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Anchor Bay Blu-ray Wrap-Up 4

Bait 3D


Instead of reviewing Jaws as a movie when I checked out the Blu-ray release a couple of months ago, I chose to wax nostalgic on the long tradition of killer shark movies that were birthed from Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster opus. Towards the end of that list, I began to bemoan the onslaught of STV/made for Syfy killer sea creature flicks that B-movie fans have been forced to endure over the last decade. Bait 3D doesn’t quite fit this mould it’s technically a foreign film since it was made in Australlia, which I suppose sets it a hair or two beyond the STV/MFSYFY junk right off the bat. The film is directed by second unit director Kimble Rendall (he worked on the Matrix sequels). His direction isn’t particularly flashy or at all unique, but he’s pretty good with action and his weird, layered 3D compositions are fun enough, I assume (I watch it in 2D). Among the film’s six writers is Highlander director Russell Mulcahy, whose feature debut, Razorback is one of the best and most stylish Jaws rip-offs. He and the other credited main story writer, John Kim, build their dumb movie around a fun, high concept foundation, that of sharks (or shark, no idea) let loose in a grocery store. The last time I saw filmmakers take killer sharks out of a traditionally watery environment, it was in Renny Harlin’s super-awesome Deep Blue Sea. Clearly, such a simple alteration should be enough to get me on board, so the addition of disaster and heist movie trappings could only help. Or so I thought. The problem with this film isn’t obvious incompetence on the part of the filmmakers, surprisingly enough (the cast is actually pretty good, despite terrible characterizations) – it’s all about tone and rhythm. I appreciate the fact that everyone is treating the material seriously, rather than as camp, because ridiculous shit is almost always funnier when it’s treated like high drama (‘In the end it wasn’t me you needed to apologize to…it was yourself,’ vomit), but Bait 3D tends to draw itself thin with unnecessary and uncompelling character interactions, then loses tempo while trying to sell tepid scares. When this film is boring, it’s really boring, which is an achievement, considering how many mini-movies are occurring at once. Perhaps six writers were too many? I liked Bait 3D more than I anticipated, specifically a handful of good gore gags, and I was shocked by how passable most of the special effects were. I recommend viewing it at a pizza party where you’d rather catch-up with friends than pay attention to the plodding plot.

Bait 3D was shot using an assortment of top of the line digital HD, 3D cameras, cameras so good that it doesn’t require much in the way of skill to create a clean, sharp image. This Blu-ray disc features both the 3D and 2D versions of the film, but this review will only pertain to the 2D, 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer (I don’t have 3D capabilities). This is a colourful film that is often bathed in warm yellows and rich teals, then highlighted mostly by poppy blood reds and grassy greens. The lighter scenes are hugely vibrant without elements bleeding into each other, while the darker scenes feature harsher contrast and a more washed out sense of colour (mostly green and red). The higher contrast leads to some minor edge-enhancement, but there’s very little else in the way of noise or other artefacts. Details and textures are consistently sharp throughout and on different plain levels, unless Rendall is pulling focus for the sake of a 3D gag. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is punched-up to support the 3D video. There are plenty of moderate, dialogue heavy scenes, but even these tend to feature abnormally high-volume simple effects (something as simple as opening a door leads to a reasonably loud LFE punch) and a lot of ambient shimmer. Much of the film is made up of highly immersive action beats, including a massive, bassy flooding effect and a large number of directionally enhanced and particularly stylized shark attacks. Joe Ng’s dramatic score isn’t given much LFE support, but generally mixes well with the aggressive sound without muddying things. Extras include a storyboard gallery and trailers for other Anchor Bay releases.


Anchor Bay Blu-ray Wrap-Up 4

The Barrens


Director Darren Lynn Bousman is perhaps the most talented filmmaker currently making bad movies in the horror genre today. He has a very strong visual sense and the balls to do experimental things on a minuscule budget. Yet, none of his films approach what I’d call ‘good.’ Occasionally, he steps above the mediocrity of his subject matter, as apparent in his Saw sequels ( Saw III is possibly his best movie), but he’s also managed to dash sure-things, like Repo: The Genetic Opera by over-stylizing it into an obnoxious image overload. Since Repo flopped, Bousman has been discarded to STV/low-run theatrical releases. His latest is The Barrens where he attempts to mix the mythical Jersey Devil (which is among the silliest looking of all of the cryptids) with survival horror and disintegrating family unit motifs. Here, the director largely leaves his music video hysterics behind in favour of slow burns and hand-held cameras. He succeeds, for the most part, at keeping things more down to earth and getting quite a bit of production value out of his tonal choices, but his slow burn is occasionally more ‘slow’ than ‘burn.’ He also tries to have his cake and eat it too, when it comes to the film’s supernatural events, which make for an unearned final sequence that technically plays fair, but tonally betrays most of the rest of the film. Bousman also scripted this particular film himself, so no one else is to blame for its heavy dependence on genre clichés, specifically the angsty family dynamics and predictable spooky forest happenings. The characters don’t have a lot of depth (making it awfully difficult to care about their eventual fates), but are well rounded enough, thanks in part to decent performances that step above hackneyed dialogue. Lead Stephen Moyer (who was also co-producer and, like every non-Anna Paquin True Blood cast member, will probably wallow in relative obscurity until the show is canceled) does an especially good job slowly devolving from friendly into sinister. There is quite a bit of grue here, though probably not enough to hold an oldschool gorehound’s interest. Overall, this is a decent effort and an admirable failure from a filmmaker looking to grow.

Despite its humble aspirations, The Barrens follows the graphic tone set by most of Bousman’s other releases, specifically in terms of colour saturation, which looks pretty great here in 1080p, 1.85:1 video. However, Bousman and cinematographer Joseph White opt for the grit and grain of 16mm film here, which works beautifully to contrast the hyper-realism of the bulk of the film with the much more stylized (and more saturated) bits. The colour quality and vibrancy are the transfer’s strongest elements and are well-supported by truly black shadows. The problem here isn’t the thicker grain or lack of wide angle fine detail, both of which are an inherent part of 16mm film -– it’s that some shots exhibit digital artefacts, like minor blocking and banding effects. Edge enhancement, another common issue with 16mm, is only a minor disturbance and mostly delegated to harsh dark and light contrast. The 5.1 sound design, presented here in Dolby TrueHD, is often more loud than effectively immersive, but the blurry flashbacks and creature attacks/fake-out creature attacks do feature a bevy of stereo and surround enhancements, most of which work in a directional sense. More clever bits of design that don’t feature monster effects include a cool bit where the sounds of technology slowly overwhelm the calm of nature and a nice, ambient rainstorm that permeates throughout the third act. The musical soundtrack is a mostly successful mishmash of folky, Appalachian tunes and more traditional strings/percussion that is given a nice, warm treatment with plenty of LFE punch. Unfortunately, the main theme is really close to of one of Ravenous’ main themes. Extras include a commentary track from Bousman and cinematographer Joseph White, an alternate ending shot for foreign markets with optional commentary (3:30, HD), and trailers for other Anchor Bay releases.


Anchor Bay Blu-ray Wrap-Up 4

Excision


First time writer/director Richard Bates Jr.’s Excision comes fitted with too little word of mouth and an incredibly intriguing premise and trailer. It’s difficult to put Excision into a specific genre box. The best I can manage is American Beauty meets Todd Solondz’ Welcome to the Dollhouse meets Lucky McKey’s May meets every movie those movies recall. When it works, it works very, very well and even when it doesn’t work it looks absolutely delectable, specifically main character Pauline’s (portrayed with gusto by AnnaLynne McCord) horror-chic dream states, where she envisions herself amid grotesque sexual escapades. Even the sequences dedicated to the comparatively un-stylized waking world, which verges on a cartoon version of David Lynch’s Americana, are incontrovertibly well-shot. The screenplay, which Bates Jr. based on his own short film (which is, sadly, absent from this disc), is a bit precious and ‘on-the-nose’ for its own good (sort of vulgar for the sake of vulgarity), but, once one is acclimated to the stagy qualities, it’s actually quite easy to absorb its odd tone. Occasionally, it appears we’re meant to feel genuine emotional attachments and these do not connect with much real weight, but are only a minor bump in the tonal road. Bates Jr.’s frank and often uncomfortable sense of humour is well-served by incredibly efficient editing practices. These rhythmic choices also help justify the episodic storytelling approach and effectively builds tension as the film grows darker. The supporting cast includes Roger Bart, Modern Family’s Ariel Winter, Marlee Matlin, Matthew Gray Gubler and cult favourites Traci Lords, Malcolm McDowell, Ray Wise, and the incomparably delightful John Waters (whose participation gives the audience a guess on what to expect from the film). Many of these performances are only glorified cameos, but they’re generally well-executed glorified cameos. Lords is the standout, surprisingly enough, as Pauline’s overbearing mother, though some of her best lines land, thanks to Roger Bart’s stone-faced reactions.

I can’t find any specs on Excision, but suspect it was shot using digital HD cameras, based on the lack of grain and general warmth. This image is super clean, super sharp, and super vibrant. Bates Jr. and cinematographer Itay Gross split the film’s look a bit between the mudanity of the real world and the extreme qualities of Pauline’s dream world. The real world is shot with a mix of soft backgrounds, sharp foreground textures, and warm, unbroken pastel and acrylic colours. The dream sequences and the matching horror-laced finale are shot with more precise detail, clean lines, sharply focused backgrounds, and more specified blue and red hue choices. The only time the film really breaks from these two stylistic choices occurs when Pauline prays, set against a sheet of black that is only broken by her face and arms, which are lit more harshly, leading to some purposefully blown-out highlights. Contrast levels aren’t set too high to damage the soft textural qualities, but still revel in incredibly deep, pure black levels and bright, clean whites. The closest I can come to complaining here is when I notices some minor banding effects throughout the smoother backgrounds. Otherwise, digital noise is minimal and soft without noticeable blocking or edge enhancement issues. This Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is also largely split and deals in the dynamic ranges of the waking world and the dream world. The real world is mostly centered, aside from music, including all dialogue and basic shades of ambience, all of which sounds plenty clear and natural despite an overall lack of noise. The dream world is brimming with multi-channel, echoing abstractions that often build to a crescendo of pure white noise. There aren’t many directional elements, but the LFE gets some work (occasionally ironic) from the musical soundtrack, which includes folk-pop, punk, and a more traditional electronic score. Extras include a commentary from Bates Jr. and actress AnnaLynne McCord and trailers for other Anchor Bay releases.


Anchor Bay Blu-ray Wrap-Up 4

Chained


Jennifer Lynch’s 1993 theatrical debut Boxing Helena was blasted by critics who decried possible nepotism at the hands of her father, David Lynch. But that wasn’t what drove her away from filmmaking for 15 years. Lawsuits with departed lead Kim Basinger weren’t even the last straw. What really hurt the then 19-year-old writer/director was the blizzard of controversy that surrounded the film well before it was even released. As is often the case, the cries of moral watchdog groups that objected to the film’s supposedly misogynistic content hadn’t actually seen a frame of the final product. I had thought that Lynch had disappeared forever, but she apparently made two independent thrillers in 2008 ( Surveillance) and 2010 ( Hisss). Now she returns to familiar themes of enslavement with Chained, a far, far more violent and disturbing movie than the relatively whimsical and even comical Boxing Helena.

Though, unfortunately, an increase in violence and disturbance isn’t enough to make Chained a particularly interesting movie. This is partially due to it not being a particularly plot-driven film. The story concerns a serial-killing cab driver named Bob, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, who grows attached to the son of a victim he’s kept since childhood as a sort of slave/pet. This plays out in a series of repetitive discussions spiked by occasionally gory murders and not a whole lot else, which puts a lot of pressure on Lynch stylistically and even more pressure on the actors to deliver something ‘different.’ ‘Different’ never really comes, though, and there’s a sense of everyone involved just going through the motions. Lynch soaks the film in a gritty, cinéma vérité dread, the production designers and cinematographer Shane Daly fill things out with skin-crawling scenery, and D'Onofrio chews that scenery as a somewhat indifferent mix of Carl from The Cell and Edgar from Men in Black. I suppose the mundane inevitability of the whole thing is kind of the point, but I’m not really sure what Lynch is trying to say here, besides the obvious things about monsters breeding monsters. It feels suspiciously like shock for the sake of shock, minus the entertainment value of a real exploitation film, since she treats everything as dreadfully important. Perhaps my indifference goes beyond the lack of unique content and into my experiences with other recent ‘human captive’ and ‘killer in training’ movies, the worst of which usually have more ideas and eventful moments than this. Though I suppose acting goes a long way. Chained is rarely a bad film, but is almost always an unremarkable one.

Chained is an unmistakably grimey movie in tone, but Lynch and Daly shot it using RED HD digital cameras, so its grime is often quite clear on this 1080p, 2.35:1 Blu-ray release. There is plenty of black digital grain throughout (which does look pretty 35mm-esque), but, for the most part, the clarity of the format takes precedent. Darkness is a key component to the dread-caked look of the film, though the filmmakers surprisingly do not opt for a whole lot of high-contrast edges. Details are rarely lost in the darkness, which is pretty impressive, considering how muddy the overall look is, and textures usually match from foregrounds to backgrounds. The basic colour scheme is kind of piss-yellow-meets-crap-brown. The blends occasionally lead to minor banding effects and green noise. Flesh tones tend to skew red in darkness, but look natural in brighter lighting, where rich greens also tend to flourish. The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack is occasionally a bit overdone in terms of surround enhancement. The main issue is that an odd amount of effects and musical material is delegated to the rear channels over the stereo channels. It creates something of an immersive effect, but also sounds a whole lot like a mastering error. It might also be the fact that I have a 5.1, not a 7.1 set-up, but such issues have not arisen before. There’s also a weird disassociation between the generally natural, centered dialogue/effects and the definitively louder, more stylized stuff that finds its way into the other channels. Extras include a commentary track with Lynch and D’Onofrio, the ‘uncut’ version of the film’s bloodiest murder (I have no idea why Anchor Bay wouldn’t just release this particular film unrated), and a trailer.


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