Monday, March 3, 2014

Sci-Fried Theater: DEAD SHADOWS (2012)

Well, after a month of Bud Spencer reviews, it is time to slide back into our normal weird reviews.  Let’s focus on (throws dart into a map of the world on the wall)…France!  The land of liberty, equality, and fraternity (thank you, Wikipedia) has been a hotspot for horror in the 21st century.  Filmmakers like Marina de Van, Gasper Noe, Pascal Laugier, Xavier Gens, and the directing duo of Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury have contributed to the French Horror New Wave in ways that, for better or worse, have redefined French frissons.  Hell, even Alexandre Aja stumbled into success with wholly unoriginal material (one day, he promises, he won’t adapt a book or do a remake).   So when a cool looking monster flick from France titled DEAD SHADOWS (2012) appeared on our radar, we figure we would give it a shot.

The film opens with a massive comet heading toward Earth. (English press materials on this film refer to it as Halley’s Comet, but the film never specifies this.)  As it sails over a two story French home, it awakens scared-of-the-dark kid Chris.  His father pops in to assure him everything is okay and then the parents head downstairs to check out some strange sounds.  Oddly, this somehow turns into a fight about their sissy son (“Are you sure he’s even my son?”) and, when Chris arrives at the kitchen, he sees dad standing over mom with a knife.  Cut to ten years later and the now grown Chris (Fabian Wolfrom) is living on his own in Paris and is apparently the world’s most annoying computer technical support person.  He doesn’t have time to work as today marks the return of the comet to Earth and everyone is excited for it.  In addition to not working, he also has time to spy on his neighbor Claire (Blandine Marmigère), who has just thrown out her cheating boyfriend.  Yes!

A top secret look at Video Junkie headquarters:

Heading out to the store, Chris gets bullied by your generic French apartment complex tough guys before being bailed out by local badass John (John Fallon). Surprisingly, this isn’t the oddest occurrence of his day as the trip has him encountering a weird lady looking for her dog, a couple dissecting an insect, a guy ranting about aliens in the convenience store, a guy with a rash on his face walking around zombie-like, and a lady who uses his choice of beverage as a segue to asking if he wants to fuck her.  Wait, this isn’t normal activity in France?  Anyway, he gets home and finds Claire’s door open and steps in.  It was apparently all a ruse on her behalf to get him to come in so she could invite him to an Apocalypse themed party that evening.  Naturally, he accepts. Heading out to the party later, Chris runs across a son and father looking for the comet in a telescope.  He helps them find it and then the dad tells his kid, “When you see this, we realize how infinitely small we are in comparison to the universe.”  Gee, thanks for the quality father-son time, pops.

Chris arrives at the party and is sad to not find Claire there. After a drink makes him ill, a girl named Laure (Johanna Seror) takes Chris into the restroom where he promptly passes out. Waking up, he discovers a weird blotch on his stomach but no worries as Claire is now here. While Claire is getting her party on, Chris notices the rash-faced man at the party and sees him take a girl into a bedroom. Spying on the couple, he sees the man insert a tentacle in her doggy style and it shoots out of her mouth. Sacré bleu!  He bolts to the bathroom, just in time to watch Laure’s face melt off.  Chris dashes back to his apartment (because warning anyone there would be too much effort apparently) and gets back right as the power goes down citywide.  Naturally, he must do one thing – pass out!  But not before seeing some weird ass tentacles crawl out of his closet. When Chris wakes up, the bullies from earlier in the day – navigating the stairwells with a camera on night vision - burst into his apartment.  He wipes them out by some unknown means (you’ve probably got it figured out by now) and soon teams up with heavily armed John to get out of the apartment building.  Will our hero conquer his fear of the dark? And, more importantly, will he validate his declaration of “I must get to Claire” in the chaos?  You know, because a girl he met just a few hours ago is the most important thing in the world.

Honest admission: I rarely watch modern horror films.  It takes a real hook to get me paying attention and seeing some of the creatures from DEAD SHADOWS in still form got me interested in the film.  Somehow I forgot that movies were moving pictures.  If  I had to give out an award for “Most Unreached Potential” it would easily go to this film.  Debuting director David Cholewa throws some interesting ideas into the film and there are a number of great effects. Unfortunately, the screenplay by fellow newbie Vincent Julé is weaker than Tom staring at a plate of foie gras.  There is really nothing in this scenario that is original, as if Julé just wrote down a list of favorite scenes from other films and felt that copying them would be enough.  The build up is surprisingly effective, but completely taken from SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004), a fact seemingly confirmed when Chris rests up against his bookcase and two SHAUN action figures appear over his shoulder (groan!).  Take the film’s final shot of buildings in Paris exploding and crumbling.  It just happens as if they said, “We have to have a scene of Paris blowing up.”

What is original is entirely muddled and done solely for the sake of convenience.  For example, that little telescope kid from the build up?  He shows up sans dad toward the end, just so Claire can have a kid to defend.  It is ridiculous.  Or how about the scene where Claire watches the thugs’ video camera and sees her new beau is a vicious killer. Yes, for some reason Chris felt the need to bring the camera from the men he killed along only for the narrative to have this scene. Even worse, this opens up the idea about what exactly Chris is.  Was he infected as a kid? Were his parents infected? We’ll never know as the filmmakers never bother to sufficiently explain this.  Hell, I doubt they even knew.  I’m not asking for a detailed explanation, but at least act like you know what is going on.  They put as much thought into the film as they did their title. Seriously, could you come up with a more generic (and less descriptive) title than DEAD SHADOWS?  The lack of a well thought out screenplay (the film’s end credits start at 70 minutes) is doubly disappointing when you see some of the cool creatures on display.  There is one half woman/half crab thing (see pic to the left) that is very impressive.  Why is it there? Probably because the director said, “That would be cool to have in there!”  The premise of tentacle monsters/aliens taking over Paris is ripe for the taking/making.  Hell, I bet some guy in Japan just got excited by me even typing that sentence.  Sadly, that film badass film you imagined in your head just now is not this film.  

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