex-boyfriend, Kevin, can make up later (i.e. pad out their screen time). Mena Suvari also returns, and is outperformed by her ridiculous blonde wig.

The stuff that works really works, and the stuff that doesn't work is just kind of shrug-worthy. That's a big problem when putting together a comedy. A bigger problem, though, is a lack of a target audience. If Hurwitz and Schlossberg were banking on fans that made the 1999 original a smash, they did the audience a disservice by giving them a late-90s sex comedy with millennial-suburban-male naval-gazing. Sex comedies have grown far bolder, raunchier, and weirder in the last thirteen years--mostly because American Pie gave the writers who came after plenty of things to top (not only in terms of gross-out material, but also in redefining genre archetypes and taking stories to unexpected places).

For this reason, I doubt American Reunion will appeal to today's teens and twenty-somethings, who will likely find the film less compelling than anything they can look up on their phones while in the theatre. With edgy, hilarious "R"-rated comedies like Project X and 21 Jump Street playing in the same multiplex, this film feels more like the re-release of James Cameron's Titanic in 3D--a nostalgia trip for old people that marketing departments really want teens to think is cool.

I didn't mind catching up with Jim and his friends, but I don't know that I'll remember anything about this movie in a couple weeks (except, maybe, Rebecca De Mornay's surprise appearance). In this way, American Reunion is a lot like an actual high school reunion: you show up, smile in recognition or wince in embarrassment, and then wonder what the big deal was on the drive home.

*It's actually number eight, if you count the four direct-to-video sequels that've come out since 2003's American Wedding.

**Cool it, pervs--she's legal.


Deprivation (2012)

Another Day, Another $1,000

When I interviewed Cory Udler last year, he said that all of his movies would benefit from another day of shooting and another thousand dollars in the budget. He resurrected this idea a couple weeks ago while co-hosting Fearcast Network's "Smut Elves" podcast, in reference to Nathaniel Scott Davis' new short film, Deprivation. Davis was discussing the perils of sound editing (specifically, the way that on-location wind can completely mess with a scene's integrity) and Udler agreed that a key part of the devil's bargain when shooting independently is not having the resources of mega-wealthy studios at one's disposal.

I understand how important time and money are to filmmaking. I also believe that when a creator releases a movie, they are telling the audience that it is ready to be critiqued--without the benefit of commentary or warning labels describing the challenges that kept Scene X from being well-lit or Scene Y from being completely audible. Unlike illustrators, who often sell sketchbooks along with finished prints, filmmakers rarely apply "Work in Progress" labels to their wares. If they did, reviews for indie movies would likely be much more forgiving--and far less frequent: who wants to talk about a rough draft when the real deal is, ostensibly, just around the corner?

The long and short of it is, if you aren't ready for people to point out the obvious flaws in your low-budget production, don't make it available to the public until the Money and Time Fairy leaves something under your pillow.*

Having said all that, I'm happy to report that Davis' nervousness is (mostly) unfounded. Despite some minor nuisances, Deprivation is disturbing and effective, and kept my blood up from frame one to the final fade-out--not always for the right reasons, but I certainly wasn't bored.

The story is mostly implied, and centers on Morgan (Jeremy Sellers), whom we meet sitting at the grave site of his wife/girlfriend and their child. Resting on the headstone is a hand-written note from Angela (Katie Rusco), who, in the opening scene, could be heard screaming in the next room as Morgan put an axe into her best friend's chest. There's a beautiful disconnect here, as the grinning killer is almost unrecognizable as the mournful dad we see in flashback. Deprivation takes place over the few days it takes from one man to become the other.

In some ways, the film feels like a highlight reel of a longer piece. We know that Angela is somehow responsible for killing Morgan's loved ones, but the "how" and "why" is unclear. Perhaps this is an artsy move on the part of the writer/director, but in cases like this, leaving key information up to the audience is a big mistake (Was it a hit and run? If so, did Angela go to court or prison? Did she walk? Does Morgan blame her for reasons beyond hyper-romanticized notions of Love and Loss that have inspired rain-forests' worth of bad high school poetry?).

Fortunately, Davis has plenty of other arrows in his quiver to distract us from the lack of a motivational through-line. Sellers is sufficiently disturbing and realistic as a small-town nobody who might cling to metal and horror movies as comfort in the face of tragedy. And Rusco imbues Angela with a dour-faced, bump-on-a-log personality that suggests remorse, secrecy, or both. The real star here, though, is Winnie Faye, as Julie, Angela's BFF and Morgan's victim from the opening scene. She's an obnoxiously bubbly innocent who has no clue about what's going on until it's much too late. Her self-involvement is grating (particularly in her big scene, where she takes a thousand years to tell a cute joke), but that's the whole point: had she cared about anyone but her vapid self, maybe she could have reached out to her troubled friend.

Still, I was kind of bummed to see her go.

Also of note is the film's score, which sounds like a modern tribute to John Carpenter's Halloween. The music amplifies the drama and dread in these sad characters' lives, and my only complaint is that I wish there'd been a tad more variation. Composing themes isn't a walk in the park, I know, so Davis likely wanted to get as much mileage out of what he had to work with. But what began as interesting became slightly repetitive--and ended up being interesting again.

Also be on the look-out (listen-out?) for the parking lot scene. It's no wonder Davis complained about the wind on location as being an audio nightmare. Of greater interest, though, is the fact that Morgan's super-human hearing is never brought up as an issue: while heading to his car from a grocery run, he hears Angela and Julie talking as they enter the store. He somehow manages to hear their entire conversation from across a windy parking lot.

Part of that assessment is snark, but it brings to mind the element in greatest need of fine-tuning. Deprivation waffles between first-person and omniscient points of view. Early on, we hear Morgan narrating his own dark thoughts; later, we see the girls chatting in a diner, with Morgan nowhere in sight. There's also the matter of Angela waking up in her bed from a nightmare. This lack of a clear narrative perspective distracts a bit from some of the deeper points Davis wants to make. But there's nothing so egregious that couldn't be fixed with a well-placed cut-away or two, and the excising of a superfluous scene.

I'm glad to have seen Deprivation, and am keen to see what Davis and his talented crew come up with next. Signs point to a promising future in the slasher biz, as they even devised a movie-within-a-movie that also creeped me out. Whatever the next step, I hope it involves stepping out of this bizarre, reality-as-horror-entertainment realm. Because as happy as I was to see these guys play with story expectations and cool camera angles (one in particular made me jump back in my seat), the presentation made me feel plain icky--as if I were watching the dry-run for a snuff film.

If that was the goal, then hats off to the Deprivation gang. I get the feeling Davis made exactly the kind of movie he would pay money to see, which is cause for both celebration and, possibly, an intervention. I'd definitely watch a movie about that--barring sound issues, of course.

Note: For a limited time, you can see Deprivation for free by sending a Vimeo password request to For more information on the movie, check out the film's Facebook page.

*For the record, this personal rule applies to mega-budget movies, too: I hated The Tree of Life for similar reasons.