Wednesday, July 3, 2013

On DVD/Blu-ray: 6 SOULS (2013); INESCAPABLE (2013); and THE RAMBLER (2013)

(US - 2013)

Shot in 2008 under the title SHELTER, it took five years for the newly-christened 6 SOULS to get a 54-screen US release courtesy of Radius TWC, the B-movie arm of The Weinstein Company.  Like many of today's horror films, it gets off to an interesting start before collapsing under the weight of its own silliness.  In what will be nothing more than a minor footnote to her career, a decidedly overqualified Julianne Moore stars as Dr. Cara Harding, a widowed psychologist whose dismissal of multiple personality theory as an excuse used by guilty killers to plead insanity gets tested when her father/mentor (Jeffrey DeMunn) has her observe his latest patient, Adam (Jonathan Rhys Meyers).  Adam's second personality is the paralyzed David, and while on an outing with "David," Cara is introduced to Wes, a third personality.  After some investigating, Cara figures out that all of Adam's personalities--and Adam himself--are murder victims who may have been sacrificed by a backwoods cult that practices "sheltering," or sucking out the soul via the mouth, and filling it with dirt to deny the soul future re-entry.  But who is this man claiming to be Adam, David, and Wes, and, eventually, Cara's late husband Charles, who had his throat slashed on Christmas Eve?

6 SOULS has more plot holes than scares, starting with the way Adam, confined to a mental institution, is free to roam about wherever he pleases, even showing up at Cara's daughter's (Brooklynn Proulx) school in his "Charles" guise.  Are there no guards at this hospital?  DeMunn's character has to be one of the most unprofessional medical figures in recent cinema, basically smirking with glee whenever Cara figures out another traumatic layer to "Adam"'s and her own story, reveling in the fact that she now must be forced to believe in multiple personalities.  He acts less like her father and colleague and more like J. Walter Weatherman on ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT.  And, excuse me, but does the internet exist in this film's world?  I realize it was on the shelf for five years, but none of this would've happened if DeMunn's idiotic character had bothered to do a Google search or even checked with the police, hospital, or public records or the DMV in regards to Adam/David/Wes before he opts to just blithely put his entire family in danger.  And who still goes to a musty old library to research old high school yearbooks to get to the bottom of something?  Shots of medical files in the movie indicate that it's set in 2008, and the characters use cell phones, but their research methods and everything else feel more like it's 1978, right down to DeMunn's boat of a car.  Yeah, it's a supernatural horror flick and there has to be some suspension of disbelief, but the implausible things in 6 SOULS reek of laziness courtesy of IDENTITY screenwriter (and, more importantly, the killer snowman classic JACK FROST writer/director) Michael Cooney and the Swedish directing team of Mans Marlind & Bjorn Stein, who would go on to bury the UNDERWORLD franchise with the pathetic UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING. 6 SOULS has some interesting ideas and Moore soldiers through it and gives it some credibility because she's a pro, but it's just not good.  (R, 112 mins, also available on Netflix streaming)

(Canada/South Africa - 2013)

This boring, predictable melodrama is more serious than TAKEN but still owes a lot to its basic premise.  Adib (Alexander Siddig) left Syria 20 years ago and has settled down in Toronto with a Canadian wife and two daughters.  The oldest daughter is a photographer who disappears on an overseas trip when she takes an unplanned detour to Damascus.  Adib, a former Syrian Intelligence officer who fled the country after accusations that he was a turncoat working for Israel and the Mossad, returns to Syria, where he's still a wanted man, teaming up in the search for his daughter with his ex-fiancĂ©e Fatima (Marisa Tomei, appearing to be auditioning for the lead in the THE SHOHREH AGHDASHLOO STORY) and a Canadian Consulate official (the perpetually bland Joshua Jackson) who--wait for it--may know more than he's letting on.  Written and directed by Ruba Nadda (who previously teamed with Siddig in CAIRO TIME), INESCAPABLE is one of those films, like 6 SOULS, where no one knows how to use the internet.  Adib is still wanted by the Syrian government, but hides in plain sight in Toronto.  He hasn't changed his name and yet his Syrian Intel past is somehow still a secret to his oblivious wife and daughters, who just accept that Dad never talks about his youth when they would only have to go to Google to see that he was the subject of a controversial, headline-making espionage scandal in his homeland.  He also manages to effortlessly get back into Syria simply by giving the border guards a bottle of whiskey, even though his passport has his actual name on it and he's a despised traitor throughout the country.  The only thing inescapable here are the plot holes.  It's nice to see busy character actor Siddig (STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE, SYRIANA) in a rare big-screen lead but it's too bad it wasn't in a more worthy effort.  Justifiably released on just seven screens to a whopping $4300 box office total. (R, 93 mins)

(US - 2013)

Don't try to make sense of this surreal road movie/horror film from writer/director Calvin Lee Reeder, one of the contributors to the overrated V/H/S anthology. THE RAMBLER is an impossible film to love and an easy one to hate (I wish I could've seen this in a theater just to see how many people walked out), but if you like unconventional cinema and can just roll with it, it'll certainly keep your attention even if you can't make heads or tails of it.  A well-cast Dermot Mulroney, who doesn't get many starring roles these days, plays a man-of-few-words drifter who's just been paroled after four years in the joint.  He immediately leaves his annoying girlfriend (Natasha Lyonne) and quits his job at a pawn shop when he decides to thumb his way through the small towns and desolate back roads of the southwest to go work for his brother.  He's followed on his journey by a mystery girl (Lindsay Pulsipher) who may not be real but turns up wherever he goes.  He gets duped into some cage-style fighting against an opponent with a literal left hook.  Then he encounters a mad scientist (James Cady) with a machine that reads people's dreams and records them on a VHS tape (hipster cred!) but inevitably causes their heads to explode.  The scientist also has a collection of mummies and keeps his grown daughter--who has an extended vomiting episode all over Mulroney that immediately takes its place among cinema's all-time great puking scenes--chained to a stake in the yard.  Mulroney also meets a FRANKENSTEIN-obsessed taxi driver, has periodic visions of a naked, slime-covered figure slithering across the floor and repeatedly sees Pulsipher killed only to have her turn up in the next town.  All the while, he's hearing strange, garbled radio transmissions and spots surveillance satellites that seem to be following him, blipping through the sky. 

Reeder borrows quite a bit from other filmmakers:  for a while, the film plays a lot like a weird, dark-humored fusion of Rob Zombie and PARIS, TEXAS-era Wim Wenders before we get some Alejandro Jodorowsky imagery, a little Polanski, some gratuitous David Lynch tributes (the naked slithering thing's first appearance is in a scene that could've come straight from TWIN PEAKS), and some Troma-style over-the-top splatter.  I'm not gonna lie: this is an abrasive, frequently off-putting movie that's bound to alienate a lot of people.  But even with the ending that you'll see coming, it's hard to write off the sheer lunatic feel that Reeder brings to it, almost like he's afraid he might never get another shot and is just throwing every homage and every idea he's ever had into this one project.  Without question the strangest thing Mulroney's ever done, and perhaps 2013's most unapologetically bizarre movie, THE RAMBLER isn't something I can wholeheartedly recommend to a casual moviegoer or someone who sees Dermot Mulroney and thinks "Oh, MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING!" but I can honestly say I've never seen anything like it, and that has to count for something. (R, 99 mins)

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