DECEMBER 16, 2012
It's getting to be that time of the year where I am somewhat obligated to turn in a "Top 10" list with the best horror films released this year, and one that will definitely be high on the list is Rabies, the "Coen Brothers meets Friday the 13th" movie that I saw back in February and have been recommending to folks ever since. Thus, it's kind of a bummer that I Didn't Come Here To Die is just coming along now, as it has a very similar central gimmick, but lacks the creativity or technical merits of the other film.
Don't get me wrong, it's worth seeing, and some of the deaths are hilariously inspired - I particularly liked the chainsaw bit - but once I realized what the movie's big hook was, I just started thinking about Rabies (and Tucker and Dale, which also hits similar notes), finding it harder to get sucked into this particular version of the (SPOILERS - skip to next paragraph if you want to go in blind!) "Folks put themselves in a horror movie situation only to inadvertently/ accidentally kill each other" story. While Rabies had a motley crew of characters to interact with (and misunderstand), here we only have the one group of six pals, which limits the scope and the plot - once you've seen the idea in action once (and/or realize that there's no actual killer stalking them, because you would have seen him by now) you've pretty much seen the entire movie, and thus like a typical slasher, it's just a matter of seeing how each person dies.
That is, when you CAN see it. If someone can prove that the movie was actually the director's roundabout way of displaying his hatred with the "day for night" process, I'd feel a lot better about the film as a whole, because every single night-set scene in the film was clearly shot during the day. I can deal with the unnatural blue look that you get from such things, but not the blurry black top part of the frame during these scenes that was placed to block out the skyline (which can't be re-colored as easily), or the very obvious shadows on the ground in wide shots that wouldn't exist unless a bright sun was bearing down on the shooting area. Not only does it just look bad, it caused yet another distraction, as I began trying to wonder why they didn't either A. just actually shoot it at night with car headlights or whatever, since they made the image so dark it wouldn't have been much different, or B. just set the scenes during the day, as there's nothing in their content that demands nighttime - it's not like they're going to look at the moon or attend a midnight screening somewhere - they're just sitting around drinking and bickering like they do in the daytime.
I was also a bit baffled by the director's tendency to shoot just about every dialogue scene in awkward hand-held closeup shots, making it seem like the actors weren't even actually in the same spot - throw some two shots and masters in there! It's very jarring, and the excessive shakiness of the camera does it no favors. I understand that this was a low budget production, but you don't need a lot of money to take a few steps back and give some proper sense of the geography/layout of your scene. However, it may just be a stylistic choice I didn't quite care for; some folks might love it (I also dislike the "facing directly into camera" approach of Silence of the Lambs - certainly didn't hurt the film's financial or critical success).
However, if you can get past the technical issues, it's definitely worth a look. I don't think it was copying any of those other films (they were all in production around the same time, from what I can piece together from their copyright/festival premiere dates and such), so I truly admire the idea, and a good percentage of the execution. There's one exception to the film's "rule" that I wasn't on board with, but otherwise it's incredibly amusing to see everything unfold, and the brief runtime (80 minutes with overlong credits) keeps it from getting boring - something I truly appreciated today in particular as I watched it after watching the latest attempt from Peter Jackson to change the word "bloat" into a positive thing. And the final gag was priceless; whatever issues I had with the flick were almost entirely vanquished by the gleefully mean-spirited final seconds.
And I truly appreciated the practical FX - that chainsaw prosthetic in particular was terrific, and as a clumsy asshole, I truly sympathized with the girl who got a stick in her eye, as it's the sort of thing I can't believe I haven't suffered myself. The actors were also quite good, a rarity for an indie of this type. None of them are big stars (I only recognized one, and couldn't even place her until I looked at her IMDb), which works to the movie's favor as I truly believed they were a group of volunteers (or "volunteers" in some cases) building a habitat for humanity type thing in the woods. The only exception was the cop - not a bad actor, but he looked way too young to be a high school pal of the hero's mother, which spoiled the realism a bit.
So really, the only thing weighing the movie down a bit (besides the questionable technical issues) is that another guy did it first/better. If this somehow became a sub-genre, it would be like dismissing Friday the 13th because we already had Halloween - it's a fun enough scenario to warrant more than one (and again, it's almost impossible for either to have been copying the other), and the game cast elevates it above a number of films in this budget range. The pacing in the 3rd act was a bit off (the scene with the cop runs FOREVER) and it could have used a new twist around that time as well, but neither issue was enough to derail it completely. Basically: I didn't love it, but I appreciated it.
What say you?