Dark Country (2009), or Trouble In The Night Lands

22 12 2009

Note: This is my review for Dark Country that I wrote for 366 Weird Movies! Check them out at THIS LINK! for all the latest weirdness in cinema, as well as articles on some of the wildest imagery ever committed to celluloid! P.S.- Don’t give me any shit for doubling down on the same review! It’s still good, even though it’s previously used!)

DIRECTED BY: Thomas Jane

FEATURING: Thomas Jane, Ron Perlman, Laurie German

PLOT: Two blissful newlyweds, driving away from their splendid wedding in

Las Vegas, hit a man in the middle of the road. He lives, but the couple find he is not all that he seems, and are suddenly forced to take drastic measures against him.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: Dark Country is a bit obtuse at times, and it frustratingly delights fans of the obscure by not explaining its motives or workings very often, but I hesitate recommending mainly because it relies a little too heavily on genre standbys and noir reverence instead of blazing new fantastic territory. It is a 50s thriller/noir mixed with a modern horror, but it cannot create an identity of its own between its own stylings. There are moments of heavy cinematic distortion and interesting ideas that run through the story like a highway across the hungry desert, but it can’t quite escape some level of mediocrity as it bends prostrate for that which has already been done.

COMMENTS: Dark Country represents a promising debut effort from a director who is willing to try new things. What’s really impressive from the start is the writing. It is intense and full of good, genuine human touches that really helps the movie flow from scene to scene. From the first scene to the end, I felt rapt with attention to these immersive characters and their odd relationship, especially after the drive out of Las Vegas ensues.

It is a journey through dark and unforgiving territory, perhaps a metaphor for the new marriage between main characters Gina and Dick, who were just recently married and don’t really know what they’re in for. The young couple just made it official in Las Vegas, and are ready to make it home, but even before their fateful accident, things aren’t what they seem between the two. There is tension, there are incidents between the two that are hinted at, and the two have secrets from each other right off the bat. And after their encounter in the desert with the strange man they hit, things only get worse between the two. So, from an artistic standpoint, it can be commended as a smart thriller with some brains to back up its craziness.

Visually and tonally, it is an interesting feast for the eyes. Thomas Jane wants a very engrossing visual experience, but he is also on a budget here, so we are caught in a limbo of many special effects, but none of which really hit the mark in a spectacular way. The CG is a little on the cheap side (it looks like a violent episode of Reboot when they wreck the car near the end!), and the green screen is not very successful in melding the real and fake, but the color effects are interesting, not to mention plentiful, and we are treated to some good old fashioned camera trickery with some slick editing and some nifty shots.

But while it’s a solid debut for Jane, and an offbeat one at that, we’re still not treading any bold frontiers with Dark Country. This is a movie I have seen before, in bits and pieces. This is a story of intense psychological implications, a noir aesthetic, and the lush, frightening mysteries of the deep desert. It’s not anything breathtaking or unflinchingly bold. It’s a good and often disturbing take on some classic thriller ideas, and it has a twist in the story that will have you thinking on your toes for a while, but I wouldn’t consider this to be one of the weirdest movies I’d ever seen. With a good cast, a taut script, some interesting effects, and a more intelligent angle than your average thriller, Dark Country has a lot going for it. Just don’t expect it to be too weird, because you might be disappointed.

Cinematronica rating: 7 desert mysteries out of 10!

Stay tuned tomorrow for my take on Mark Wahlberg’s Invincible! Until then!

The Mist (2007), or Wild Abandon

9 11 2009

Frank Darabont has the hots for Stephen King. He is a consummate Stephen King director. He’s done the most by far when it comes to adaptations, and he seems to not only understand, but actively love the material he’s using. Today’s film, The Mist, is his third King film he’s adapted, and I think he’s starting to get better with it each time he does it. As the world knows, I wasn’t a huge fan of The Shawshank Redemption (GASP!) and The Green Mile was a little sappy for my tastes. So this time, apparently, Darabont got my memo and stopped making the easy King movies. The Mist is a difficult undertaking, and it’s primarily because the limits are only the imagination of the director. Fortunately for us, Darabont has a reasonably good head on his shoulders, because The Mist is both imaginative and provocative, with enough of that King allure and deep mystery to keep you guessing and afraid until the very end.

It all happens in Maine (Again; GASP!). A father named David Drayton and his son have to go to the local grocery store to pick up some things after a big storm. It’s a bit dangerous because of a thick fog moving in, but they make it there just fine. In the grocery store there are a few of the local residents, as well as a few soldiers. David doesn’t think anything of it really, and continues on with his day, until some police show up outside in the thick fog. There is an obvious violent confrontation between them and something they cannot see, and as quickly as it begins, the scuffle ends eerily and silently. Everyone in the store is confused momentarily, until a frightened townsperson comes barreling through the parking lot begging to be let in. They lock the door behind him, and he tells them that something’s out there, and it tried to attack him. People begin to form their own opinions about what happened, and as the mist rolls closer and harder onto the store, they begin to wonder  just what is happening, if anyone is going to help them, or if there is even anyone alive to help them. Paranoia grip the denizens of Podunk, Maine, and heads clash on how they will best survive the crisis, and it seems for a while that the greatest danger David and his son might face will be from those around them. But a terrifying mission to switch on the generator will reveal an awful truth; that there is something IN the mist, something not of this earth…

What an amazing atmosphere… The Mist has that timeless element that all horror classics have right from the get-go. Unlike most horror films, though, it keeps its cerebral grip on you throughout most of the film due to the varying nature of the threat. We don’t know all that lies in the mist; there are oddities that defy all logic there, and we’re never sure to what degree these creatures can even threaten the people inside. There are unexplained massive tentacles, larger-than-life insects, and other unspeakable things that lie within, but at first it seems like they might not venture too close to the window-panes that make up the front of the store. But the nature of the mist is elusive, and perhaps there is something larger and more sinister waiting to pounce on them in their huddled vulnerability.

And not everyone is living peacefully in the store, either. Frank Darabont really capitalized on the awesome dynamic within the store that King envisioned. There are your average folks, like our hero David Drayton, but there are also backwoods yokels, naysaying skeptics, hotheaded bullies, and a particularly dangerous religious fanatic that divides the townsfolk with her use of Old Testament fear-mongering and firebranding that is scary on a number of levels. You start to see lines being drawn between people when they should be thinking about the outside threat, and that is another layer of tension that is wonderfully effective in this instance.

A stellar cast inhabits this tiny little Maine shopping center. Thomas Jane should be credited as the necessary good in a sea of mistrust and mayhem, David Drayton. He is such a strong lead that it makes me instantly forget his yucky turn in The Punisher. I liken him to the Henry Fonda character in 12 Angry Men; he’s strong, he’s courageous, and he rocks some washboard abs. Good job, Jane, especially in the finale. Laurie Holden is Amanda, the sweet and caring girl who would be Jane’s love interest (only Drayton is A MARRIED MAN!). She’s okay, but they really don’t ask her to do much. She’s not that big of a deal as far as presence goes, but I wouldn’t say she was awful. The real star here is Marcia Gay Harden, who plays religious fanatic Ms. Carmody. She is such an evil and self-righteous chick that I wanted to punch her through the screen. Not only is religious sanctimony my NUMBER ONE pet peeve (more like my personal nightmare), but I also hate this character’s insistent rudeness. This woman is a downright monster, and I thought her to be just a tiny bit worse than some of the monsters in the mist. harden does an excellent job in a definite performance to watch. The fervor in her eyes is as good as real, and you get the sense that it even gets to her as an actor at some points.

It’s not perfect; there are quite a few “how is everybody doing?” scenes where we have to do a lot of banal check-ins with everyone’s current condition and their unique pasts. Which would be fine, if this wasn’t set in Maine, where interesting stuff is hard to come by without a mysterious mist rolling in. And some of the characters, like Drayton’s generic kid, were a little half-baked and boring. But I liked The Mist a lot. It’s been done before, but never with so much imagination behind it. Many scenes feel electric with a frenetic energy that is synonymous with the new, with the unexplored, with the unknown. And there is a lot we don’t know about The Mist. If you like movies that are willing to challenge you, or movies that aren’t afraid to hit home with you, this will be one for you. But if not, I wouldn’t recommend it; at least, for your sake, turn it off 15 minutes before the end, because the last scene is one that you won’t ever forget. I give The Mist 8 1/2 Mainian (?) grocery stores out of 10!

Tomorrow I’ll check in with Hellraiser! Until then!