Poisoning, The (2014)

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The Poisoning (2014)Starring Brandon Walz, Kalan Ray, Matt Mercer

Directed by Zachary Eglinton

What begins as an easy going road trip quickly unravels after buddies Matt and Riley cross paths with Matt’s lifelong clinger of a pal and natural born screw up, “Chaps.” While trekking across the US – Los Angeles bound – tensions gradually mount among the three, luring radically different angles to pre-established personalities to the surface.

Polarizing points of view leave the trio on the cusp of physical violence, but there’s another problem that awaits this traveling band: The menacing hitchhiker they failed to pick up on the road, who’s now run smack dab into these adventurers after catching up with them at a diner. Yes, my friends, that’s where things go really, really bad for these gents. From the looks of it, Matt may not make it out to LA to pursue that lifelong dream of being a filmmaker after all.

Well shot, and particularly well written, The Poisoning is one inspired indie effort that works to remind viewers that enormous budgets, colossal explosions and a tirade of hokey one-liners aren’t prerequisites for stellar filmmaking. Strong character examination, attention to detail and a cast willing to invest themselves entirely (Matt Mercer dumps every ounce of himself into the flick) can go an awful long way. It’s nice to note these basic fundamentals due to the frequency with which directors tend to ignore them, and it’s even more gratifying to tip the hat to director Zachary Eglinton and co-scribe Brandon Walz, who make simplicity not only entertaining, but awfully creepy.

There aren’t a wealth of surprises in store for viewers here, and I suppose that’s one of the film’s only relevant weaknesses. The moment Matt, Riley and Chaps connect, we know shit is about to get as crazy as a knapsack stuffed full of nine crazed kittens. Early foreshadowing is also relatively apparent. When we spot that scrubby hitchhiker on the road, we know: Shit is about to get real! And real it does indeed get, shifting from a personality-fueled machine to a vehicle of pure physical and mental terror by the time the credits roll. While the swing in momentum isn’t likely to leave your jaw on the floor, it is a welcomed change of pace after the near-borderline soap opera feuds this trio of youngsters juggle during the early goings of their journey.

Sometimes, you need a lunatic hitchhiker to throw a monkey wrench in the system.

A thrilling, jarringly realistic little cross country tale, The Poisoning plays out like The Hitcher meets Dead End, with a few obvious differentials. The fury that mounts between this small group is fantastic, as both Matt Mercer and Kalan Ray sell their exasperation with true conviction. That hitchhiker, however… holy hell, if this guy wasn’t manufactured in a nightmare mold, I’d be baffled. I’m fairly certain Freddy Krueger oversaw the creation of this dude. The man redefines hair-raising, and for a film that spends so much time studying three completely different characters, the fact that he’s able to enter the fold for mere minutes and leave a massive dent in the expectation of the viewer is commendable.

The Poisoning isn’t going to work for everyone. If you were a fanboy who attempted death-defying acrobatics upon the conclusion of films like Pacific Rim or R.I.P.D. out of sheer excitement, this one is likely to have you warming a hospital bed, in a potentially endless coma sucking from a straw forever. However, if you can dig big spirit and recognize an attempt to make the absolute most out of virtually nothing, you’re going to dig the hell out of this one. Fans of The Battery or even Wind Chill should find a nice home on their shelves for this low-key shocker that proves to be one fine over-achiever of a production.

3 1/2 out of 5

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Matt Molgaard