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Body Snatchers (1993)
Back in the day, this was the first adaptation of the Body Snatchers that I ever saw and even now it still manages to creep me out. All of the Body Snatchers films are solid efforts worth checking out, with the exception of the 2002 Nicole Kidman redo. This 90s incarnation flourishes under the assured direction of Abel Ferrara and features script input from Larry Cohen and Stuart Gordon (who was originally intended to direct this film). Body Snatchers takes all of the best elements from the previous outings and distills them into one lean, terrifying vision that hard wires directly into our age old fears – of the dark, of sleep, of losing our parents, of not fitting in, of being the new kid on the block. Undeservedly overlooked and underappreciated, the tale translates well to a present day/Military Base setting – where everyone already behaves like a pod person to begin with. Gabrielle Anwar is a fitting protagonist and the film opens with her character already referring to her father’s new wife as “the woman who replaced my mother.” Voice over narration in movies usually annoy me but I enjoyed Anwar’s sparse soliloquies. This is almost as good as the 70s remake – and Meg Tilly is truly the stuff of nightmares. B+
Christopher Smith has really matured as a writer and director – in leaps and bounds, in fact. I found his debut Creep to be far too low key and routine (although it is always nice to see Franka Potente) and Severance more humorous than actually horrific. With Triangle he really comes into his own. The film opens on what could easily be mistaken for a slice of David Lynch suburbia and the soundtrack supplies us with a lullaby from a half remembered dream. It would be almost too easy to say: Imagine David Lynch directing a Friday the 13th film (Jason Takes Manhattan with the “Manhattan” bits removed and no hockey mask, but baghead from Part 2). Yet Triangle is so much more than that – it is not easily categorized and it is not Lynch-lite or a slasher knock-off – it is a wholly original entity in its own right. Each time I watch it I am more impressed – this isn’t one of those films that exists solely for twists and turns that will surprise the audience at the time but serve no sensible purpose to the story and can be easily debunked under the slightest scrutiny. Triangle is thoughtful, expertly constructed, precisely calibrated and mesmerizing. Melissa George does her best work to date – her performance is essential to the success of the film and could equally make or break it – she never falters, indeed she is flawless, pitch perfect and stunning. This is one of the most satisfying and rewarding films I have seen in a long, long while. B+
Soul Survivors (2001)
Soul Survivors is Carnival of Souls retrofitted for the aughts with nothing new to say. It is like one of those cheesy 80s Twilight Zone remake episodes – or the really, really poor man’s Jacob’s Ladder.
Luke Wilson turns up playing a priest. Eliza Dushku’s character may as well be named Faith – so similar is this role to her Buffy the Vampire Slayer self. Wes Bentely is all dead eyed and akward creepiness. Hayden Christensen and Josh Hartnett get flak for not being able to act – what about this guy? Angela Featherstone fares better as a androgynous club goer. Melissa Sagemiller, the star of the show, is mostly wan and wishy-washy – Sagemiller has talent but the script boxes her in at every turn. Casey Affleck plays her angelic suitor who dies in a tragic car accident before she has the chance to tell him she loves him and is seemingly attempting to contact her from the other side, all cryptic warning like.
It is way too easy to see where this is heading and the only really interesting scene comes when the big midterm rolls around. Sagemiller’s character scans the questions – tellingly Shakespeare’s “There are more things in heaven and earth” quote and Dante’s “Abandon all Hope” pop up in essay form – as blood begin to pour out of her mouth and nose. The soundtrack is terrible and features mostly obnoxious songs from bands that apparently were popular when this was filmed – which was 1999 although it didn’t actually get released until two years later.
Soul Survivors is too damn flat and lifeless – which I guess it could be argued, was an obvious choice made by the director to help reflect the murky state these characters find themselves in – but it just looks crummy and never feels otherworldly enough. You’d suppose with this being a story that has been done oh so many times, the filmmakers would have at least picked up something from their predecessors – keep hoping. Dead on arrival. D+
Jamie Blanks’ follow-up to 1998’s under appreciated Urban Legend bears all the hallmarks of the post Scream template while also harkening back to the 80s holiday themed/revenge slashers. Marley Shelton makes a likable if somewhat too wholesome final girl, Denise Richards gets her bitch on and Katherine Heigl fills in as our first act kill. There’s a segment set at an art exhibition that one could almost go so far as to say is Argento-esque. The script is threadbare to the extreme and never wastes time on anything like character development. It is disappointing how run of the mill the whole thing is, especially considering the craftiness director Blanks employed in Urban Legend with the creative and inventive kills. That being said, the cherub masked killer breaking out the bow and arrows was a nice touch, there is a pretty gnarly power drill/hot tub set piece and the threatening valentines that the victims receive are priceless. A true guilty pleasure. C
The Skeleton Key (2005)
Iain Softley is a director who I feel has never really received his due – he’s a storyteller with a keen eye for detail and atmosphere and his ravishing and breathtaking 1997 adaptation of The Wings of the Dove (for which star Helena Bonham Carter garnered an Oscar nomination for best actress) is in my mind an absolute masterpiece. The Skeleton Key stars another once upon a time Oscar contender, Kate Hudson (nominated as best supporting actress for her work in 2000’s Almost Famous) who here portrays Caroline Ellis, a twenty-five year old living in New Orleans. Disgusted with the treatment of the patients at the clinic where she works, Caroline answers an ad in the paper and begins a new job, providing hospice care for Benjamin Devereaux (John Hurt) who recently suffered a debilitating stroke and is the husband of cantankerous Violet Deveraux (Gena Rowlands). This work takes Caroline deep into the bayou to the forbidding and isolated Deveraux estate, where she finds all is not what it appears and superstition and magic are the order of the day.
The Skeleton Key features bold Southern Gothic flavor, a sly and knowing turn by Gena Rowlands and a zinger of an ending. Hudson makes an especially capable and sympathetic heroine and as she is in every scene, her direct performance goes a long way to carrying the film. John Hurt’s presence always adds gravitas and here in an all but wordless role, he speaks volumes with his haunted and chilling gaze.
Sometimes the editing gets a little too overzealous and I would have appreciated if a bit more time had been devoted to Caroline getting settled into her new job and surroundings before all the evil spells and spooky attic tropes were toted out, but this remains sturdy and fun filmmaking that is quite effective and that I often return to. B