Aberration (1997)

directed by tim boxell
grundy films/victor film company

A tale of Nature Gone Horribly Wrong, this likable B-movie set in America but filmed in New Zealand proudly blares its very ’90s soundtrack whenever possible. But after dispensing with its Meet Cute (well, sort of; it involves both a dead engine and a dead pet), this chipper horror comedy rather quickly started reminding me of the legendary cult favorite Tremors. Then a completely unexpected detour occurs, and although it’s short and ultimately slight, the film never seems to regain its bearings. From that point onward, the action escalates, things keep exploding, and the characters, finding themselves in one impossible situation after another, seem to devolve as the creatures they’re battling keep rapidly adapting. Maybe that’s supposed to be a parallel. Or a paradox. Whatever it is, it becomes difficult to tell what the producers wished to achieve. Unless it was to remind one of Tremors. It ends abruptly.

why did i watch this movie?

This may sound familiar, but I couldn’t tell from the description whether I’d already seen it. Or maybe I was conflating the title with that of Unnatural.

should you watch this movie?

In some ways, this film far exceeds its potential, but on the other hand it also fails to meet it. Ultimately, it’s just not quite enough.

highlight and low point

They did a good job with using the creatures effectively, not overexposing them, although I’m fairly certain they used the exact same shots more than once. Splatter and gore also is handled deftly. The humor doesn’t always connect, however, and the hints of romance feel forced if not incongruous. At the same time, you expect more of any or all of these factors. Something went wrong in their calculus.

rating from outer space: c

Split (2017)

directed by m. night shyamalan
blinding edge pictures/blumhouse productions

After watching this feature, I think I can better understand the opprobrium I’ve often seen hurled at its director in discussions of his oeuvre. Not that this is a bad movie, mind you; it does what it does fairly well, but it has a … credibility issue. I mean, I found myself not buying the central premise. At all. Don’t get me wrong; I am not denying the possibility of traumatic onset of multiple personalities, or dissociative identity disorder. The theory involved in this picture, however, takes pseudoscience directly into the realm of the comic book, in my professional opinion. (Disclaimer: I am not a doctor.) Furthermore, I usually am not seeking stories concerning supernatural physical characteristics or characterizations, such as found in superhero or -villain flicks. In addition, I found the scant inserts providing backstory to be both clumsy and stereotyped. THEN it turns out it’s somehow part of a trilogy-of-sorts – or a tripartite narrative, maybe. And it’s also a little too long, if only because it gave me time to realize all this.

why did i watch this movie?

I appreciated Shyamalan’s previous effort, The Visit, and noticed this one receiving positive attention on a few year-end lists.

should you watch this movie?

It’s interesting, but ultimately unbelievable. Upon further reflection, I think it’s supposed to attain that effect … but I think it would best serve an action/thriller audience, and it doesn’t have a whole lot of what generally is termed “action.”

highlight and low point

I would suppose the main attraction of this piece to be the leading performance by James McAvoy, which is presented as though one is to regard it as a tour de force and not a display of ham. The final movement is preposterous.

rating from outer space: c−

Hypothermia (2010)

directed by james felix mckenney
glass eye pix/dark sky films

Featuring the absolute worst creature costume since at least the embarrassing Howard the Duck, this production derails itself by punching above its class, so to speak. Ambition is a fine, fine attribute to possess, but man, if you do not have the budgetary capabilities to make your mysterious and deadly lake predator look like anything but a guy wearing a rubber suit, you might want to consider taking your script in a different direction. (This applies even if making low-budget horror is your backer’s stated goal – and specialty, in the case of Larry Fessenden, overseer of Glass Eye Pix and its ScareFlix subsidiary, whose banner flies over Hypothermia.) The ultimate shame of it is that aside from a few acting performances that aren’t quite professional grade, this little ice fishing movie had some potential. It’s also a little shy on running time and has a non-ending to rival any other you’ve ever seen. And, possibly, to “top” it.

why did i watch this movie?

It sounded as though it would be the kind of schlock that is my general focus here. It was also low-rated, which I often find to be a compelling and effective lure. Pun intended.

should you watch this movie?

Although it isn’t the worst possible choice you could make, it doesn’t really distinguish itself in any honorable way.

highlight and low point

You don’t see too many movies with a focus on ice fishing, that’s for sure, and this one also has an admirable lack of sentimentality for its characters. On the other hand, the creature. The filmmakers try almost every trick in the book to disguise this egregious fault, too, but succeed only in calling  more attention to it.

rating from outer space: d-

The Woman (2011)

directed by lucky mckee

Okay. Well. The sequel to the previously discussed paragon of benevolence and good feelings Offspring, this lighthearted jest manages to outdo its predecessor in casting aspersions on the boundaries of human behavior. And that’s accomplished long before the revolting gore brightens things up. Starting its bleak portrayal of life in human society limning a few quirks and oddities, gradually revealing more depravity layer by layer and eventually producing complete incredulity, this movie is a skillful demonstration of how to achieve perfection in the art of shining a light on things your audience probably would have felt better never, ever seeing. A true sickie, horrible in almost every way by textbook definition.

why did i watch this movie?

I had been reading admiring takes of the strong responses this film provoked since shortly after its release.

should you watch this movie?

This celluloid entertainment is rife with distasteful orientations, taboo topics and inhumane actions. It is fairly  unflinching in its depictions, and occasionally seems as if it may be attempting to inject inappropriate touches of humor.

highlight and low point

Given what happens during the course of events in this picture, I am reluctant to endorse anything too enthusiastically lest I invite uncomfortable questions about my attitudes or opinions, but I will say I was impressed how the filmmakers handled their biggest obstacle – which is more or less the central focus, the captivity of the titular character in an outbuilding on a family’s rural estate. (Hint: this is how they lead us to a series of slowly dawning revelations.) The ending is a bit too pat, but after everything else that’s happened, it makes little difference. In a way, it even may underscore a certain sense of helplessness.

rating from outer space: a

Cold Ground (2017)

directed by fabien delage
fright house pictures

Despite being a “found footage” tale of a largely unknown or unseen threat producing psychological torment in a five-person crew in heavily forested mountains – and with passages that directly reminded this scribe of scenes from both 2014’s Backcountry and the excellent Bob Goldthwait-helmed Bigfoot adventure Willow Creek from 2013 – this French film is often rather effective, especially as the plight of the principal female protagonist spirals out of control. The fact that no attempt is made to tie up any of the loose ends of the exposition is also a plus, aiding as it does the documentary conceit. Even the fact that the main antagonist is somewhat less impressive than presented, even underwhelming, is forgivable – until it begins to seem a bit silly. Eventually one concludes he or she has seen all this before. Which is a bit of a shame, because this is a skillfully made movie. It just doesn’t quite deliver on its promise.

why did i watch this movie?

Its press campaign had just the right enigmatic touch to overcome my initial doubts about its format. Plus it’s French.

should you watch this movie?

Look, I’ve never seen The Blair Witch Project, but the comparison is evident, along with the above-mentioned productions this one calls to mind. How burnt out you may be on “found footage” flicks could be a determining factor.

highlight and low point

Filming took place in actual heavily forested mountains in actual deep cold, and I always appreciate that kind of dedication. But it did keep bugging me that one or more of the characters didn’t have her hat snugged down tight enough for such purportedly prolonged exposure to such conditions.

rating from outer space: c+