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Instant Watch reviews: ‘Nature’s Grave,’ ‘Not Forgotten,’ ‘Oxygen’

2010/08/13

Let’s start with Nature’s Grave (2008, dir. Jamie Banks), a remake of The Long Weekend (1978), an Australian horror about Mother Earth imposing some discipline on her children for leaving their toxic little socks all over the floor for far too long.  I don’t think I’ve seen the original, except I might have seen the first twenty minutes, if it involved a station wagon blowing up.   Whatever that movie was, it didn’t snag me, and plenty of people seem to find The Long Weekend to have been a riveting little gem.  In summary, I have no frame of reference.  I’m not sure why Banks ended up turning away from the title of the original.  Possibly by the request of the original film’s director or cast, if they were shown a final cut of this version starring James ‘The Weasel’ Caviezel, some non-American (psh!) actress named Claudia Karvan, and an overweight Australian Shepherd.   

I approve of the idea of the remake.  ‘Cause it’s topical, and they did well to shoot this one largely in the jaw-dropping beauty of New Zealand, thus making the point that lest we think all is lost, here’s a little portion of earthly paradise that hasn’t yet been tourist-trashed to bits.  Unfortunately, the film errs far too hard on the side of making the lead characters unlikable.  This starts with the casting of James ‘Evil’ Caviezel, who nowadays bears no resemblance to the strange and beautiful creature he was in The Thin Red Line.  The guy makes my skin crawl now, and even though he’s supposed to in this role, there’s another layer of creepiness there, because the guy portraying this hedonistic, infantile ass probably chose this role as a proselytizing, conservative ass.  If you’re going to beat me over the head with ecological morality for ninety minutes, at least use the Leonardo DiCaprio stick to do it – it’s far less confusing.   

So, here they are: the Couple Least Likely to Get a Second Invite.  He’s an enormous tool who first appears on screen in a business suit with some kind of necklace on, casually taking practice aim at his wife’s head with a spear gun as she exits their home.  In this getup, he’s leading them off on a camping trip in a Land Rover packed with what we are told is $10,000 worth of new equipment, none of which proves useful over the course of the film.  Carla (Karvan), to I guess her credit, doesn’t want to go on this trip.  She would have spent the $10,000 on a stay at a luxury hotel in Thailand.  Also, they hate each other’s guts and someone apparently told them a trip they disagree about is the perfect setting to save their marriage.  And don’t forget the spear gun!  Aaawe-soooome! (sing-song)   

Omg...he's sitting right here, isn't he. He's right behind me? Shit.

 

His sideburns are the first sign he has no respect for nature.  And there are highlights, too.  We’ll call those together, crime #1. As they drive off for the coast at night, he very nearly rear-ends a VW van with a “Magick Happens” bumper sticker.  I think endangering hippies is count 2.  After some completely unendearing dialogue, she drifts off and he somehow surreptitiously lights a cigarette.  Doing so distracts him from seeing a kangaroo crossing sign. Here we go.  Crime Against Nature # 3: he runs over a BABY ROO.  Shot of RUNOVER BABY ROO follows.  Tongue cluck! 

Sufficed to say, the violations of the natural world get continually more egregious, and old JC digs his heels in against his wife’s demands that they take nature’s hints and go to Thailand instead.  In addition to the spear gun, which neither of them ever successfully uses, unless by “use” you mean “allow to make a space in one’s chest,” he’s brought his father’s rifle along as well.  This he uses is the following manner:  he slings it over his shoulder in a most incompetent fashion, finishes off a bottle of beer, throws the bottle into the ocean, and then  

Fail.

 

shoots it in half.  Then he points it at the rocks and shoots at a few ducks.  Sorry, “little quackeroos,” he calls them, shooting and cackling.  Later, he will shoot what we come to believe was a baby sea cow, which, if so, those things are FULL of blood.  

Ultimately, nature really doesn’t do anything scary in this film.  The couple find an eagle egg, which he jokes about eating, and an eagle swoops down and attacks him, which both he and I find hilarious, nothing more.  We don’t get to see Carla’s demise, although we do find her tacked onto a tree with a spear round.  Big whoop.  That could happen in the city. As for Jesus Caviezus, on my view, he dies not for his crimes against nature, but rather for trying to hail a semi from a position directly in the semi’s path.  Sure, a bird distracts the driver who might have otherwise been able to stop, but if I were an outback trucker, I wouldn’t have so much as eased off the gas.  It’s at least rewarding that they assigned his death a sea-cow’s worth of blood.  ROO-VENGE!  

Overall:  two stars, I guess.  Whatever. 

“Not Forgotten” (2009, dir. Dror Soref)  

Simon Baker, Chloe “Hit-Girl” Moretz, and Paz Vega.  In short, although this movie is not good visually, it has something going on.  And that thing is first and foremost Simon Baker.  Where did this guy come from?  I mean, I’m familiar with his resume – he’s not normally what I would call “edgy.”  But if you want more – I mean, if, for example, you want to see The Mentalist face fuck someone with a broken beer bottle – this film is for you.  I’ll elaborate in case you’re on the post.  

 First, it has a borderland setting, which are IRL fascinating and otherworldly places on one level and yet gray and lifeless on another, the latter of which aspect is well-suited to a film of this apparent budget.   Second, it features the cult of Santa Muerte, which is fairly fresh in mainstream American horror.  Third, there are usually two ways that movies present bourgeois-white-guy(BWG)-meets-the-underworld stories:  in one, the underworld is operating within/under BWG’s world:  Rosemary’s Baby, Devil’s Advocate, etc.  In the other, BWG stumbles or strides into the underworld:  Serpent & the Rainbow, The Lost Boys, ..uh..Farscape (stretch with me a bit here – it’s more other-worldly than under, but it works.)  This is a surprising deviation from those formulas, as Simon Baker seems to be just a nice, loving middle-class husband and father in a border town setting, but as the movie progresses, he has to enter the Mexican underworld in search of his missing daughter.  The twist is that he’s not as foreign to this underworld as we first thought, and that is revealed to us a little at a time.  It doesn’t pop like The Sixth Sense at the end, but the overall pacing is enjoyable.  It doesn’t live up to the promise of its setting, cast, or narrative structure, though; it’s filmed and edited both sloppily and harshly, and the sets are neither realistic nor artistic enough to let the movie settle into its groove.  

 Two stars.  I’d say don’t bother, but then I found a lower place.  

“Oxygen” (1998, dir. Richard Shepherd)  

Adrien Brody is usually a warning sign on Instant Watch, and I don’t exactly brake for Maura “Frowns-A-Lot” Tierney, but I will pop a U-ey for Terry Kinney, which is sometimes not good for me.  I don’t think I can be bothered to give this review a full, coherent sentence.  Gross, silly, boring, made less sense than ‘The Jacket’ and was half as charming.  Remember that shot in “The Firm” where Terry Kinney is all grief-stricken and glassy-eyed, sitting on his well-manicured lawn in a chair, his legs crossed and in neatly pressed pants, letting the sprinkler just oscillate all over his feet every few seconds?  Do that, instead of watching this movie.  

 Not only am I not going to burden your to-do list with recommended viewing, but, voilà, three more weeds pulled from the Instant Watch garden!  Enjoy, my horror-watching honeybees.

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