Dave Wain’s essential breakdown of this week’s cavalcade of straight-to-disc treats. Step inside the DTV Junkyard…
Wikipedia tends to define this weeks’ first two films as ‘natural horror movies’, but I think the term I prefer is undoubtedly ‘nature run amok’. A star-laded slice of Canuxploitation is to come later, but first up is CAMERA TRAP, a recommendable found footage film shot with maturity and a degree of innovation.
Its director is Alex Verner, an experienced wildlife documentarian, whose website located showreel gives you some idea of the broad scale of projects he’s been involved in; from sports to advertising, it’s a heady hoard of HD goodness. Quite why he’s chosen to tread the well-worn boards of the horror fraternity I do not know, but Verner has wisely decided to integrate many aspects of his resume into it.
When a rare and endangered species of snow leopard is reported to have killed a number of large animals in the forests of Tibet, a four-man TV wildlife documentary crew, armed with the latest night-time filming technology, fly out to capture it in action. Setting up camp in a remote forest, miles from civilisation, the team quickly discover that all is not what it seems, as it quickly becomes apparent that something hostile is stalking them.
With a story set in Central Asia, and the opening credit of ‘Isle of Man Film present’, it would be easy to give a roll of the eyes and a dismissive lip curl to such sleight of hand with regard to the movies location. Hold your cynicism though friends, as when Verner’s picture opens, we find ourselves in deepest Nepal. It’s certainly the most beautifully shot opening twelve minutes of any found footage film you’re likely to see, as the director’s expertise in jaw dropping vistas is utilised to maximum effect. Granted, the switch to an Isle of Man woodland is quite apparent, but those opening scenes should be enough to convince you this film is worth your time.
Initially, we’re given very little information or backstory with regard to just who these four Brits are, but gradually as the film progresses, these blanks are filled in. There’s plenty of time to do this too, as it’s a film that moves along at a leisurely amble, never too eager to shoehorn clunky pieces of exposition in untidily. They’re a likeable lot too, which thankfully eschews the ubiquitous caricatures that litter found footage; the ones that leave you hoping they die really, really soon. Perhaps a few will find Camera Trap a little too drawn out, and yes, I guess it could easily shave fifteen minutes off the running time; having said that it’s still packed with enough tension, and satisfyingly moments of suspense to grip even the most jaded found footage viewer.
On the opposing end of our wildlife spectrum is INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE. Shot in Canada – filling in for Alaska – it’s densely populated with a cast of familiar faces who just by themselves would get you eagerly slipping this into your DVD player. Indeed, for a relatively humble ten million dollar budget, the sight of James Marsden, Scott Glenn, Billy Bob Thornton, Piper Perabo, Thomas Jane and Adam Beach is quite a coup for director David Hackl, sitting in the director’s chair for only the second time since Saw V.
A sheriff (Jane), whose mission is to protect the threatened grizzly bear, finds himself conflicted when one of the gargantuan creatures wreaks havoc on his nearby Alaskan community. Enlisting the help of his estranged brother (Marsden), he enters the labyrinthian Grizzly Maze to track down his wife (Perabo), who’s gone missing, before the bear does. As the body count rises, no-one is safe in these harsh Alaskan wilds.
Did I happen to mention what a great cast this movie has yet? Yeah? Oh… Well, I have to say that’s pretty much the highlight of the whole feature, as sadly this is just a SyFy Channel movie with household names. With a running time just shy of eighty minutes (minus credits), there’s just not enough time here to flesh out any of the vast array of speaking roles. Screenwriter Guy Moshe did a better job with his barely remembered Bunraku, from 2010 – which also had a densely populated cast – yet here with writing partner J.R Reher it just all feels a little shallow.
That said, the bear attacks are pleasingly grisly (or should that be grizzly?) and the whole shebang is very nicely shot, save for the cringey CGI in the final few scenes. Despite the hate, it does come cautiously recommended, especially if you’re a sucker like me for all things survivalist; be it William Girdler’s Grizzly or Lee Tamahori’s The Edge, the smell of that bear-infested mountain air is far too appealing to turn down.
Here’s a toughie – what to classify THE INSTITUTE as, or Milwood as it was originally known. It’s certainly not what it’s being sold as. A cursory glance towards it in the retail chart at your local supermarket would suggest a modern day clone of The Omen. On closer inspection though, Jimmy Scanlon and Evan Goldman’s film is a subtly paced drama, with a squeeze of mystery and dab of suspense. A horror movie? Not for me.
Nathan (Christian Goodwin) has recently lost his parents, and with no close relatives, he finds himself in the Milwood facility for children. Finding it hard to adjust to his new surroundings, he soon becomes the brunt of the Dean’s anger and finds himself confined to the prison-like surroundings of Ward B. Convinced that there’s something sinister at play in this part of the institution, he takes it upon himself to investigate, and in the process unearths something quite shocking.
Shot in September 2012, it seems that the UK is the first to get The Institute on DVD. It’s the type of film that leaves you wondering just who it will appeal to, and it’s fairly obvious to see why it hasn’t been picked up for worldwide distribution. Too tame for the horror crowd, and too niche for the mainstream, I have to say that even in my small floor space in the world – a video store – it will be a hard sell. It might have helped though if UK distro Point Blank had checked out the movies Facebook page; adorned with subtle artwork and film festival laurel leaves – not to mention the intriguing tagline ‘A child’s mind is a fragile toy’, it gives the film a more discerning allure.
Marketing foibles aside, I found The Institute to be a pretty sinister little drama with an excellent pay off that’s well worth hanging on for, although I’ll stress that the pace of the movie will likely see a few people twitching their eject button trigger finger on their remote with alarming frequency.