Ah, summer camp. Softball games, capture the flag, nightswimming, and life-changing boating accidents. Not to mention killer bees, child molesters, maniacs in the shower, and one kid with a whole lot of baggage, if you know what I mean. Sleepaway Camp is a slasher movie, and it depicts lakeside Camp Arawak as a pressure-cooker of hormones and teenage flop sweat. Into this fetid milieu step Ricky and Angela, teenaged cousins united by tragedy: a boating accident that killed Angela’s parents and sibling some years earlier. Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten) might be a little awkward, but he just wants to fit in; Angela (Felissa Rose), meanwhile, seems downright disturbed, spending much of her time dead silent, staring down her fellow campers with a mournful, almost accusatory glare. Before long, some of those campers start dropping dead as surely as the flies that coat the glue strips dangling in Arawak’s kitchen. There’s a soup incident, a shower incident, and an incident involving a toilet stall and angry bees. There’s a bit of business with a curling iron that’s probably inappropriate in a movie starring underage actors. The slasher’s hands appear on screen, but do they belong to unhappy Angela? Overprotective Ricky? Or someone else entirely?
Director Richard Linklater approached this decade-spanning project with a novelist’s ambition and patient determination. Reuniting with the same, small group of actors on an annual basis, he made a real coming-of-age story, focusing on six-year-old Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his estranged parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke) and following them all until the boy enters his freshman year of college. The resulting film is necessarily episodic in nature but still unique in its rhythms: marriages and remarriages follow in quick succession; characters drop in and out of the story without warning; jump cuts swallow up a year’s worth of off-screen events in an instant. The narrative ebbs and flows easily, ratcheting up the drama to deal with an abusive, alcoholic stepfather and then spinning down again to depict father-and-son bull sessions and low-key teenage mischief. Continue reading
Despite its generally warm critical reception from Internet-based horror aficionados — and a chilling set-up that delivers its gross-outs with a helping of wit — Grace is a frustratingly dry entry in that subcategory of the genre that deals with the bearing of children. The subject has been mined in movies like Rosemary’s Baby, It’s Alive, and The Brood, and it’s been deconstructed to the point of abstraction — think “body horror,” as in the first Alien film. Director Paul Solet tries to take the concept back to square one, adopting a sober approach to the slowly paced story of a baby who’s not quite right and the mother who loves her.
Son of Rambow
This loosely autobiographical quasi-coming-of-age tale from Garth Jennings, half of music-video production team Hammer & Tongs and the director of the unwieldy but fitfully amusing Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy feature, is crammed tight with every kid-pic cliché you can imagine. It starts with the unlikely friendship of imaginative loner Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) and village tough Lee Carter (Will Poulter), then quickly becomes one of those movies about the making of a bad movie — the titular “Son of Rambow,” which is inspired by a bootleg videotape of First Blood shot by Lee at the local cinema. While Will has been raised in a straight-laced religious sect that forbids TV and movies, Lee is almost his polar opposite – a rambunctious (though soft-hearted) bully given to petty larceny who nonetheless wields a primitive VHS camcorder in the hope of winning a filmmaking contest by leveraging the limited materials available to him.
The interesting thing about Teenage Caveman is that it yokes a Z-grade post-apocalyptic sci-fi screenplay of no real distinction to the naked-teenaged-orgy sensibility of Larry Clark, the director of Kids and Bully. The resulting film would have been quite something to stumble across on pay cable in the middle of the night.
I’ll be damned if, for the first 45 minutes or so, Clark doesn’t actually make something of this mess, which has to do with some kids who’ve been forbidden from having sex by a self-styled Messiah who really wants the nubile young girls all to himself. An old dude’s been impaled on a “No Skateboarding” sign before the credits finished rolling, and the centerpiece of the film is a tour de force that begins with all of the characters stripping off their clothes and getting into a hot tub before culminating in one of the most disgusting (and terribly funny) sequences I’ve seen lately. It could best be described as “explosive.” If this sounds like the sort of thing you’d enjoy, then it probably is (you sick little twist, you).
The main problem is that Teenage Caveman shoots its wad fairly early and then goes straight downhill, falling into that trap of no-budget SF-horror outings — it becomes a gabfest, with characters standing around talking about their dastardly histories and their nefarious plans for the future. Like a real trouper, Tara Subkoff gets naked again in an attempt to save the final reel, but despite some special effects that probably chewed up half the film’s budget, it just dies on the screen.
A sensation in its native Japan and nigh unreleasable in the U.S., Battle Royale is one of the year’s most amazing movies—a vicious take-off on reality TV that turns a high-school milieu dominated by cliques and childish relationships into a war zone. Now, I have no actual way of knowing whether venerable Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku had Survivor or programs like it in mind when making the film, or whether those programs influenced the novel by Koshun Takami upon which it is based. But the film is permeated by a sadism that’s redolent of the voyeuristic pleasure American audiences have taken in Survivor and programs like it, entertainment that involves the humiliation of at least one participant per week on national television.