Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Plague Town (USA, 2008)

So, another film with good points and bad points that has gotten a lot of positive word of mouth and thus, upon viewing, proves all the more disappointing for only being a passable way to pass the time that displays some directorial talent but way too little narrative creativity. A great film for film stills, but were it anything other than a low budget directorial debut one would be hard pressed to not simply dismiss Plague Town as over-hyped. The beauty of some of the images, and the occasional sense of horror and disorientation, are all very commendable, but is it too much to expect a storyline that is perhaps a little less worn? Main characters that you can identify with? Developments that you don't see coming? Logical action on part of those endangered?
That said, much of the film is suitably oblique to possibly keep most novices surprised by the film's final "twist", but I think that even had I not watched Dying Breed (2008 / trailer) the week prior to this film, as a horror film fanatic I still would have seen the ending miles away. Worse, despite the fact that the other two people watching the film with me were not hardened horror fans, within five minutes after the Fodder Five first showed up we managed to agree upon and correctly guess the order in which the characters would die and who the Final Gal was going to be.
Filmed in Connecticut but set in Ireland, Plague Town opens with an effectively disagreeable prologue set in the past that ends with the grisly end of the parish priest. A bus exiting to the right later, we meet the highly dysfunctional Monohan Family from the US on a bonding day trip to visit some old ruins and enjoy the Irish countryside. Jessica Monohan (Erica Rhodes), the blonde mega-bitch daughter, has Robin (James Warke), her recently discovered English boy toy in tow so as to round up the number of fodder to the industry standard of five. He is a supercilious twerp with a never-emptying, disappearing and reappearing beer can in hand, but later he is also the centerpiece of most of the film's most intense visceral attacks before ending up as a piñata for the local kids. Daddy Monohan (David Lombard), who looks almost young enough to be dating his daughters, and his new wife Annette Rothman (Lindsay Goranson), are parental figures there for the plucking, while the youngest daughter, Molly Monohan (Josslyn DeCrosta), sees doom far in advance but her Cassandra cries are ignored due to her history of mental problems. So, who do you think is the Final Gal? (Although, as in Dying Breed, being the Final Gal in Plague Town doesn't seem to be all that much better than being fodder.)
Needless to say, as is expected the minute they got off the bus, the not-so-happy family later miss the last bus back to civilization and have to walk. They don't get far – that is, they don't get far until they find reasons to separate and the body count can start. Daddy's death got a rousing laugh from the 17-year-old we watched the film with – or, to be more exact, a rousing snort of derision – though I sort of thought it at least looked good. (But, really: even if you are looking for your bitchy daughter, if you were to wander into a dank, dark and ruinous house where you saw kiddies who first hide and then rush past invisibly and stick a shard of glass into your shoulder as they giggle, would you slowly follow the giggling psychos deeper into the darkness of the house or hightail it back to the others?) Annette-the-wife's death is far more unnerving, primarily because it is more sordidly realistic than spectacular, is dragged out so long, and Molly gets to watch it to the end. And despite the fact that Robin is English, the viewer actually begins to feel sorry for him by the end of his tribulations.
OK, so now you know something that the characters of Plague Town never really know until it's too late: we're dealing a hoard of sadist, mutant killer kids and the town that spawned them, populated by a smaller but likewise deadly group of adult mental inbreeds looking for new breeding stock in the hope that new blood might dilute the "plague". (Oddly enough, but for their pale skin, none of the adults seem to share the physical deformities of their offspring – perhaps they lose that with puberty.) Most confrontations end deadly, but a few do not so that the film doesn't end too quickly – and once again, the viewing public is reminded that them thar backwater eejits are not "good people" no matter what country you're in.
That said, despite the fact that the film suffers a lot of bad day-for-evening photography and is 90% predictable, it should be stressed that Plague Town enjoys some excellent acting and some truly disturbing if not almost surrealistically horrific imagery, both which go a long way in making the film intriguing and keeping the viewer captivated, even if the story and plot development don't. Likewise, the leisurely pace does help add some tension and there are some truly jump-worthy moments. But in this regard, Plague Town is a bit like an excellently made carrot cake dressed to look like a Black Forest Cake: in the end, no matter how good the carrot cake is, you're sort of disappointed it isn't Black Forest Cake – even as you take a second slice. To make a carrot cake that looks like a Black Forest Cake, however, does take talent, so it is easy to believe that director David Gregory could, in the future, make something much better than this highly interesting, visually eye-catching, properly depressing but much too predictable film.

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