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Shapeshifter (2005)

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Starring Jennifer Lee Wiggins, Ocean, Chris Facey, Vas Andreas, Marat Glazer

Directed by Gregory Lemkin


It was this past summer that I was all excited about a rapidly rising direct-to-DVD genre company called The Asylum. I was growing increasingly convinced that they were onto something and even when I wasn’t fully satisfied with the films they made I at least got a sense that they were improving with each new film. Now here we are less than six months later and I’m shaking my head wondering if they’re even trying anymore. Maybe it’s this policy they have to release a new movie every month that’s sapping their creative juices and leading to the release of more unoriginal clunkers like Beast of Bray Road, and Dead Men Walking, and now this one. I guess the folks at The Asylum figured that since they still had the prison set from their recent zombie stinker Dead Men Walking they might as well go ahead and make another movie while they’re at it. Along comes Shapeshifter, a thoroughly dull demonic monster in a prison flick almost completely devoid of energy or imagination.

A new female prison guard recently discharged from the military for insubordination stemming from an incident in Afghanistan gets a job as a deputy at some California prison in hopes of working her way up to patrol duty. Lord knows this prison needs some more guards since they appear to have all of three. On the other hand, there only appears to be about a dozen (maybe less) prisoners to contend with and none of them give off the vibe of being hardened, potentially dangerous cons.

The script works in references about a new wing being added onto the prison and that the events of the film are set in the old wing, which I suspect is really just an excuse to explain why the prison sets are so small. We’re also told that nobody ever visits the prison overnight, which is a convenient way of explaining why later on they won’t be able to just wait it out until help arrives in the morning.

A new prisoner has arrived; picked up off the street for yelling and spitting at pedestrians. The shirtless man only speaks a yet unidentified foreign language, has no ID, and no worldly possessions save for the pants he’s wearing and an envelope containing thousands of dollars. He also has a strange symbol tattooed on his chest. After allowing the time to introduce us to a couple of the predominantly Latino and African American clichéd convict characters, the mysterious new prisoner start ripping flesh out of his arm with his own teeth in order to retrieve a medallion that seems a bit big for one to be smuggling into a prison within one’s own arm flesh. Add some chanting, some not-so-fancy editing, and the mysterious man transforms into a seven-foot, demon-headed Bigfoot creature.

As the satanic Sasquatch chows down on an unfortunate prison guard, everyone – guard and prisoner alike – stands around watching the spectacle with expressions on their faces more along the lines of the kind of reactions I’d get if I stripped naked and began running around with a rubber glove on my head yelling, “Look at me! I’m a squid!” and not nearly as freaked out as you’d imagine people should be to suddenly see someone transform into demonic monster and begin eating others just a few feet away.

I will say this; the shapeshifter in demonic form is a pretty decent man-in-a-rubber suit monster creation; a bit reminiscent of the alien creature from Frankenstein vs. the Space Monster. It just doesn’t behave or do anything that makes it standout from any other movie monster. It slashes people with its claws and feasts on their intestines. To make a monster movie with a premise as run-of-the-mill as this built around a creature as routine as this in this day and age really is inexcusable.

The origins of the monster are revealed very early in the film so I hardly feel like I’m spoiling anything by repeating it here. One of the prisoners is of Romanian descent and he reveals that the Romanian mafia uses a kind of gypsy shapeshifter as enforcers. They’ve sent this shapeshifter to kill him for betraying the Romanian mob or the gypsy magician’s code or something along those lines. Some of the other prisoners want to just serve the guy up to the creature but he tells them that won’t matter because once you’ve seen the beast in its true form it must kill you.

The new deputy leads the prisoners in their attempts to survive and escape while the monster often forgets about its ultimate goal in order to munch down on some more entrails (I suspect these too were leftovers from Dead Men Walking) or takes the time to pose dead bodies in a symbolic manner.

After the first half hour, Shapeshifter completely devolves into your standard characters crawling through ductwork and wandering through hallways, “can we trust one another while we look for any way to escape” monster movie. As unoriginal as this is, this still could have been made into an okay creature feature if not for the sheer lack of creativity, weak characters, and ridiculously slow pace at which it all plays out. This is all stuff we’ve seen a million times before.

The shapeshifter does takes on his human form for the pursuit at times (at least whenever plot convenient) and I must say that a guy that looks like a scrawny, European, Michael Imperioli look-a-like isn’t nearly as threatening as a huge hairy hellbeast. There is a twist involving the shapeshifter’s motivations revealed during the third act but what comes of it moments later only pounds home how little thought went into crafting this particular creature feature.

1 out of 5

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The Cured Review – Ellen Page Fights for Her Life

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Starring Ellen Page, Sam Keeley, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Paula Malcomson

Written and directed by David Freyne


Taking a cue from AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” the new Irish horror film The Cured begins where most zombie stories end. Drawing more comparisons, the themes of mistrust and social upheaval are front and center here as well. We’re the real villains, and the infectious disease turning humans into monsters is only there to hold up a mirror to show the worst sides of ourselves. The Cured uses the zombie mythos as Romero intended as a commentary on culture, with a little cannibalism thrown in for good measure.

Against the backdrop of a military takeover attempting to reintroduce the recently cured back into society, two people try to return to some kind of normalcy in a war-torn Ireland that’s been turned upside down by the zombie menace. Recently widowed, Abbey (Page) allows her now virus-free brother-in-law Senan (Keeley) to live with her and her son, even though most survivors are forced to live in an army encampment. Under constant surveillance, Senan’s old friend Conor (Vaughan-Lawlor) radicalizes the mistreated survivors of the virus into open rebellion.

The treatment of the survivors isn’t entirely unfair considering that they still have a connection and are not detected by a small percentage of the infected that haven’t responded to the cure. As both sides size each other up, Abbey and Senan are caught in the middle as they try to restore their humanity before the powder keg around them erupts.

Given its far out premise, the story stays firmly grounded in reality, focusing on the growing resistance and its political implications, drawing parallels to the protest movements such as the “Black Block” that have dominated some recent news cycles. When the virus divided the population, it was easy to know what side you were on; now, the cure has created a new class structure where the lower class is maligned until they cross the line and overthrow the uninfected. Clearly still affected and haunted by the heinous acts they committed when they were infected, the cannibalistic rage they still carry reflects the rage felt by the mistreated masses hellbent on overthrowing the powers-that-be.

Whether for budget reasons or simply a style choice, the eating frenzies that occurred before the cure are never fully shown so any gore and graphic images that could’ve been showcases for effects are left to the imagination. Maybe they weren’t shown because these acts were so unspeakable that they are too horrific to see and too painful to fully be remembered by the survivors. The top-notch sound design ratchets up instead and roars to life to the point where just hearing the carnage is enough to make you turn away.

Page’s performance is the emotional core of the film as she goes from understanding to fear to dealing with the ultimate betrayal. It’s important for a slow-developing story like this to have an actress with some star power, and director David Freyne and his team were fortunate to have a high caliber actress ready to deliver in some of the film’s quieter, more intense moments. Freyne directs these smaller character moments with care and also delivers once things open up to show the inevitable anarchy brimming under the surface.

The Cured may feel too closed off at times to allow its bigger ideas to fully breathe, but it never pretends to encompass a more epic scope that would be more in the vein of something like World War Z. Without ever addressing it directly, Freyne, as an Irishman, seems well aware of the history of the country; and he and cinematographer Piers McGrail inject their film with a pathos that makes Dublin come to life inside the world of the undead.

  • The Cured
3.5

Summary

The Cured is a gritty take on the genre that fits nicely into the new type of storytelling that these stories need to embrace in a post-Romero world.

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Bad Apples Review – Rotten Fruit, Indeed

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Starring Brea Grant, Graham Skipper, Alycia Lourim

Directed by Brian Coyne


Like a seriously bad rash, some films stick with you regardless of whichever topical ointment you slather in generous fashion over your regions – ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce today’s orbital irritant: Bad Apples.

Directed (rather misdirected) by Brian Coyne, this lamentably sterile piece of celluloid follows a couple of murderous sisters, donning horrific (and not in a good sense) masks, and generally putting the sharp edges to random folk on Halloween night…case closed. Only problem here is this: the film has no pulse, no interesting characters to speak of, and basically nothing to redeem or recapture the time that you’ll have spent watching this complete dud. A husband and wife duo has a spotlight on them as well, but their tempestuous relationship makes rooting for them about as pleasing as sitting through 3 hours of Olympic curling…absolutely brutal. Also, you’re reading the babblings of a guy who loves to put the boots to any film that has been deemed “unwatchable”, but this complete wreck of a production is entirely that – something so remedial and uninspired that to type an endless array of rightful vitriol would be an utter waste of time.

So I’ll go on a bit longer with my public display of vehemence, as the casting seems WAY out of whack, and the production? Whoa…don’t even get me started on this – okay, I’ll go on a bit. With differing levels of sound editing, you’ll get the feeling at times like you could pick up a needle drop inside of a concert hall, and other frames of dialogue are so muddled they’re incomprehensible (not like you’ll feel the need to know what’s going on). Wonky camera angles and following shots are so horrendously captured, you’ll be wishing to watch your Mom and Dad’s old home movies just to gain a sense of stability. I normally pride myself on not begging this particular audience to take what I say to heart, or to shy away from something that could potentially ruin their eyesight, but believe me when I plead with you: do not waste your valuable time on this shipwreck – even if your time isn’t all that valuable: don’t waste it. Find something else to do and take a big ol’ pass on this wannabe slasher.

  • Film
1.5

Summary

I don’t mean to pick on the low-hanging fruit, but these Apples should be batted away with a Louisville Slugger.

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Edge of Isolation Review – A Movie with a Simple Message: Don’t Trust Anyone

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Starring Michael Marcel, Marem Hassler, Alexandra Peters

Directed by Jeff Houkal


Sometimes, relying on the kindness of strangers is the thing that’ll do your gullible asses in – kindness? Strangers? Come on – think about it! Even further proof of said warning comes in the form of director Jeff Houkal’s brutally blatant film, Edge Of Isolation – won’t you come inside and grab a seat? You see! You fell right into another trap – jeezus, people…don’t trust just anyone, will ya?

Set up in a simplistic format, we’ve got a traveling couple (Lance and Kendra) whose Jeep, conveniently enough decides to shit the bed along a desolate stretch of roadway, leaving them at the mercy of the Polifer family, a slightly odd bunch of backwoods residents. This particular clan isn’t exactly wrapped too tightly, and they’re not afraid to let their freak flags fly, that’s for sure. You see, the family has been deeply-rooted in these here woods, and their “hospitality” has kept them fed for quite some time, and with a fresh supply of unsuspecting commuters stopping in at varying spells, their stomachs never truly seem to growl out of sustained hunger…oh, that kindness will bite you in the ass every single waking moment.

As I mentioned earlier, the film is constructed fairly simple, yet effective in its barbarism, and those who dig survivalist-horror will be wringing their mitts in anticipation for this one. While some editing does look a bit hokey, the practical effects more than make up for an at-times bit of strewn-about plot navigation, but who’s keeping score? Certainly not me, that’s for sure. I absolutely revel in low-budgeted films that don’t necessarily have the looks and feels of such, and Edge Of Isolation is one of those presentations that is certainly worth its weight in blood and guts – do yourself a solid and give this one a look when it becomes available to the masses, and for f**k’s sake, don’t take up anyone’s offer to chill at their place when your ride breaks down – get AAA and save your life (the previous statement was in no way affiliated or endorsed by the Triple A Automotive group – just sayin’).

  • Film
3.5

Summary

Edge Of Isolation doesn’t need a full-blown allocation to keep future stranded motorists from losing their heads – all they have to do is push “play.”

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