Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Satanic Panic (2019)

I remember the Satanic panic of the 1980s, when the news was full of reports of sexual abuse and sacrifice of children at the hands of cultists hidden throughout the United States.  It engulfed everything, from the role playing game Dungeons and Dragons to corporations like Procter and Gamble.  But it felt like old news to me, as people look for anything, from comics to movies to video games, that can be vilified to explain the evils within society, and others willing to take advantage of such fears to further their own ambitions.

In the end, the panic of the 80s were reveled to be the result of therapists leading "victims" to make such claims through shoddy and now discredited methods.  Still, the idea of Satanic cults and demonic influence continue to be used as a scapegoat for society's ills, so one it's no surprise such an idea is used as a plot device in genre works, such as the recent film from Fangoria, Satanic Panic.

The film opens as Samantha "Sam" Croft (Hayley Griffith) starts her first day as a pizza delivery person.  She's having a really bad day, as her co-workers make fun of a song she posted online and one of them makes some creepy advances towards her.  And, no one is willing to tip her.

She has no idea how bad this day is going to be.

After she's stiffed during a delivery in the affluent neighborhood of Mill Basin, and her scooter runs out of gas, she enters the house to remedy the situation.  Unfortunately, she interrupts a Satanic cult meeting ran by lifestyle coach sounding Danica Ross (Rebecca Romijn).    It appears this affluencial neighborhood is using the power of demons to become, and stay, wealthy.

Sam's obviously in trouble, having walking in on their secret meeting.  But once the cult realize Sam is a virgin, she's captured and awakens to find herself locked in a room with Danica's husband, Samuel (Jerry O'Connell).

Samuel explains his wife and neighbors plan to offer Sam to Baphomet, who will impregnate her and thus be born into this world.  He tells her it will be even worse than just being killed by the cultists, and decides to be a nice guy and deflower her before they return.  Sam doesn't believe any of this and is busy looking for a way to escape, and is shocked when Samuel strips down to his tighty whities and threatens her with a handgun if she won't let him "save her" from the upcoming sacrifice.

Yeah, it's as creepy as it sounds.

Look, I know this is a horror comedy, and Samuel feels he's saving Sam from a horrible fate.  But his sudden disrobing, and Sam's not understanding or believing any of it, gives the moment a real predatory vibe.  And Samuel pulling a gun on her doesn't help.

Yeah, nothing creepy about this,
especially how quickly he lost his clothes.

Anyway, the moment leads to what I call "Chekhov's misfiring gun," as any firearm that misfires when pointed at the protagonist will fire when the weapon's wielder looks into the barrel to try and discover the cause of the problem.  So Samuel shoots himself and Sam escapes from the house.  But for some reason, she doesn't take the freaking gun with her.  I mean, who would leave a weapon when they're escaping from a group of people who've abducted them and are going to kill them?  I guess anyone in a poorly written horror film.

Anyway, Sam finds shelter in a home by a girl babysitting two young boys.  But the noises coming from the second floor lead her to not drink the soda the babysitter offers her.  Instead, one of the boys drinks it and dies.  As Sam takes out the other boy and the babysitter, she heads upstairs to investigate the noises and is attacked by another girl wearing, and I can't believe I'm writing this, a strap on drill-do.

Think Tetsuo: The Iron Man, and you get the idea.

And no, I'm not posting a picture of it.
Just enjoy the still of Sam pre-drill-do moment.

Anyway, Sam defeats the babysitter and the drill-do wearer, and finds Judi Ross (Ruby Modine, Happy Death Day) tied up on a bed.  Intended to be the sacrifice to Baphomet, Judi lost her virginity in a pre-credit scene and was ordered to be killed by her mother, Danica.  Once she discovers Sam is the coven's intended sacrifice, Judi teams up to help Sam survive the night and thus escape her sacrifice to Baphomet.

And, as expected, mayhem ensues.

While the film does delivers on the mayhem, the screenplay by Grady Hendrix relies too heavily on sophomoric humor and extremely crude dialog.  One such example as when Judi describes the upcoming sacrifice, and why she can't take Sam's virginity.  Her lines are designed to make the audience laugh because of shocking, vulgar dialog.  But it doesn't work and gives one the feeling that delivering important information relevant to the plot comes was a secondary concern.

Adding to the script's issues are some glaring plot holes right at the start.  The cult is suppose to sacrifice a virgin to Baphomet, but with Judi no longer in contention, no one appears to have a backup plan until Sam shows up.  I find it hard to believe their second option is just hoping a virgin would just appear. 

Look, you seem pretty smart and all.  I just can't believe 
you didn't have a backup virgin plan.

The script adds some complications to the cult's efforts to recapture Sam with Gypsy (Arden Myrin), a member trying to undermine Danica and take control.  But the power struggle just doesn't work.  While the film might have intended to contrast the two women, Gypsy comes off as little more than a cartoon villain and one Danica would have slapped down like a gnat.  Whether dictated by director Chelsea Stardust, or Myrin's concept of the character, it's hard to take Gypsy's attempt to usurp Danica as a credible threat.  

 That smirk pretty much sums up Gypsy's character.

The film has some bloody moments, but never breaks into full-on splatstick mode, to the film's detriment.  I'm guessing the gore was restrained by the shooting locations, which includes a beautiful mansion that I'm certain the owners didn't want sprayed with Kayo syrup and food coloring.  Still, the film would have been funnier had the cast been wallowing in fake blood and gore, rather than relying on constant outbursts of vulgar dialog.

Despite my problems with the script, Hendrix does deliver some good moments.  The scene where Sam helps Judi overcome the cult's supernatural attack while explaining why she's a virgin feels real and is surprisingly touching.  For the most part, the cast is terrific.  And the finale is contains some nice, very unexpected surprises.

Satanic Panic had the potential to be a pretty good horror comedy.  Most of the cast is good, with Romijn delivering a standout performance, the film moves at a quick pace, and when the script does deliver some very good moments.  But a over-reliance on over-the-top vulgar dialog makes it more ponderous than fun.  Chekov's misfiring gun sums up the film perfectly, as it fatally wounds the filmmakers when they look into the barrel wondering what went wrong.

It's hard to dislike a film that includes a Satanic rite complete with a bright
pentagram in the background.  I just wish the rest of the film was this cheesy.

If you want to watch Satanic Panic, or purchase a copy of the film, please click on the links below. As an Amazon Affiliate, I'll gain some money with each purchase, which will help keep the lights on in The Shadow Over Portland office.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Crawl (2019)

I have to admit, I've been a fan of Alexandre Aja's films since I first watched High Tension.  Yes, I know a lot of people have some issues with that one, but I still love it and perhaps will revisit it soon and explain why I'm right about it.  Insert smiley emoji here.

But for now, let's talk about Crawl, his latest film full of man eating alligators.  It sounds like the perfect setup for another boobs and blood remake, like Piranha  But Aja douses such expectations early on, setting up a different tone and mood.  Does it work?  Well, let's find out.

The film opens with University of Florida swimmer Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) missing the mark during an exhibition event.  While in the locker room, she receives a Facetime call from her sister, Beth, letting her know her father Dave (Barry Pepper) hasn't picked up his phone when she called.   Given a Category 5 Hurricane, Beth is a bit concerned and Haley heads out to her father's apartment, ignoring a roadblock along her way.

Arriving at Dave's apartment, she finds it empty except for his dog Sugar.  Worried he'd returned to the family home in Coral Lake, on sale after he and Haley's mother divorce, she heads out and finds him injured in the basement.  That wouldn't be a problem, except for the pissed off alligators swimming about the slowly flooding structure, eager to chomp on anyone in range.

As expected, mayhem ensues as the pair try to escape, while other characters show up to be gator chow.  After all, you can't have a killer animal movie with only two potential victims.

Look, we'll be okay.
We're the protagonists.

Aja deflates any expectations this would be another Piranha early on.  Beth's call interrupts Haley as she is changing after her swim meet, and the scene contains no nudity.  Now, I'm not saying a horror film needs nudity to work.  I love too many horror films without anyone walking around in the buff to even consider it a necessity.  And other Aja films shows he doesn't feel the need to include such scenes.

But, I think Aja's best films delve into grindhouse territory.  And, though Crawl lacks such elements early on, one could expect things to get more insane as the weather worsens.  But the script presents some problems, focusing on Haley and her father deal with issues concerning his coaching her as a kid, no matter the danger from the storm or the alligators.  To be honest, the plot seems better suited as a Lifetime feature, had it ditched the killer alligators.

And let's talk about the alligators.  I'm no expert on reptilian behavior, but I suspect a massive hurricane would cause such creatures to find a place to hide and ride out the storm, not become roving packs of human-hungry killing machines.  I will say, I appreciated the script explaining the motivation of the two gators in the basement (though I question how the hell it happened, as storm drains are not that large).  But the other predators outside the house are swimming about, willing to snack on looters, rescue workers, and anyone else the script can deliver to up the body count.

On a recent trip to Florida, I learned alligators can jump out of the water
one and a half times their length.  She is NOT safe here.

And that brings up my expectations on the realistic behavior of the alligators verses a film version of them.  If you know me, or have read a few of my reviews, you know I LOVE pitting humans against critters gone wild.  And I'm willing to overlook my limited knowledge of animal behavior if the action is non-stop and the film isn't trying to be serious. 

For example, in Deep Blue Sea, the clueless scientists increase the brain size of several experimental sharks to develop a cure for Alzheimer's disease.  Now, I know just having the capacity to be smarter doesn't give any organism the intelligence to figure out how to sink a floating research lab.  It takes longer than the running time of your average film to figure that out.

But I can go with those sharks not behaving naturally, as that film tries to explain what's happening with science straight out of a classic 50s monster movie, and doesn't try to take itself seriously.  That's the problem with Crawl.  The main plot isn't about the creatures and the mayhem they create  It's about the fractured relationship between Haley and Dave, with some alligators to ratchet up the tension and give Dave a reason to explain why he pushed Haley so hard while coaching her. 

But such a plot grounded in reality makes one wonder why the attacking critters aren't behaving in a realistic manner.  Attacking humans during a Category Five hurricane makes no damn sense in a movie anchored on a realistic plot.  Also, the gators are literal bottomless pits, able to chomp down countless victims and keep coming back for more.  It would work without a serious plot, but as Crawl is a drama and not a critters-gone-wild film, it makes you appreciate the fact that Bruce spread his attacks out over several days in Jaws.

Seriously, guys, I'm full.
Can you come back so I can chomp on you later?

And that brings us to the gator attacks against Haley and Dave.  Sure, Dad seems to take the worst of the injuries, requiring Haley to save him.  But she's chomped a few times, with little more than minor bleeding, which I have to say, is a big load of BS.  I looked it up, as I was a bit suspicious and decided to save you the trouble, and gators bites exert a force of 2125 pounds per square inch.  That means when Haley's leg is bitten early on, chances are her femur would have been fractured, making her unable to swim after the initial attack.  And Dave is introduced with lacerations on his shoulder from the gators, which would have resulted in several ribs crushed, puncturing his lungs in the process, he would have been dead long before Haley showed up.

 Oh, I can out swim you, creature of the water.
I'm on the U of F swim team!

But such catastrophic injuries would have made for a very short film, so both characters pull off a Rambo-like ability to survive.  Which would be fine, if this was a simple Nature-is-a-monster feature.  But the family drama grounds it in reality, making the protagonist's ability to physically avoid the creatures feel so wrong.   Haley shows off a super human ability to out-swimming alligators and...

Oh, I can't even describe the shower stall scene later in the final act, as it's just SO STUPID.

Oh my, I can't figure out the next step to escape.
Can I get a clue?

The acting is fine for the drama this film tries to be, but it doesn't mesh with the mayhem presented on the screen.  Had the film gone more to one side or the other, it would have been a solid movie.  But trying to combine both elements just doesn't gel, and Crawl suffers for the lack of focus.

If you'd like to buy Crawl on DVD or the 4K HUD, I'd appreciate you clicking on the link below.  As an Amazon Affiliate, I get a few cents from the sales if you buy through my site.