ONE WAY TRIP
Eight friends go out camping in the woods in search for magic mushrooms. They find and eat some, but the fun won’t last long when one of them comes back from the river, not with beer but blood on his face. When they find out their car has been messed with too, it looks like the only place they can run to for safety is an old, isolated farm house in the middle of the forest.
I imagine that about the only worthwhile thing director Markus Welter might have to say about his own film, is like: “Hey, I made a 3D slasher movie and it has a twist at the end!”. But seriously, is that enough to please your crowd? Granted, slasher history has seen countless incarnations that looked a lot worse and ‘One Way Trip’ isn’t badly made. But in this day and age, it really falls short in the script department, handling a very linear slash-’em-one-by-one approach with a twist at the end that feels very similar to the one done in Spoiler! Click if you want to know» . Only during some of the kill sequences the film benefits from the 3D effects (the eyeball popping out probably was a wink to ‘Friday The 13th Part 3′, for all I know), but other than those moments there’s nothing to it. For die-hard slasher fans, ‘One Way Trip’ will still provide 90 minutes of what they’re looking for. But if you’ve seen one slasher film too many already, this one is very likely to not rock your boat anymore.
GAME OF WEREWOLVES
Arga is a little Spanish town with a dark past, as in 1910 strange things occurred there involving a family curse and a werewolf. In present day, Tomás Mariño, a non-too-successful writer, returns to his hometown Arga to receive some sort of award for his work. At least that’s what he thinks he’ll be getting. Fact is that the townsmen want him back for a whole different reason: to end the century-old curse that will soon turn the whole town into a bloodthirsty horde of werewolves.
‘Lobos De Arga’ – ‘Wolves Of Arga’, a title I much more prefer to the bland English dubbed ‘Game Of Werewolves’ – is a splendid horror-comedy written and directed by Juan Martínez Moreno. It was such a relief to finally see a horror-comedy revolving around werewolves instead of the nowadays overused zombies in the genre. Such a relief, also because ‘Lobos De Arga’ actually works both on the funny and scary level. Moreno‘s script is fast-paced, witty, fun and the film gets pretty bloody at moments too. Moreover, this film is not a parody on werewolves in general, but at the core lies a character-driven comedy and it comes in the shape of a good old-fashioned horror movie; one that even seems to pay respect to classics like Universal’s ‘The Wofman’ (them damned gypsy curses!) and John Landis‘ ‘American Werewolf In London’ (the gory comedy aspects are along the same lines) while even winking at Paul Naschy‘s werewolf incarnations at the same time (evidently, given the Spanish origins). The principle cast is very capable and our band of protagonists are very likeable, always a plus though not always a given in genre films. To honor the tradition of great werewolf films, Moreno opted for a lot of special make-up SFX and prosthetic works for the werewolf effects. In this age of CGI that’s already commendable, but it turns out the werewolf suits & make-up look actually great on screen too. Both ‘Juan Of The Dead’ and ‘Iron Sky’ won prizes at this year’s BIFFF edition: the Silver Raven (International Competition) for the former; the latter even won both the Silver Méliès (European Competition) and the Pegase Award (Prize of the Audience). While I agree this is all understandable – both films already had a reputation and they pretty much lived up to it – I do think this is unfair to ‘Game Of Werewolves’. Both films were festival/audience favorites already, having received all the attention they deserved. It’s not like they really needed more recognition anyway. A film like ‘Game Of Werewolves’ still has a way to go for it to be discovered and it’s very well worthy of the attention it needs in order to do that. So if the audience would have been just me, I would have given that prize to Juan Martínez Moreno‘s ‘Lobos De Arga’. There, just felt like getting that off my chest.
Greg and Rob, two university students, decide to participate in a medical experiment involving the testing of a new drug against allergies. The money’s welcome and there should be no hazardous side effects to the experiment. Or so they were lead to believe. In reality, the treatment and procedures prove to be a little different than what they bargained for. Soon all test subjects begin to show signs of moral and mental decline, while at the same time gaining physical strength and accelerated regenerative abilities.
On the one hand, ‘Bloodwork’ isn’t much to write home about. It turns out a rather routine, somewhat fruitless genre effort. On the other hand, we get some occasional neat ideas (like: how can you perform surgery when full cell regeneration is only a matter of seconds?) and the whole execution of the film is capably handled. An attractive young cast manages to carry the film like they should, so no harm done their either. In the end, it’s the screenplay’s predictability that harms the film: you just know things will go from bad to worse for all involved in this secret government experiment. And the government will a) not just pull the plug on this derailing experiment for any whatsoever reason, and b) cover things up at any cost when things get messy. So we’re left with a film that goes through the motions (a bit of gore, a bit of nudity, etc.). And near the end, Eric Roberts steps in to do a little cameo. Nothing to complain about, really. But nothing to get excited over either.
LETTERS TO ANGEL
Estonian soldier Jeremia served his time in the Afghanistan war, where due to a traumatizing event he became a Muslim. Now he returns home to Estonia, in search for his daughter Angel. Not an easy quest, as he only once heard her voice over the phone and the only things he has, are the letters he wrote to her.
‘Letters To Angel’ is a peculiar drama. We are presented a protagonist character who has gone through an existentialistic crisis due to his war time served as a sharpshooter in Afghanistan. While stationed there, he converted himself to Islam beliefs. But all this has happened before the actual film begins (we do get some flashback scenes). During the film, the main character has no arc. He just shambles through the town in his home country in search for his daughter which may or may not exist, and during his quest he meets various women. And these women are the characters that make the film interesting, as their personalities and occupations do stand out. But the deeper meaning of it all feels lost, just like our main character seems lost in this country that once was his home. A strange, well-portrayed film, hard to pinpoint, but intriguing nonetheless. For some reason ‘Letters To Angel’ sticks with you, while you try to search for what the point to it all was. Maybe that’s what it boils down to: we all search for something and there’s no guarantee we’ll find it eventually. Regardless, you’ll be left with a strange feeling after watching this film.
JUAN OF THE DEAD
Juan really doesn’t have any other ambitions than trying to get through life without causing too many problems. But when a zombie plague breaks out, Cuba has one big problem on their hands. Juan’s idea of dealing with it? Starting up a zombie extermination squad together with his friends. And for a while he’s actually running a lucrative business. But the plague is persistent. Soon there’s more zombie-heads around than Juan and his buddies can chop off, so they decide to pack their bags and leave. But where to? The undead are everywhere…
Truth be told, I’ve been saturated with the zombie genre for almost 5 years now (that’s a euphemism for saying I’m slightly fed up with this sub-genre). Simply too many low budget efforts have been cranked out in recent year – and I’ve had the misfortune of watching them – that bring absolutely nothing new to the zombie game. Worse even, a lot of them are just plain bad movies, not all that much fun to watch. But every now and then one does come along that gets it right. And Alejandro Brugués‘ ‘Juan Of The Dead’, a decent Spanish/Cuban production, nails it down! They key to success in this film, are the characters. In an energetic manner, they push the movie onward and take the audience along for the ride. You genuinely like this small band of survivors and root for them all the way. The comedy as well works fine in ‘Juan Of The Dead’, especially the dialogues and punchlines. The splatter moments come in second, but even they provide the necessary chuckles and the effects are handled well. Brugués also seasoned his script with several witty politically flavored gags that certainly never get heavy but hit the mark splendidly. You don’t even have to be a die hard zombie fan to enjoy this film, but those who are, owe it to themselves to not miss out on ‘Juan Of The Dead’. Honestly, there’s no denying it: as a zombie-comedy, ‘Juan of the Dead’ is up there with the best. And much like ‘Game of Werewolves’, ‘Juan Of The Dead’ plays like a comedy, not a parody. Who knows, maybe its success will again inspire a whole bunch of no-talents around the world to create their own no-budget zombie-comedy masterpiece, thereby never ending this new millennium wave of inferior living dead efforts. Go ahead, it’s not like I have to watch them. I’ll just wait for another good one to come along.
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