Tuesday, May 26, 2015

An Open Letter to Elijah Wood, Franck Khalfoun, and Alexandre Aja Regarding Totally Blowing It with Maniac

Note: This article originally appeared on From Midnight with Love

Mssrs. Wood, Khalfoun, and Aja,

So as not to get off on the wrong foot, let me first clarify that the “Totally Blowing It” portion of the title refers not to the quality of the film in question, but the staggering size of the missed opportunity it represents. Make no mistake, I loved the film. In fact, I liked it so much that I bestowed upon it a coveted MMM Best Picture nomination. But, regardless of the fact that your team made the most brutal, disturbing horror film of the year, I can’t help but feel cheated.

Please tell me that's orc's blood Mr. Frodo.

Maniac should have been not one, but two films, the second of which would have been Maniac, exactly as it is. The first film, however, would have been a romantic comedy, shot simultaneously with Maniac, using the same characters, locations, and cast. Imagine the devastation to the unsuspecting audiences who would have been charmed by the wonderful, quirky characters and the romantic ups and downs of their relationships, when they discover it was all just Frank’s fantasy world version of a reality in which he murders and scalps pretty much every woman he speaks to.

They're just so freakin' cute together.

The reason this would work is that Maniac is structured exactly like a romantic comedy. The lonely lead character goes on a series of disasterous “dates” before meeting his dream girl, but it gets complicated because she has a boyfriend. Due to a very specific and relatively rare mutual interest, the two have plentiful reasons to continue seeing each other, and they quickly grow close. The girl breaks up with her boyfriend, leaving an opening for the leading man to sweep her off her feet. But just as it seems he’s about to get the girl, she discovers something he’s done, an act of dishonesty or betrayal, that makes her reject him, despite his pleas that he did it for her and she’d see that if only she’d listen to him. The leading man then “chases” her in an attempt to get her back. Where the structure diverges is the ending,, which in the rom-com pretty much has to end with them reconciling and getting together. The horror version, of course, must end with blood, blood, blood. In a good rom-com, you’re invested in the characters, so you worry that the lead will end up with the wrong person and miss their shot at true love. In a good horror film, you worry that the character’s intestines will be strung up on the wrong person’s curtain rods.


Envision this:
In June 2013, a film entitled “Mannequin Man,” opens. It stars the boyishly good-looking Elijah Wood in his first film as the romantic lead. Playing on the quiet charm he exhibited as Frodo, the film follows the love life of lonely introvert and passionate mannequin-restorer Frank Zito. The movie opens with Frank witnessing an attractive young woman being harassed on a street corner. He shows his nice-guy demeanor by following the woman, just to make certain she gets home safely. He’s pretty much hopeless with the ladies, so he doesn’t realize how creepy it is when he approaches the woman at her front door. She freaks out and makes an embarassing scene, and Frank slinks off knowing he's blown it and she thinks he's a perv.



In the next scene, Frank is in the backroom at his store, interacting with his mannequins as if they’re alive. It’s kind of weird and slightly pathetic, but he’s pretty funny and charismatic, so we write it off as him just being a shy and lonely guy.

Unable to introduce himself to women in person, Frank turns to online dating. His handle is I M Timid, which doesn’t attract too many women, but eventually a pretty girl called RedLucie86 shows some interest. They agreed to meet for drinks and things don’t go as planned.

I'm sooooo in love with this woman.

A huge part of what makes Maniac work is the rom-com’s stock-in-trade: it makes it audience fall in love with the characters. When the audience meets RedLucie86, they will either be put off or attracted by her tattoos and piercings (put me strongly on the attracted side of the divide), but as we get to know her, we see she is a kind, fun person, more than willing to give a shy dude a chance. When we get to her apartment, we spy three keyboards in the corner, indicating that she’s a pretty serious musician and not merely a vacuous bar girl. Then she puts on a record, revealing herself as a vinyl enthusiast and winning me completely over (okay, I was probably in love the first moment I saw her gorgeous curls, but this cemented it). That’s when the seduction begins. RedLucie playfully flirts with Frank, but he’s clearly not comfortable with it, so she becomes more aggressive. She’s not so aggressive as to make the viewer think she’s a psycho, but aggressive enough that we clearly see that she’s not Frank’s Ms. Right. In the rom-com version, this would be the point at which Frank would freak out and embarrass himself before quickly making for the door.


Now imagine knowing only the quirky, cute version of the scene and then being subjected to RedLucie’s graphic strangulation and scalping.

Just when we think Frank's love life is doomed, an unlikely twist of fate brings along a beautiful, intelligent artistic young woman who just so happens to have a passion for photographing mannequins. Her name is Anna, and clearly, she is Frank's perfect match. He sees her photographing his display windows and invites her in to look around. They hit it off right away, and even discuss a possible artistic collaboration. But then, on her way out, she points out that Frank has lipstick on his face. Awkward! Wait, you say, that's exactly what happened in the horror version. And you're right. In fact, it was this scene that gave me the idea for the Maniac rom-com.



So the lipstick is the first bump in the road for their relationship, the second is that she has a boyfriend, so they've got to keep things strictly professional. He makes her some faceless mannequins for her gallery show, and they go out to see The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, as friends of course. As she works on her show, Frank backs off a little, not wanting to come on too strong, he even attempts to get a date with a lovely aerial silk performer, but inadvertently finds himself stuck in the closet of her dressing room after the show. This sequence is a classic comedy of errors. Frank has the best of intentions, but every bumbling attempt to connect with the girl makes him look like a weirdo stalker. Frank barely manages to escape detection, and the girl leaves in a hurry, forgetting her purse. Ever the gentleman, Frank attempts to return it to her, following her all the way to the subway. When he finally gets close enough to speak to her and tries to return the purse, she bolts. Not realizing why exactly she's creeped out (maybe something to do with the purse being left in the dressing room rather than somewhere public where a passerby could find it), he chases after her, trying desperately to do the right thing. In a parking lot, she falls and twists her ankle. Frank catches up, but she's screaming so loudly that he just leaves the purse on the ground next to her and flees the scene.




On the night of Anna's big gallery opening, Frank must overcome his social awkwardness and make an appearance. He's doing very well until a series of encounters with Anna's rude art-world friends puts him on edge. Anna's drunken agent insults Frank's life's work to his face. He stews about it for awhile, but then can't take it anymore. When the agent leaves, he follows so he can give her a piece of his mind without making a scene at the opening. She manages to stay well ahead of him, so Frank ends up following her all the way back to her apartment. When she sees him at her door, she doesn't give him the chance to speak, but immediately freaks out and starts throwing shit at him and screaming. In her frenzy, she too falls and hits her head on a countertop. Frank rushes to help her and ends up calling an ambulance. When the police arrive, they take him in for questioning, but eventually let him go.



The next day, he visits Anna, who is upset both because she has broken up with her boyfriend, and because of the news that her agent was attacked in her apartment and had to have stitches. Frank, of course, doesn't know how to own up to his role in the accident, so he plays dumb. Then, in the middle of the visit, Anna gets a call from her agent, who tells her it was Frank who "attacked" her. Anna gets pissed and kicks Frank out of her apartment. The rest of the film is basically Frank following Anna, who has decided she's getting back together with her jerk ex-boyfriend. A series of near-slapstick mishaps keeps Frank from catching up too quickly, but when she finally notices she's being followed, she hastily accepts a ride from a stranger. Urging him to step on it, they get in a collision.



When Anna awakes in the hospital. There's a huge bouquet from Frank, and not so much as a card from Mr. Wrong.  There's also a video apology from Frank, who explains his intentions and wins her over. The film ends with Anna showing up at his shop and a big, sloppy make-out session.

Alternately, instead of going with the whole agent fiasco (which might set too dark a tone for the film), Anna could walk in on Frank while he's having a weird dance party with his mannequins in the back room. Of course this might crank up the pervy knob just a bit too high.

The movie comes out with decent numbers and mixed, but mostly positive reviews. It is a fun trifle of a movie quickly forgotten by most. Forgotten, that is, until August 2013, when Maniac premieres. While Mannequin Man wasn't a huge hit, Maniac causes the internet to explode with alternating praise and outrage, so much so that theaters are forced to reopen Mannequin Man to accomodate those who missed it the first time around. Horror nerds, of course, would have already picked up on the fact that Mannequin Man's hero was named after Joe Spinell's 1980 character, and their minds would have been half blown seeing all the parallels between Mannequin Man and William Lustig's Maniac. But when the secret remake is dropped on them, their heads simultaneously explode, eliminating the entire audience for Maniac. The film goes down in history as being responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of horror fans worldwide. It is banned in 75 countries and becomes the most illegally downloaded film of all time.



And that, dear sirs, is why I consider Maniac both a great horror film, and a failure of epic proportions.

Sincerely,
Marvin the Macabre

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Binge and Purge 2015 - Part 4: Solstice



Solstice

(2008 - dir. Daniel Myrick)

Solstice boasts solid performances by a talented cast, competent direction from Daniel Myrick of Blair Witch fame, and some lovely cinematography by M. David Mullen. The sum of these promising parts adds up to one completely unremarkable movie. It's your basic ghost story about a spirit who haunts someone in order to get justice for their untimely death. Myrick does a nice job of setting up the mystery, but there's no real payoff--just a by-the-numbers ending that you'll be convinced you've seen a half dozen times before.

I mean, it's watchable. It kept my attention, but that was mostly because of the incredibly attractive cast. Seriously, when Amanda Seyfried is the least gorgeous actress in your movie, you're doing something right. Ultimately though, the film leaves you about as satisfied as a cotton candy dinner. It almost feels like I didn't even watch a movie tonight. I may as well have just flipped through Netflix Instant watch menus all night without ever deciding on anything.

The most frustrating thing about the film is it makes a big deal out of the Voodoo-lite ceremony the teenagers perform, but it ends up having no effect on the story at all. The ghost was contacting them before and continued the attempt after their aquatic new age ritual.

The highlight of the film? This bit of dialogue:

"Please do not forget toilet paper, all right? Last time I was out here I had to wipe my ass with a potato chip bag."
"Mark-- "(annoyed)
"What, babe? It was barbeque."

The Verdict:
Purge. I can't see myself ever watching it again. Although it was so forgettable that I may accidentally pick up another copy a year from now.


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Binge and Purge 2015 - Part 3: The Stepfather, Family Demons, and The Dead Inside

The Stepfather
(1987 - dir. Joseph Ruben)


I had my suspicions after watching him on Lost, but now that I’ve seen The Stepfather I’m utterly convinced that Terry O’Quinn is a serial killer. No one can give that flawless a performance as a seemingly wise and charismatic father-figure who is, just below the surface, one toe-stub away from gnawing off the nearest face. If I saw him in public, I wouldn’t know whether to ask for his autograph or flee for my life.


I knew the premise going in: O’Quinn wants the perfect family, so he serially marries single mothers with kids and, when they inevitably fall short of his standards, murders them all and changes his identity. I assumed the movie would gradually reveal his true nature; at first there would be some ambiguity about him--maybe a second act where you’re not sure if he’s really psycho or if everyone’s just paranoid. But no, The Stepfather ain’t got time to fuck around with that bullshit. It opens with a blood-spattered O’Quinn shaving off his mountain man beard, changing into a suit, and stepping over murdered children on his way out the door.

Watching it, I thought the early reveal would ruin the tension, but the opposite was true. Knowing from the beginning what this guy is instills a deep dread as you see him work his mojo on another unsuspecting family. It’s not a question of if, but when he’ll go all Jack Torrance. And somehow, when he does, it still comes as a shock.

Verdict: Keep DVD and watch it 50 times to make up for not seeing it in the eighties.


Family Demons
(2009 - dir. Ursula Dabrowsky)


I heartily agree with the growing opinion that we need more female horror directors. However, Ursula Dabrowsky is not one of them.

Okay, that was mean. It’s also unfair. I just thought it was a funny line and couldn’t resist. Seriously though, this isn’t a good movie. Ms. Dabrowsky’s inexperience bleeds through every frame. There’s a difference between slow-burn horror and a horribly slow film. A master filmmaker can use a scene where nothing much happens to build anticipation and heighten the emotion of what’s to come. A lesser filmmaker uses it to pad the runtime.

There’s some good ideas in Family Demons, and as an allegory for child abuse, this could have been a really powerful film, but the actors never sold me on the reality of the situation. Still, let’s give Ms. Dabrowsky credit for telling a different kind of horror story. I’ve got a soft spot for indie filmmakers, and it looks like everyone’s trying really hard to make a good movie. C- for effort?

Verdict: Unceremoniously booted from my collection.

The Dead Inside
(2011 - dir. Travis Betz)


I honestly have no idea what to make of this movie. It opens with some very prosthetic-looking zombies standing in front of a locked door, one wearing a tux, the other a dress. One says to the other, “Did you try the knob?” What follows is a lengthy conversation, between zombies, about how to get at the tasty human in the room beyond.

Then the movie shifts gears and we’re looking at a computer screen where protagonist Fiona is writing the scenes we’ve just witnessed. Turns out she writes zombie novels and can’t get her head past this locked door any better than her zombies.

Her boyfriend Wes gets home, complains about the monotony of his wedding photographer gig, she complains about her writer’s block, then they both burst into song. I must have glossed over the part on the synopsis that said The Dead Inside is a musical, so the jarring effect of the spontaneous eruption into singing blew my mind a little.

The first two songs are pretty great, the first a hilariously vulgar number about feeling, you guessed it, dead inside, and the second a tropical-tinged ditty about how great it would be if the zombie apocalypse finally happened. That one’s going on this year’s Halloween mixtape for sure. After that, the songs become less novel, and while they reveal the characters’ inner dialogue, feel more obligatory than necessary.


From there, The Dead Inside tells the story of a couple torn apart by possession. Fiona’s body is taken over by a ghost with some unfinished business, who has also fallen in love with Wes and wants to seduce him into forgetting about Fiona. Problem is, Fi was the coolest chick imaginable (when Wes gets home, she playfully commands, “Come and lay on the floor with me, bitch!”), whereas Emily, her ghostly invader, is more traditionally feminine and just plain boring. However, she’s not really evil, and as Wes gets to know her better, he risks losing Fiona.
In the end (okay, aside from the ending, blehh...), The Dead Inside kind of won me over with its characters and genuine emotion, but it still seems like a pretty damned silly movie. But will it improve or disappoint on repeated viewings? Does it even merit repeated viewings?

Verdict: Keep it, just in case.





Thursday, January 29, 2015

Binge and Purge 2015 - Part 2: Lake Dead, Dead Mary, and Doghouse


Lake Dead
(2007 – dir. George Bessudo)

I must give Lake Dead my absolute highest recommendation… as an Al-Qaeda recruitment tool designed to instill a deep and adibing hatred for western culture. One screening of this steaming pile nearly had me ready to go all Jihad against the entire cast and crew. Just tell the disenfranchised Islamic youth that this is what all Americans are like, and watch them line up for suicide bomber duty.

Every character in the film is completely unlikable, either because they're despicable or despicably whiny. Yet despite this, none of them really had an individual personality. In my mind, they all sort of meld into one giant fratrority dude(tte) that has nothing interesting to say and no redeeming qualities. Here's a breakdown of characters:

Whiny Sister - The obvious final girl from frame one. (Her confrontation with her father made me laugh audibly and I spent the next ten minutes imitating the overblown whine of her delivery.)

Bitchy Sister - Every line she speaks seethes with unprovoked hostility.

Boring Sister - The most unnecessary character in the film.

Boring Boyfriend - At times douchey, at times heroic, always devoid of personality.

Douchey Guy - Everything that comes out of his mouth is insipid, and usually offensive.

Jealous Girlfriend - Dating Douchey Guy for no fathomable reason.

Slutty Friend - Boring Sister brings her along because she's the only one willing to show her tits.

Here’s a typical example of their witter banter:
Slutty Friend: “You mind if we smoke in your RV?”
Douchey Guy: “Does a dog lick its own ballsack?”
Slutty Friend giggles like this is remotely clever, and the audience is treated to a weed smoking montage that in no way serves the story. Either he's just checking off slasher trope boxes or he's trying to win cool points with the viewer, suggesting that he is probably someone who behaves and talks exactly like his characters. To be fair, equal blame should be laid on writer Daniel P. Coughlin.

Anyway, the story involves three sisters inheriting a lakeside hotel from their estranged grandfather. But who cares? There's a few spots of decent gore, and one honestly kick-ass moment where Boring Boyfriend takes out his inbred caveman captor while still tied to his chair. Of course, The Avengers did it better.

Verdict: PURGE!!!!



Dead Mary
(2006 – dir. Robert Wilson)

After Lake Dead, I was in the mood to watch another fiercely shitty movie, if only to even out my purge/keep piles. I scanned my shelves for the dumbest looking piece of crap I could find. Dead Mary treads the well-worn territory of the "Bloody Mary/Candyman" urban legend in which one lights a candle in a darkened room and speaks the name 3 to 5 times and gets dead. I threw it in while folding laundry, fully expecting to turn it back off when the chore was done.

But the truth is, Dead Mary is way better than it has any right to be.

For one thing, the characters aren't a bunch of vapid teenage stereotypes, but actual developed characters with individual motivations and personalities. There's a young married couple struggling with the husband's infidelity, a bachelor introducing his new, much younger girlfriend to his long-time friends, a pair of exes who just broke up on the drive out to the lake house, and the bitchy girl. Okay, so they're not all fully-realized characters, but I just got done watching Lake Dead, so...

I'll admit, with this crew of twenty-somethings coming to terms with their newfound adulthood, the premise of the film is even sillier, but it is handled fairly well. The subject of Dead Mary comes up during a drunken late-night conversation about the weirdest thing that ever happened to each of them. Three of the girls claimed that Dead Mary actually appeared to them in the mirror when they were 16. So obviously, they repeat their teenage folly.

The cool thing is, Dead Mary never actually appears. Instead they awaken something in the woods. What follows is an unapologetic attempt to emulate The Evil Dead. Some people will despise the attempt, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

As the evil entity takes possession of the friends, it begins exposing secrets and turning them against each other. Since the film spends so much time establishing its characters, it is refreshing to see their relationships become an essential part of the horror that follows.

On the downside, there are plenty of clunky bits that simply don't work or make sense within the context of the film, but good characters, solid performances, and a well-constructed plot make Dead Mary very watchable.

Verdict: It's a Keeper.



Doghouse
(2010 – dir. Jake West)

Oh boy, feminist film critics are going to be digging this one out of their teeth for years to come. And deservedly so. The plot involves seven blokes going on holiday to help their friend through an ugly divorce. They take a chartered tour bus to a dead-end town outside of London that is completely populated with zombified women with an all-encompassing hatred for men.

The opening involves each of them pissing off their significant others by taking the weekend off. To be fair, even as Doghouse makes the wives and girlfriends (and even one boyfriend) out to be ball-busting shrews, it also makes most of the guys out to be selfish, insensitive pricks.

The whole affair is non-PC, often offensive, and completely hilarious. I recommend turning off your inner feminist for the first viewing and just have fun with it. It is openly misogynist, but in a winking, knowing way that doesn't just let men off the hook. If you don't have an inner feminist, you'll probably love Doghouse.

Verdict: Keeper. I'll probably make my wife watch it.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Great Mancave Binge and Purge 2015

I am a deeply foolish mortal. In preparation for The Great Mancave Binge and Purge, I set aside all the horror DVDs that I've purchased but haven't go t around to watching, and lo, there's a shit-ton. I was planning to list them all here and let readers decide which to review next, but god-to-the-damn there's a lot of them. I'm not even counting the multi-film sets you get from Walmart, and I've got a stack of 154 movies.

So, no way I'm getting through all of them. But to make things a little easier on myself, I give myself permission to turn off the truly horrible ones at any point and cast them into the "sell" pile.

Going through my collection, I've made a few observations.

1) I don't have much Asian horror, but most of the Asian horror I do have is unwatched. Why is this? I'm almost always disappointed in Asian horror films. When the rash of American remakes came out in the early double-oughts, I liked most of them and would track down the originals for comparison. Guess what? 9 times out of 10, I preferred the remake. My guess is something is often lost in translation for me.

2) Tons of movies I fell asleep during. I generally hate going back to finish a movie that put me to sleep. If it was any good, it would have kept me awake, right? But there's always those few films that I've come back to finish and loved them. The most recent of these was Housebound. So, I've got to give them another shot.

3) Lots and lots of titles I'm not looking forward to at all. All kinds of low-budget garbage that I now have no idea what I was thinking when I bought them. Here's to hoping some of them prove me wrong. At the very least, here's to hoping this project makes me more careful about the movies I buy.

I kind of unofficially started this project a few weeks ago when I started going through my back catalogue, so here's a paragraph on each just to get us started:



Sleeper's Wake
(2013 - dir. Barry Berk)

This was a very well-acted, well-written, and well-constructed film that only straddles a toe over into horror territory. Thriller describes it better. But don't be put off by the non-horrorness of it all. It works as a character study and a super-tense drama. Set in South Africa (I think), the story follows a widowed writer who befriends another recently widowed man whose daughter is constantly trying to seduce him (the writer, not her dad, ick). Bad things follow. There's also some wicked cool baboon action. Okay, it looks totally fake, but baboons!

A Warning to the Curious
(2013 - dir. Aji Djarar)

I can't necessarily recommend this movie to anyone, especially those suffering chronic found footage fatigue. However, I kind of liked it. This is a no-budget feature that dodges the number one downfall of no-budget flicks by having a cast that was fairly talented and mostly likable, After a disappointing ghost hunting venture into an abandoned hospital that turns up zilch, the Mystery Inc. gang gets a hot tip about a house in the woods that supposedly sprung up out of nowhere. I know, I know. Abandoned hospital, house in the woods, ghost hunters, can we throw another cliche in there?  Thing is, it goes places your typical found footage flick doesn't. The plot ends up being pretty original. While the film is marred by some bad special effects, it's a surprisingly solid piece of work.

Make-Out with Violence
(2010 - dir. The Deagol Brothers)

Another low-budget indie movie, but a hell of a great one. The photography is stunning, the characters are quirky, but fully fleshed out and compelling, and the performances are really good. It's also a zombie movie, but not that kind of zombie movie. This is no post-zombie apocalypse survival tale or an outbreak movie filled with snarling, sprinting flesheaters. In fact, there's only one zombie in the whole movie, and she's really little more than a plot device to explore the relationships between other characters. It's no dry, stale drama either. It's a clever, often hilarious coming of age story that suggests The Deagol Brothers are some filmmakers to keep an eye on. Be warned though, the ending is abrupt and not completely satisfying. But it's still worth a watch, And probably a re-watch.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Advent of Atrocities: The Postmortem

The cool thing about being a dismal failure is that no one expects shit from you. Or, they do expect what you do to be shit. Or something. Looking over my pageviews, my failure to deliver this yuletide season upset exactly 3 people, 2 of which are me and the little boy who lives in my mouth. Yet, if there's anyone who's interested, here's the reason behind my flameout.

In mid-December, my family had a bit of a cancer scare. It turned out not to be cancer, but for 2 excruciating weeks we didn't know and I really didn't feel like watching or thinking about horror. I was too busy trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do if the worst came true.

It was a shame, because I was really having fun with the blog again, and I had so many more movies I wanted to shout about from the mountaintop. I may still get to the rest of my list yet, but for now I've got another project in mind, one even more ambitious and thus even more doomed to failure.

I've got a wall of horror movies in my mancave, about one third of which I've bought but never seen. Problem is, I'm running out of shelf space and need to Purge the chaff from my collection. So this next challenge I've concocted involves watching all my horror movies that I haven't seen yet, and writing at least one paragraph about each. At the end of each review I will decide whether to hang on to the movie in question, or kick that shit to the curb (sell it to the pawn shop).

I'll warn you now that most of these are probably going to be pretty awful, but if there's a gem or two among them, it should all be worth it. I'm not setting an insane timeline for myself like with the Advent of Atrocities. I will post a minimum of once a week until they are complete. It should take me the better part of the year to finish. There's no way in hell I'll finish, because my will is weak. But here's to Quixotic challenges, and here's to undiscovered horror treasures!

Slainte!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Advent of Atrocities-Day 8: The Divide (2011)

Dir. Xavier Gens

I like fun horror movies.

I’ll gladly cough up ten bucks for 90 minutes on a twisty, turny, gory thrill-ride of a flick. I’m also a Class-A sucker for a horror comedy that brings the bloodshed and belly laughs in equal measure. And I can easily get caught up in the spook-show atmosphere of a classic black and white creature feature. Honestly, there’s a horror movie for every occasion.

But the kind of horror film I really love is a nasty, brutal, endurance-testing, soul-raping slog through Hell that spits you out the other side a quivering sack of misanthropy. Xavier Gens specializes in those kind of horror films, and The Divide is a breath of fresh air for people who love the smell of putrification.

There goes the neighborhood. All of them.
The Divide begins with a nuclear explosion in a major U.S. city, and a building evacuation that only a handful of people survive by making it to the fallout shelter in the basement. What follows is a document of the breakdown of order the group experiences as food becomes scarce and the group splits into factions.

Every community needs a dentist.
It’s not so much a spoiler as it is fair warning to tell you that despite some tantalizing clues that only serve to deepen the mystery, the cause of the explosion is never revealed. The audience remains with the survivors, woefully unaware of what is happening, and just trying to stay alive for another day.

Things play out much as you would imagine. Initially everyone follows the only person who has a clue about how to survive. Michael Biehn gives his greatest post-Terminator performance as Mickey, the sneering, cigar-chomping, building superintendent who regards the basement as his personal space and his fellow survivors as the charity-cases he has generously agreed to shelter.

A sneer so fierce you can practically hear it.
Michael Biehn scares little girls.
Now there's the Michael Biehn we know and love!
But as mistrust grows, some people begin to side with the two young, hot-headed toughs who’ve been trapped with them. Predictable? Somewhat. But it’s not the story that elevates Gens’s post-apocalyptic nightmare, but the way it is told. We bear witness to the slow degeneration of each character. Some become tyrants, others their pets. Some become prisoners, others traitors. The toughs go through such a remarkable transformation that they’re unrecognizable by the movie’s end.

Josh and Bobby resembling human beings.
This is... Magnum.
Lauren German wishing she'd stayed in Hostel 2.
[SPOILERS AHEAD]

The most devastating transformation is Marilyn, played with heart-breaking realism by Rosanna Arquette, who begins the movie as a single mother, becomes a basketcase, then a willing whore, and finally a sex slave. Her final fate is summed up with the nauseating words, “She just… broke.”

[END SPOILERS]

Rosanna Arquette and a sad, sad bunny.
Scenes from the Sid and Nancy remake.
Duct tape can't fix everything.
While the group dynamics are the focal point of the movie, there’s also a “home” invasion sequence that works particularly well. From their terrifying hazmat-by-the-way-of-stormtrooper suits to their gigantic white assault rifles, these bad boys put the plastic tunnel scene from E.T. to utter shame.

Hello. Hello! HELLO!!
He's going for the armored barn owl look.
Everyone could use a flu shot.
When the survivors manage to get ahold of one of the suits and designate thuggish Josh (Milo Ventimiglia in a 180 turn from his Heroes persona) to investigate, he finds zero answers and about a thousand questions. And I love that the film never answers them.

Quit smiling Milo, you ain't on Heroes anymore.
E.T. Tunnels!
Da fuh?
While The Divide is an ugly, ugly film, it is beautifully shot. The colors, the lighting, the frame composition are all artfully done, and even when the shelter begins to resemble a crackhouse, it remains visually striking, if not exactly beautiful.

Doggie wants a treat.
The ending is good and fitting, and not entirely a down note. More of another giant question mark. While the ending comes as a surprise, it’s not really the point of the film.  After all, it’s not the destination, but the journey that matters. Even if the journey is a nasty, brutal, endurance-testing, soul-raping slog through Hell. 

Just, ewwww.