Directed by Eric Stanze
Distributed by Wicked Pixel Cinema
Movies like Ratline are what makes the independent horror scene so great. Whereas a studio might shy away from an oddball story that blends Nazi occultism and a lesbian love story alongside a crime thriller, writer/director Eric Stanze dives right into all these themes with reckless abandon and delivers a rather solid flick that should manage to keep even the hardened horror fans out there on their toes from start to finish.
What's pretty remarkable is that Ratline starts off in some standard thriller territory with the film opening on Crystal (Haack) and her half-sister, Kim (Del Monacco), as they rip off a drug dealer and then flee after killing him during a violent showdown. The pair decide to take refuge in a small Midwestern town and rent a room from the unsuspecting Penny (Swofford), who has no idea what kind of trouble just moved in with her.
And just when it seems like Crystal is able to distance herself from her violent past and spark up a relationship with Penny, she crosses paths with a mysterious man named Frank Logan (Christ), and once Frank's on the scene in Ratline, that's when the flick takes a delightful right turn and everything we thought we knew about the movie suddenly unravels before us. We soon find out Frank's searching for a missing Nazi relic that wields the power to resurrect the Master Race, and as it turns out, it's somewhere in this small Midwestern town in which Crystal and Kim are seeking refuge.
So how do all these themes and characters weave together in Ratline exactly? To reveal that would give away a lot of the fun of the flick, but suffice to say, Stanze pulls off the blending of all these subgenres incredibly well and delivers a powerful and unforgettable tale that is an effective slice of visceral indie filmmaking.
Stanze is no stranger to the world of exploitation-esque films, with previous credits including films like Ice from the Sun, Deadwood Park and I Spit on Your Corpse, I Piss on Your Grave; however, Ratline is by far the filmmaker's most "reserved" work to date and demonstrates that with each film Stanze is only getting better as a director and making up his own exploitation playbook as he goes along by playing along with, and in some cases against, conventions generally used within the subgenre.
Case in point: There's a scene between our leading bad girl Crystal and Penny that could have gone into full blown Reform School Girls territory (and rightfully so) with the passion heating up between the two ladies. However, rather than let the scene play out the way we expect it to, Stanze quietly reels the story in, and we're left with a quiet moment between two potential lovers that plays it more sweet than naughty. Talk about a curveball! And that's just one of many Stanze has ready to throw at us throughout the movie.
And for you exploitation fans out there who may feel a bit let down after reading that, don't worry- there's still plenty of 'naughty' stuff to go around in Ratline. There are naked chicks (and a dude) aplenty, tons of gore and some great shocking visuals thrown in during a few Nazi flashback moments as well that will definitely leave an indelible mark on your psyche once the story is over.
The DVD presentation of Ratline, released independently by Stanze production banner Wicked Pixel Cinema, offers up some bonus features as well for those of you out there who want to know more about what went into getting this genre-bending flick made. There are two commentary tracks - one with Stanze chatting solo and one with the filmmaker being joined by Ratline stars Haack and Christ - as well as a behind-the-scenes featurette, a handful of deleted scenes, a gag reel and a trailer. And while the commentary track with the trio was definitely enjoyable, checking out Ratline with just Stanze's commentary is something I'd recommend for any up-and-coming independent horror filmmakers out there because it seems like this guy has seen (and overcome) it all to get his films made on his own terms for the last 16 years, and he shares a wealth of knowledge here that's informative and entertaining.
Ratline is definitely something beyond your average low-budget exploitation flick. It's a shocking and engaging movie that has Stanze taking some calculated risks as a director and thereby proving that you don't need millions of dollars to tell unique and ambitious stories these days. Sure, there are some hokey performances (with co-stars Haack and Christ being the exception-; both deliver knockout performances in Ratline) and there are a couple of logic flaws in the story, but overall Ratline is the kind of movie that gets me excited for the world of independent horror all over again. The story sneaks up on you and wallops you out of nowhere with a few gut punches, all the while embracing its exploitation roots without using them as an excuse to make a crappy flick (which is a trap a lot of filmmakers fall into).
After seeing Ratline, I would absolutely love to see what kind of madness Stanze - as well as his frequent partners in crime Haack and Christ - can come up with next time around.
4 out of 5
4 out of 5