Thursday, August 29, 2013

On DVD/Blu-ray: STRANDED (2013) and EVIDENCE (2013)

(Canada/UK - 2013)

Nice to see we're still getting blatant ALIEN ripoffs 34 years after the Ridley Scott classic.  STRANDED is especially sad since it's directed by Oscar-winning art director and set decorator Roger Christian, who worked on ALIEN as well as STAR WARS a couple of years earlier (that's where he got his Oscar).  Christian made a very promising feature directing debut with the 1982 cult classic and back-in-the-day cable favorite THE SENDER, but things didn't exactly pan out for him as a filmmaker.  Of course, your contributions to films like STAR WARS and ALIEN don't mean shit once you helm John Travolta's legendarily awful vanity project BATTLEFIELD EARTH.  Now 69, Christian is reduced to STRANDED and it's such a sad sight that you're too busy feeling sorry for Christian to have any sympathy for Christian Slater, in yet another quick-buck gig on his way to becoming the new Michael Madsen.  You can tell Roger Christian is an old-schooler in the jarring opening scenes, where he's not even attempting to hide that the space vessels and the mining colony on the moon are obvious miniatures.  We're talking 1960s Antonio Margheriti miniatures, folks.  But they aren't done in a kitschy or ironic way.  No, STRANDED really is that cheap. 

Slater is Gerard, the commander of a skeleton-crewed ore-mining ship that discovers some strange meteor spores on the moon.  Scientist Ava (Amy Matysio) accidentally cuts herself while testing the spores and winds up with an accelerated pregnancy, giving birth to an alien/human hybrid a few hours later.  Since there's only two other people on the ship, there's a lot of running around, shouting, and Gerard asserting his authority every few minutes by demanding that Ava be kept in quarantine before anything really horrific happens.  Of course, the other crew members get infected and cause mayhem of their own, and by the time you get to admirably splattery airlock death that looks like it was achieved by a production assistant heaving a bucket of chunky Ragu at the door, you almost have to laugh.  Not content to rip off ALIEN, the film also borrows imagery from the 1978 version of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS with shades of EVENT HORIZON.  Even by 2013 standards, it looks cheaper than things like GALAXY OF TERROR (1981) and FORBIDDEN WORLD (1982), and those had spray-painted McDonald's Styrofoam containers stapled to a wall to simulate the inside of a spacecraft.  Where those films had low budgets but were entertaining or ambitious enough that they still found audiences with ALIEN fans, STRANDED, with its cut-rate sets, disinterested performances, lazy script, and video-burned credits (this actually played in a few theaters) has a hard time mustering the cred to be mentioned alongside STAR CRYSTAL (1986) and NIGHTFLYERS (1987).

(US - 2013)

The police procedural horror film EVIDENCE opens with a crawl about "The Unblinking Eye," a law-enforcement term for the usage of forensic video evidence in solving crimes.  Of course, since EVIDENCE is also a found footage horror film, the detectives in question--unstable Reese (TRUE BLOOD's Stephen Moyer) and hard-nosed Burquez (Radha Mitchell) have a lot to work with since the events leading up to, and including, the brutal murders of several bus passengers at an abandoned factory outside of Las Vegas were all conveniently recorded by victims who naturally left the cameras rolling all through the mayhem.  The found footage genre doesn't get much more anti-entertaining than this, with a constantly-swirling camera surrounding Reese and Burquez, along with underling Jensen (Aml Ameen) and overweight techie Gabe (Barak Hardley), in a Bourne-like crisis suite watching glitchy, pixelated footage as they try to piece the story together, with someone barking "The file's corrupted!" every 8-10 minutes in case you just started watching and think something's wrong with the image quality.  Other inventive dialogue includes Reese gravely stating "He knew we'd be watching...he's challenging us," and lots of the LAW & ORDER: SVU/CSI franchise rapid fire declarations as the camera perpetually circles the actors.

Burquez: "He's a serial killer."
Jensen: "This wasn't his first."
Burquez: "And it won't be his last."

The footage comprising the bulk of the film has some people on a small charter bus to Vegas getting into an accident and being chased through the factory and offed one-by-one by a blowtorch-wielding psycho in a welding mask (maybe he's Robert Ginty's EXTERMINATOR 2 double?).  Several red herrings are set up:  a jilted boyfriend (THE CANYONS' Nolan Funk), a disgruntled Iraq War vet whose wife (Dale Dickey, the second-string Melissa Leo, cast radically against type as a rough-living woman who looks rode hard and put away wet) is on the bus, and even Reese, who gets his own tragic backstory clumsily shoehorned in and is played by a twitchy Moyer, but by the end, who cares?  Also with Torrey DeVitto, Caitlin Stacey, and an overqualified Harry Lennix as the bus driver.  Screenwriter John Swetnam expanded his 2011 short film, only here he's been replaced as director by Joe Carnahan protégé Olatunde Osunsanmi, who helmed 2009's Milla Jovovich faux-doc sci-fi scam THE FOURTH KIND.  Terrible.  (R, 94 mins)

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