Monday, June 22, 2015

Always Leave the Campsite Better Than You Found It

Look guys, there are a LOT of horror movies out there. Sometimes the decision of which to watch can take longer than the actual running time of two combined (three if we're talking about those scratching-for-content Charles Band flicks). So when I see a good-enough-looking poster with actors I recognize and "masked madmen" in the description, I'm just diving right in.

When I realize that said film stars Mad Men's Ken Cosgrove and my head starts to imagine the eyepatch-wearing account man hunting with an axe, everything gets better.

Quick Plot: Mike (Aaron Staton) is taking his wife Wit (Wrenn Schmidt) and recently/suspiciously discharged brother Sean (SVU's Benson-stalking Pablo Schreiber) on a weekend camping trip off the grid. Between s'mores and bad cell phone reception, the trio enjoys one night of the beautiful outdoors before waking up the next morning robbed and marked.

Initially, Mike suspects his unstable brother has finally snapped. It takes a little more tension and a full dead dog later to reveal there are indeed masked killers lurking the woods, turning our would-be deer hunters into will-be hunted prey.

There's not a huge amount of originality in Preservation, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Mike and Wit are your standard educated couple grappling with the typical movie-relationship problems (workaholic, surprise pregnancy, being really good-looking) but Cosgrove--er, Staton and Schmidt are smart actors who project fully rounded and believable characters. Schreiber can sometimes get cast a little too over the top (I can't be the only one who checks my email when his ridiculous Pornstache shows up on Orange Is the New Black) but he finds the right balance between Sean's wounded veteran and manic sensibilities.

Before long, Preservation is one big hunt, and writer/director Christopher Denham (better known to me as Jim Meeks on the underrated show Manhattan) makes the most of his sprawling American wilderness setting. The reveal of the villains is handled with fairly creepy effectiveness, and Denham wisely leaves the weight of the story in the woods.

At its heart, Preservation is a simple hunting humans tale. The film sets up its themes a tad on the nose, beginning with vegan Wit being unable to shoot a deer and following the logical conclusion of that, well, not being the case down the line. Denham relies a little too heavily on certain cliches (namely, the "fight that pauses as the assumed victor looks away momentarily, only to turn around to see the presumed prey COMPLETELY VANISHED" which happens no less than four times) but his pacing is quick, his characters are weighty, and the action holds up for a brisk 90 minutes. I'll look forward to seeing more. 

High Points
While all three main performances are strong, special mention should be made for Wrenn Schmidt, who lends an impressively hefty weight to her role. In the realm of Stupid Young Rich People Go To The Backwoods And Die subgenre, it's refreshing to have a female lead who projects a believable sense of smarts and strength

Chekhov's Law of Bear Traps prevails!

Low Points
While Preservation's characters ultimately won me over, one's opening line being "do you want to watch that youtube video of the cat getting flushed down the toilet" makes for a pretty hard sell

Lessons Learned
You don't need a cell phone if you have a dog

Pregnant women are prone to projectile vomiting

A regular yoga routine will do wonders for your potential as a rock climber

Preservation isn't a game changer or fresh modern genre blast, but it's a good movie, one made with far more intelligence and skill than a whole lot of your other options streaming on Netflix. Those who enjoyed another couple-being-hunted flick from recent years (I'm avoiding naming it, as the reference provides a minor spoiler for Preservation) will find this one to be a perfect pairing. 

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