DECEMBER 5, 2012
I could probably exclusively use my screener pile to supply daily movies until Horror Movie A Day is over, because for every ten (mostly from the awesome Jacqueline Greed) I get, I probably only watch one. I have my reasons though: the DVDs tend to have poor transfers, are almost always watermarked (ugh), and they almost certainly won't have the bonus features that the release disc will, and if I dig the movie (or despise it) I will miss not having access to them. Night Drive, for example, apparently has deleted scenes and some making of information that I would like to see, but it won't be worth the effort of queuing up the disc and waiting for it to come - I'll have moved on by then.
Luckily for its makers, this is one of the former examples - I dug the flick. Apart from a needlessly convoluted opening 10-15 minutes (something those deleted scenes might have helped out with), I found myself surprisingly engaged with the tale of 7-8 folks on a safari of sorts in the African Bush who find themselves targeted by human poachers, led by a guy called Hyena Man, who wears a skull mask and tribal garb while chanting voodoo stuff. I mean, it's basically The Africa Machete Massacre, but it worked, holding my attention for its 103 minutes even though I had just arrived back in Boston (which means I'm usually giving the movie only one eye, with the other on my phone and email as I make plans with friends/family).
Part of what I liked was that there was a good variety to the group, and they were actually fairly interesting to boot. It would never be mistaken for a character study, but I tend to like the "motley crew" horror films more than the "5-6 friends" ones, as it lends itself to natural discussion of their backstories and basic character traits (close friends don't usually tell one another what they do for a living), and also makes more sense when tensions flare. And again, they were a mixed lot; you have an elderly couple celebrating their 50th anniversary, a young couple who just met, and a late 30s-ish couple who are having some serious problems. Then you have the game warden and his estranged son (an ex-cop who is going out to spread his mother's ashes), so there's a lot of different motives for being there, and real personalities instead of "the jock, the stoner", etc.
And writer/director Justin Head doesn't blow his wad too early, nicely pacing out the hints at the horrors to come while giving us the necessary exposition and back-stories for everyone, so that when the shit hits the fan around the halfway point, you will likely care about a few of the people. But he provides enough action up until that point that you shouldn't be bored by then either - it's rare to see a film of this type paced so well. I wouldn't have minded spreading out a few of the deaths (three or four people get taken out in a 5 minute span), but it's tricky to pull off the balance of giving us a reason to care without boring us before anything of note happens, so it's excusable that he borrows from the Burning playbook and sort of "catches up" on kills during a very brief segment of the film.
I was also impressed with its technical quality, which isn't something I can say too often about these kind of movies. Again, on a story level it's covering very familiar ground (though there's a reveal about Hyena Man I didn't see coming), but the setting itself is fairly unique (not a love of horror movies coming out of AND set in Africa - in fact it's only one on IMDb that was shot in "Pelinduna Adventures, Broederstroom, South Africa", for what it's worth). And Head has a good eye for composition; even with the cramped 1.85:1 ratio (boo) he gets plenty of mileage out of his location (nearly the entire film is exterior), and despite the title offers plenty of daytime action that looks terrific. On that note, the night scenes can be a bit TOO dark, but that may be another screener issue so I won't hold it against the movie too much. Hell, even the Snorri-cam shots worked well in context, and I tend to hate those things.
Oh, and the end title sequence was awesome. My mom's TV is to small to deal with squinting through the scroll to see who was responsible, but whoever did that, with the names coming through the trees from the POV of the jeep - my hat is off to you.
One thing struck me as a bit unfortunate, however - the movie doesn't have a single sympathetic black character. All of the villains are black, which is to be expected I guess, but the only two black folks on the protagonist side are kind of dickish (well the guy is anyway) and also (spoiler) among the first to die. The heroes/only survivors are white, of course - it didn't really strike me as RACIST, per se, but it was definitely a bit disheartening to see that they couldn't have evened things out a bit, maybe let one black character live and/or make one of the poachers white. The female characters don't come off too well; most of them are victims or damsels in distress, so again it was just a bit of a bummer that the main female character didn't really get a big kickass moment. Perhaps this wouldn't have been as noticeable if there weren't great female characters in most of the classics of this sub-genre, but I'm sure Head has seen the same movies we have, so why didn't he know that we like to see the ladies kick ass just as much as - if not more than - the males?
The screener DID include a trailer for the film, which was truly terrible, focusing on the movie's less interesting aspects (i.e. the rather typical chase/kill scenes) and also curiously low on dialogue, almost coming across like a trailer for a foreign language film for the most part. Despite having been available for almost a year now, the film is relatively obscure (as of this writing, the IMDb board has a single unanswered post), and I can't help but wonder if this bland, generic trailer was keeping folks away. Again, it's not a game-changer, but a solid, above average entry in a genre that is overcrowded with lousy efforts that leave no impression. It deserves better.
What say you?