Monday, December 11, 2023

Fool Me Once...


As you might remember, a few weeks back, I discovered an oddball Canadian sci-fi horror comedy (maybe) about aliens masquerading as sorority sisters with a plan to seduce college boys for breeding purposes. It was weird. Naturally, the fact that it had a sequel that was ONLY available by Netflix disk in the last gasps of Netflix disk air meant I had to have it.

Here we go.

Quick Plot: A few years after the wild events of Decoys, Luke has survived his alien romp to become an extremely anxious TA at a new university. He's assisting evolutionary professor Buckton, played with gravelly perfection by 2023's it boy Tobin Bell. Luke is also wisely in therapy with psychiatrist Dr. Geisner, played by Dina Meyer and thus giving the world the Saw II/III reunion it's been craving.

Elsewhere, undergraduate frat boys are being terrible, as is the norm. One group decides to do the very 2007-ish activity of a sex contest to see who can bed the most women, and yes, video evidence is required to count. Nevermind that it's a sex crime (or will be in the near future). Most will thankfully die horrible alien tentacle death.

All sport offensively terrible haircuts.

Look, I know 2007 was 16 years ago, but did men REALLY do this to their heads? 

Anyway, the first film's sole surviving decoy Constance (Kim Poirier) is back, now in the role of a doctor with enough sway to convince those who matter that Luke has a few screws loose in his pretty less awful haircut head. It works because Luke acts like a lunatic. Meanwhile, Constance sets her protegees on the male populace, armed now with a handy ability to scan their brains in order to nail the exact sexual fantasy that will keep them ripe for impregnation activities.

Thankfully, young Sam and Stephanie smarten up to the alien invasion and are able to rally the troops with some quick molotov cocktails and flamethrower sprays. We get a bit more action than in the first Decoys, which keeps things moving for a satisfying finale.

Decoys 2 is directed by Jeffery Scott Lando, who I last experienced via the extremely strange Goblin. This is definitely a better film, though much like the first Decoys, it still left me confused as to exactly what I was supposed to be getting out of it. It's too silly to be sexy or scary, but there still aren't enough winks that confirm the filmmakers fully embrace the joke. So credit for feeling like a true sequel, and a mild shrug for being entertaining enough.

High Points
Like the first film, I do believe Decoys 2 understands that there is inherent comedy in the overactive libidos of young men, and here and there, there are sparks of smart jabs
Low Points
There are plenty of things that don't fully work in Decoys 2: Alien Seduction, but I'll be petty and harp on the most glaring: what is WITH the wigwork on these women? Are the actresses actually extraterrestrials with weirdly shaped heads that can't manage a simple dye job? 

Lessons Learned
Ska was big in the mid-Canadian aughts

Flip phones had a much better cold tolerance than today's Apple products

Grad students aren't supposed to be good-looking

Do I regret using one of my last Netflix disk slots for Decoys 2: Alien Seduction? Of course not. Do I recommend you put any effort into finding this movie? Probably not. If you adored the first film (which is more accessible on Peacock) then sure, this is for you. For all others, there's a whole wide world of movies out there. Don't kill yourself finding this one. 

Monday, December 4, 2023

In Your Dreams

Last year, I participated in an overnight sleep study to identify some of my nighttime issues. It. Was. Weird.

Let me set the stage:

It's 10PM. You show up to a hospital that makes the setting of Halloween II look like a bustling ER circa NBC's Must See TV era. There's a handwritten piece of paper taped to a door reading "Sleep Study Patients This Way." You accept the fact that you're actually following a sign to your imminent death, but as long as your insurance is paying, it seems worth a try.

A single employee (seemingly the only one IN this facility) guides you down a wing and opens a door, revealing a miniature Holiday Inn just SITTING across a lab. The nice, hopefully non-homicidal nurse then proceeds to connect 36 wires to various parts of your body, pausing at wire 20 to confirm that you don't need to use the restroom. You then roll into bed carefully, as half of your entire being and a whole chunk of your glue-filled head is now tethered on the left side to a box that looks only slightly more professional than the Lite Brite machine from your childhood.

The nurse leaves, cheerfully announcing that she'll just be a few rooms away "watching."


As the lights go off, the nurse's voice walks you through some eyeball exercises in complete darkness. You now know what eyeball exercises feel like.You're then left to fall asleep which is of course VERY EASY considering your situation and the fact that your body is literally wired.

At 5AM, the same voice gently tells you to get your ass out of bed. The nurse returns to help remove the 107 wires (because they have definitely multiplied overnight), glue still deeply embedded in your head. You shuffle out of the hospital knowing you look like someone who not only has trouble falling asleep, but who has probably also battled an army of angry robot cats when trying. It's quite a sight for the rest of the people at the bagel shop, but you're hungry and sure no one here knows you. You take comfort in knowing you have probably terrified a child or two, just as those dreadful 14 seconds of action in the Superman III climax destroyed your own youth.

Two weeks later, you are issued a mostly insurance-funded CPAP machine. Life actually gets a lot better.

Anyway, what are we here to do? Talk about horror movies of course! Wasn't that obvious?

Quick Plot: Sarah is a student suffering from some kind of sleep disorder. She spends most of her nights grabbing a few z's on a park slide before sneaking back home to grab a hot shower right after her estranged mother leaves the house. When she spots an ad for a local sleep study, Sarah jumps at the chance to earn some cash and a more comfortable bed that isn't made of urine-soaked aluminum.

The first night goes well, but Sarah is (rightfully) unsettled when she discovers one of the scientists, Riff, is following her outside (AND recommending Philip K. Dick novels, no less). She suffers a severe panic attack during a morning debriefing where Anita, the sleep study supervisor, shows her a picture of a man that appears regularly in her mysterious dreams.

Sarah demands an explanation from Riff, who reluctantly reveals his team's goal: to capture the images we experience only in dreams.

I realize how old I sound when I say this (note: this coming from the same 40something who just admitted her CPAP prescription), but I think Come True is what the kids today call a "vibe". Cowriter/director Anthony Scott Burns is vague on the details of his and Daniel Weissenberger's script. We don't know much about Sarah or the source of her troubles, but actress Julia Sarah Stone is compelling enough that we easily follow her journey and wish her the best. We're along for the ride even when we have no idea where it's heading.

Come True has an incredibly distinctive tone. The electronic score does heavy lifting in situating the mood, while blue-hued lighting seems to tint every scene to keep us at a distance. It's all clearly very deliberate on Burns' end, and it does, in SOME way, help us sort through things with the film's twist reveal. More importantly, it's pretty cool.

(again: 41-year-old CPAP user speaking)

That being said, it's also easy to feel frustrated by Come True. Much like Bad Things (ANOTHER CPAP-Y REFERENCE!), this is a film that is deliberate in being opaque. Maybe there's a rosetta stone that someone on their fifth viewing might unlock to reassemble the details for a clear narrative, but to me, it seems clear that Come True doesn't expect that of its audience. It wants to take you on a dream, accepting that the very nature of such a trip means it doesn't have to make sense. If that's the kind of thing that bothers you, stay away.

High Points
Aforementioned performance by Stone, who has to keep us caring even when we have no idea what to care about

Low Points
The more I think about Come True's final beat, the more frustrated I become

Lessons Learned
Insomniacs are not vulnerable to magical nerd charms

The ethics of sleep study doctor/patient relationships are, to say the least, muddy

There's an untapped market in the shoe industry for sleepwalking footware

I wasn't completely satisfied by Come True, and I can see it leaving a lot of its audience in a far more annoyed state than me. But as long as you go in expecting more mood than narrative, you'll likely walk away with some appreciation for the overall effect.

Monday, November 27, 2023

I Got a Bad Case of the Zoomies


Not surprisingly, the first film to debut during the COVID-19 lockdown specifically addressing the issue was a horror movie. Historically, the genre has always been first in any cinematic race of social commentary, and today's technology makes it even easier for a style that thrives on low budget to succeed. 

Host didn't do much for me, mostly because I thought the same story had been told better in the Unfriended series. Also, its success meant we'd get more of this style. 


Quick Plot: A batch of late twentysomething pals meet up for their regular Zoom parties, this time to celebrate the birthday of the awful Evan. Almost all seven of our main characters are pretty terrible, but Evan, as we will soon see, is both toxic AND stupid. 

The somewhat less awful Ollie has surprised his pals with a dose of molly carefully delivered by no-contact FedEx. Here's where we learn that indeed, they're all the worst.

It's 2023 (in this case, a fictional 2022 where COVID has mutated to even deadlier strains the country is under strict police state law) but as far as I know, we stopped pushing drugs on people with the '90s D.A.R.E. program. One of the gang (patent lawyer Ben, a newer member of the jerk club) doesn't like to do drugs. WHICH IS FINE. So what do his boyfriend and the five other pals do? 

I'm supposed to LIKE these people? Please understand, I have nothing against drugs. I have a LOT against people who FORCE their friends into taking them when they clearly explain that they're uncomfortable doing so. 

Because I don't hate these characters enough, they proceed to play Never Have I Ever (again, FINE) but pause for Ollie and his girlfriend to go have sex (HOW OLD ARE THESE PEOPLE?) and for Evan to flip out when his girlfriend Jen reveals a sexual escapade from high school that he didn't know about. This was apparently 15 years ago, 10 years before she knew him, but he is AGHAST at the fact that she once slept with two different guys in one day. 

Run, Jen. Run.

Too late. They argue, Evan flails his arms out in such a way that Jen flies back and smashes her head on a hard desk. Everybody on Zoom happened to be looking away at the time (either having sex or arguing because THESE PEOPLE ARE AWFUL) so no one quite knows what happened, but since Jen isn't breathing, the natural response is for Evan to get the hell out of there.

I feel like there are other options here.

Granted, before you, like every sane human being, scream "CALL AN AMBULANCE", I will remind you that this is a slightly more dystopian present than the one we're in now. It's muddy, but I'll accept Safer At Home's reality that hospitals are overwhelmed and anything non-COVID-related might not be acknowledged. Plus, did I mention these idiots are all high on molly?

So, Evan runs, perfectly stable selfie stick guiding us the whole way. Ollie heads out to help, and everyone else worriedly watches from their couches. There's a twist ending that most functioning adults on or off molly will guess, particularly if you've seen director Will Wenick's Follow Me. 

Like most of the internet, I hated this movie. Zoom-based thrillers only work if your cast can pull it off, and this one...doesn't. They're hampered by dialogue that rotates between bland and painful, and a narrative that hurts the brain of any thinking adult. The ending would be offensive if it wasn't, well, so stupid. 

I guess that's my way of being nice to this movie?

High Points
Hey, as with Host, I respect the idea of using video calls to craft a narrative, and Safer At Home at least has some fresh ideas in centering on a manhunt in a darker timeline (if only, you know, it worked)

Low Points
As if this film needed another reason to make you groan, it's bookended by real news footage of Donald Trump giving press conferences about the pandemic he mishandled. Nobody needs that. 

Lessons Learned
Safer At Home succeeds in one very specific arena: it teaches anyone who lasts its 85 minute runtime that drugs will indeed impair your brain activity.

I can't think of anyone I know that I would have their life improved by watching Safer At Home. I'll leave it at that. 

Monday, November 20, 2023

I Guess You Have to Start Somewhere


Some perfectly fine actors just can't seem to find roles in good movies. As Margaery Tyrell, Natalie Dormer took a minor character in one of television's largest casts and turned her into someone worthy of her own show. And yet, post-Game of Thrones, the poor woman seems to only star in terrible movie after terrible movie.

Coincidentally, here's today's Peacock find.

Quick Plot: Basically, 28 Days Later has happened, and now we're about two years in (104 Weeks?). Not quite angry monkeys, but canine rabies is the cause here. Much like those angry monkeys, these bites transform the infected into highly fit rage monsters.

Somewhere underground, obnoxious military soldiers and a handful of not-too-bright scientists are working hard to understand the virus (and believably communicate in American accents). The real hope lies in Morgan (Matt Smith), a low level officer who seems to have immunity to the pandemic. Not only did he not turn after being bitten, but he can also understand and communicate with the sick. Dr. Gina Rose (Dormer) and Scooter (John Bradley, who played the similarly silly named Samwell Tarly on Game of Thrones) are hopeful that by capturing and interrogating some infected, Morgan can help them solve the cause (and therefore cure) via the titular Patient Zero.

Could that be The Professor, a cocky rage zombie played by, hold your martini, Stanley Tucci?

All of this probably sounds fine, especially to a horror fan. Patient Zero isn't terribly unlike a slicker Day of the Dead: single spirited female staving off chauvinism, alpha male army jerks, kind but useless supporting men, zombie-ish creature that talks and likes music, you get the drift. 

What's missing? Well, a few things. The actors -- predominantly British -- all seem to be straining awfully hard to play Americans, begging the question "why not let them be British?" Matt Smith is obviously a charismatic and accomplished performer, but he's woefully miscast as the tough guy everyman with what might be an east coast accent? Our scientists seem like idiots, our survivors lack personality, leaving us all thinking the best case scenario for this reality is to let Stanley Tucci take over.

Without spoiling anything, Patient Zero ends on a weirdly open-ended note, as if this was all a setup for a new franchise the public was itching to see. "We must continue to fight!" our heroes stiffly narrate, as if this film has shown a single reason why humanity is worth saving. 

High Points
When we finally do get to the inevitable (not-but-totally) zombie invasion of the complex, director Stefan Ruzowitzky kicks into some quite good action horror

Low Points
Of course, seeing that highlight makes you realize how much this film missed its calling in not focusing on those kinds of sequences, rather than the far less compelling, far more labored human conversations

Lessons Learned
A viral apocalypse is no reason to let your hair lose its bounce

A lesser known side effect of canine rabies is that it increases your level of enjoyment of gossiping

The longer the lockdown, the messier the American accent

Patient Zero isn't a total wash, but it's an incredibly bumpy ride without a huge reward. Infected zombie completists have certainly seen worse. 

Monday, November 13, 2023

Not So Quick After All, Are You?

We all know the meme, and yes, it's true: of all the things movies taught us to fear, quicksand is second only to spiders in terms of its silliness. Still, just as those eight legs sticking out of bulbous abdomens inevitably chill us, the idea of drowning slowly in gooey wet earth remains an easy way to make us squirm. 

Quick Plot: Sophia and Josh are a soon-to-be-divorced couple scheduled to give presentations at a medical conference in Bogota, Sophia's former home. They're miserable but trying to survive the week with some touch of civility so Sophia can restart her career, which she put on hold in order to focus on raising their two young children. Tired of missing out on the good stuff, Sophia insists on taking a hike. Josh joins, as does a snake-hunting pickpocket. 

A scuffle ensues, and to avoid the thief's gun, the couple run straight into Las Arenas, the spot on the map locals warn against. Sophia quickly tumbles into a vat of titular quicksand. Demonstrating some extremely poor decision-making under pressure, Josh leaps in to join her.

The generation raised on Beastmaster and The Neverending Story has obviously logged some extremely long hours in order to develop a better understanding of what to do to avoid what always sounded like the absolute worst possible way to die. Sophie and Josh are doctors with just enough knowledge to not immediately drown. They also have enough medical knowledge to identify the body that floats to the surface of their small pool as a death by starvation fate, meaning no one is likely coming to save them.

Written by Fringe and Westworld alum Matt Pitts and directed by Andres Beltran, Quicksand is a great idea with good execution. The film wastes little time setting its high stakes, but it also never feels as confined as it could. Part of that is the side non-quicksand action, but even the tightness between Josh and Sophia should have more tension. 

Maybe the issue is that the most dreadful aspect of mythical '80s movie quicksand -- the agonizing drowning in sludgy cruel nature -- is pretty quickly taken off the table. Instead, the danger comes from unimpressive CGI ants, slightly more impressive snakes, and the threat of eventual starvation. Way less sexy, if you ask me.

High Points
A near two-person show like this requires strong characters and performances, and while it takes a little time to warm up to the guarded Sophie and a little too loose Josh, over the 90 minute running time, Carolina Gaitan and Allan Hawco do great work in slowly breaking down their walls to give us a fully layered view of their life together

Low Points
The away-from-the-quicksand action is necessary for this variation of the script and in truth, is handled better than it could have been, but at the same time, shifting from imminent death by exotic wildlife to miscommunication in a fancy hotel takes so much away from the tension of Sophia and Josh's plight

Lessons Learned
Always read the guidebook in full

Ants hate nothing more than sweaty pants vodka

When dining in Texas, avoid eating oysters in bulk

The internet told me to go into Quicksand with low expectations and as a result, I had a much better time than I expected. That being said, it's been a few days since I watched Quicksand and in that time, I've found myself thinking a lot about all the little things it could have done more effectively. If you're itching for some natural element/rainforest-themed horror, this should lend some satisfaction. Just don't expect too much.