2008, US, Directed by Toby Wilkins
Colour, Running Time: 83 minutes
Review Source: Blu-ray, Region B, Icon; Video: 2.39:1 1080p 24fps, Audio: Dolby True HD
(Note, this review is also published at the new Grim Cellar) From the brain of London visual effects practitioner Toby Wilkins (who also directed Grudge 3) comes a creature feature with a minimal cast and limited locations – ideal for a small budget where you want to see it all up on screen in the form of monsters and gore. Vacationing couple Seth and Polly abandon their ideas of camping when their tent malfunctions and head off to find a motel. Stopping to aid a girl at the roadside they’re taken hostage by the spaced out druggie and her overly angered boyfriend. They pull in at a petrol station unawares that someone has been killed there by an organism that takes over a body by feeding on blood and propelling the adopted corpse towards anything else of similar nutrition. They’re soon trapped, the druggie girl is killed by the organism, and there seems to be few options to allow them escape from their claustrophobic environment.
The creature/organism thing is the film’s main selling point here, everything else being a by-the-numbers story of a group trapped in a small place by a supernatural monstrosity. Recreated with superb special effects it’s a truly horrific and morbid creation that the makers are bound to be proud of – the titular word referring to the many spikes that each overtaken body produces as the thing ‘metabolises’ via the consumption of blood and attempts to spread to others. The actors also do a fine service, despite being a little irritating at first. Those are the primary good points. What doesn’t work in the film’s favour, and a factor that increasingly infuriates me in contemporary film-making, is the apparently creative decision to use ‘shaky cam’. Handheld cameras were never meant to be like this (witness the beautiful camerawork of Kubrick’s The Shining), where so many shots are simply waving about randomly as if photographed by an epileptic with Parkinson’s disease. Watching on a large screen only amplifies this problem. A camera is generally there to allow the viewer to witness the story being told – a first person perspective utilised in the likes of Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield is another matter. As soon as the camerawork draws your attention to it, it takes you out of the film, and in this case it could have been a tense, frightening experience; instead I sat there gobsmacked most of the time at how insanely random many of the movements appeared to be. No skill, no composition, no thought. A real shame because they could have been on to a good little Thing-alike here (though I realise some reviewers have been less perturbed by the technique given the odd rave opinion). So what you have is effectively some great ideas and sound execution marred by deplorable camera work.
The UK Blu-ray looks tremendous (I believe it was shot using an Arriflex digital camera, which records at 4:3 and is then cropped to the desired ratio in post production, sort of like a digital version of Super 35). Colour is vibrant and attractive while detail (when the image isn’t waving around like a dying fish) is realistically high and consistently sharp. Similarly, the Dolby True-HD audio is very strong, with much happening at the rear (there is also an LPCM stereo track). In the package as bonus material you’ll find audio commentaries and a few featurettes, none of which are very long. A fantastic AV presentation with an average set of extras for a frustrating film that could have been more.