Dave Wain’s essential breakdown of this week’s cavalcade of straight-to-disc treats. Step inside the DTV Junkyard…

There’s an English genesis at the heart of THE POOL says director Chris W Mitchell; “It’s from a folk story about a witch-troll that lives at the bottom of pools in the woods, and grabs little children if they get too close. I always found it a terrifying image, so it was perfect to develop it”. It may seem strange then that this first-time director from Blighty, armed with a story from his homeland, would end up cranking out his debut movie in Holland. Partnered with a Dutch producer though, frustrated at the lack of homegrown horror coming out of his native country, it ended up being a fortuitous meeting of minds and ambition.

Two holidaying families set up their tents on the shore of an idyllic woodland pool, far off the beaten track. But, they are not alone. Something is watching them; something that has regarded this habitat as its home for centuries. Rotting food, malfunctioning mobiles and strange dreams are just the beginning for this vacationing contingent, as soon their bargain-basement break descends into a nightmare that threatens to take their sanity.

“This is the Netherlands, not the Amazon” cries one of the films main characters, as what begins as a comically light-hearted camping trip with shades of Nuts in May, soon spirals into a dark and surreal survivalist horror. With a running time that just scrapes over seventy minutes minus credits, Mitchell’s film is as tight as a drum, which, as well as providing some classy gross-out moments to savour, also revels in a script where fractious relationships and long buried secrets add a gripping dimension to proceedings.

Horror fiends expecting instantaneous bloodshed are advised to cool their jets, as The Pool is determined to deliver a teasingly slow build, rooted in mystery and intrigue that rewards your patience in every successive reel. With lost in the woods scenarios being ten a penny in the disposable world of direct-to-video schlock, this one really is a keeper.

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Is a one word Junkyard review permissible? Can I just leave a lone “ugh” here, and edge away slowly into the night? Surely checking out a couple of hundred films over the last twelve months gives me some leverage in that regard? Yeah, didn’t think so you bunch of masochists!

GUNS FOR HIRE is quite simply turgid. Marketed in the UK by TriCoast with the banner ‘non-stop action’ across the top of the artwork, with no less than FOUR guns present of the front cover, it has go down in the annals of DTV history as frighteningly misrepresented. What it actually should be pitched as is a quirky comedic caper that belongs on the fringe of Queer Cinema. Even with that more pertinent summary though, it’s still an utter disaster.

Beatle Boyin (Michele Hicks) is a part-time tow truck driver and part-time assassin. Athena Klendon (Ever Carradine), is a mysterious young woman with a secret­. They strike a deadly bargain when Athena agrees to change her life insurance policy to reflect Beatle as the beneficiary. As she begins to fall in love with Athena, Beatle seeks the approval of her psychiatrist (Orlando Jones) to make the hit. Athena, meanwhile, is pursued by her ex-boyfriend Kyle (Ben Mendelsohn), and his assassin friend Bruce (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). With the addition of Detective Holt (Raffaello Degruttola) to the mix as well, everything combines to produce something the PR folk have spun as a ‘mind-bending conclusion’.

Ah yes, that conclusion. I have to admit, and it’s a view shared by my fellow ZH comrades, that I despise a critic mentioning there’s a twist. There’s no need. It completely reduces the impact of it, and any wicked plot development should come as a total surprise. Here though, with the films ending adorning every synopsis and marketing-spiel, I’ll break that rule just this once, for the sole reason it’s the only thing you can think about after watching the movie.

I found myself in a rage when the credits rolled; pacing the floor of my living room, venting my anger at the offensively nonsensical narrative development I had just bore witness to. Only my fat-fingered incompetence at being unable to eject the disc immediately saved it from instant destruction. Needless to say, such a diatribe has probably piqued your interest more than a casual “ugh” would have done. Perhaps that’s good though. Perhaps hunting this down and seeing just how bad a film can be will make people more accepting of well-intended mediocrity among our little DTV club. Guns For Hire though, is as bad as they come.

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