Saturday, May 17, 2014

Sci-Fried Theater: BLOOD GLACIER (2013)

Some films are so iconic that other filmmakers can’t help but ermm… pay “homage” to them. Some have made entire careers out of regurgitating other people’s work and spoon-feeding it to the masses whose eyes roll wildly in their heads while they foam at the mouth and scream about “Oscars” (Sally Strothers should have a late night commercial about these pitiable fools). Other filmmakers make references to the work of those that have come before with the subtle use of thematic elements, characters or shot composition. Use all three and you are back in the first category.

Then there are those who fall in the middle. They draw heavy inspiration from a film and add their own twist to it. Such is the case with the Austrian film BLOOD CRACKER. I mean, GLACIER. BLOOD GLACIER.

At a research station in the Austrian Alps, a small group of scientists studying the effects of global warming discover a glacier that is rapidly melting. The glacier is a rusty red color and trapped in the ice is a cell-structure of unknown origin. While investigating this glacier, the dog of the station’s lifer and obligatory rummy Janek (Gerhard Liebmann), discovers a dead fox in the glacier’s cave (I guess they melt faster on the inside). Something is moving under the fox’s skin and suddenly the dog has a wound. Assuming that his dog was attacked by a rabid fox, Janek returns to the station where the current biologist Birte (Hille Beseler) takes one look at the samples from the glacier and flips out claiming to have never seen cells like this before. Unfortunately the cells are rapidly deteriorating, so she needs another fresh sample – right now! This is, of course, impossible due to inclement weather and the alleged rabid fox. Cue strangely familiar argument about going back to the site under dangerous conditions.

Complicating things is the imminent arrival of the Prime Minister (Brigitte Kren) who is accompanied by Janek’s former lover Tanja (Edita Malovcic). Complicating things even further is the fact that Janek, who has been living in a bottle since Tanja left, is now drunk and on morphine for a head injury when he is suddenly almost attacked by a creature that looks like a cross between a fox and a spider. Of course nobody believes him until Berte finds a mutant bug while obtaining more samples. Once in possession of said samples (and after a gooey autopsy), Berte has it all figured out in a matter of minutes and uses a whiteboard to draw stick figures to explain it to the audience – err, I mean to the other scientists, who would have no clue what she was talking about if she used big words. You see the creature is a hybrid of a fox and an isopod that was created when the fox ate the isopod (as foxes are known to do) and the cells from the glacier took DNA from both species and created a hybrid that gestated in the fox. Well of course it is. Happens all the time. You know, just like (this is actually what she says) the mermaids of old and the Egyptian god Anubis.

Meanwhile the PM and her posse are hiking over the Alps to the station because apparently the station was conveniently built in an area that has no vehicle access of any kind (at least until the end of the movie). While hiking the photographer is bitten by a weird bug and a completely random girl in shorts and a t-shirt runs screaming from out of nowhere while being chased by a black hawk-like thing. Where did this girl come from and why is she dressed for a day at the beach in the middle of the friggin' Alps? That's not important, what is important is that the thing that was chasing her has just killed the only guy with a firearm. Ain't that a bitch?

If it sounds like I’m being incredibly vague, it’s because the film is incredibly vague on this subject. Unlike the usual SyFy or Hollywood CGI monster fodder, here the producers use a real effects team to make some really amazing practical creatures. Well, at least I think they are amazing. I don’t really know because the young director Marvin Kren seems to think he is some sort of cinéma vérité maestro who not only has to shoot every single scene with a hand-held camera, but clearly believes that he is making a “classy” horror film, which in his mind means that the audience should never be allowed to see any of the horror elements. If the camera isn’t whip-panning and jiggling during the monster attacks, Kren rapidly edits extreme close-ups, many of which are out of focus, so that at best you get a glimpse of what appears to be some really elaborate creature effects. During the first real attack scene (a full hour into the movie), the station is assaulted by something that appears to be a mutant ram. Of course you never get a good look at it, and when it is killed by the member of the cast you would least expect to use a large electric drill (ie the obvious choice), the creature is cropped completely out of frame. The drill could be penetrating anything. A mutant ram-head, a block of wood, Michelangelo’s David, you don’t know. Seriously, I bet the effects guys were fucking pissed. Like Alec Gillis kind of pissed.

On the one hand you have a fairly competent cast for this sort of affair. The performances are lacking in subtlety and nuance as has become de rigueur for modern genre movies (I can see the stage direction being “pretend like you are on a TV show!”), but at least it’s not an ethnically diverse, trendy cast of 20-somethings with fashionable haircuts. On the other hand, for the first hour of the movie all they really do is yell at each other in a small room. Even after getting into the rehashing of the old NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD scenario where the group of people are trapped by the menace that is outside, we still don’t get a whole lot to get excited about. Even worse, the 90 minutes of build up with Janek’s dog finally pays off in the last minute of the film with one of the stupidest endings I have ever seen. Lameness on a scale heretofore unknown to man. Even having Janek wake up and having it all be a drunken fever dream would have been better than the absurdly sentimental claptrap offered here. If you want to keep the film spoiler –free, skip the next paragraph.

You see, Janek and Tanja were lovers at the station some years back, and in the final moments of the film Tanja tells Janek that she was pregnant when she left, but the baby never came to term. Cue Niagara Falls. Moments later Janek hears some strange squealing sounds coming from where his dog is lying and fears that his dog has finally succumbed to the mutation. When he grabs his rifle, Tanja pleads with him to stop and then shows him why… the dog has given birth to a hybrid mutation of Janek and the dog and Tanja is cradling it in her arms like the infant she was denied. The end. Seriously, I couldn’t make that shit up.

J.J. Abrams was here.
In spite of the myriad of ideas pilfered from THE THING (1982), such as the fact that the station’s anti-social drunk lives in a shack connected to the station via a hanging power-line, director Kren and screenwriter Benjamin Hessler seemed to have missed the finer points of the original film. The clever dialogue, dynamic characters, nuanced acting and spectacular effects all seemed to have gone over their heads. Granted for a small, indy production, I don’t expect all of those things and for the most part it is reasonably well done for what it is. If Kren had removed his cranium from his gluteus and had some confidence in his cast and crew, we would have ended up with a piece of entertaining, if derivative, monster horror. Instead, his lack of confidence and experience compels him to try to force the film to be more scary and exciting by over editing a mess of jiggling hand-held shots… and then there is that ending. It’s too bad because there is a good film in here somewhere.

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