Monday, January 17, 2022

They Grow So Fast

Is the real dream of any horror creator, be they a novelist or filmmaker, to eventually get to lend their name over the title of a movie they have nothing to do with? I imagine the paycheck is nice even when the budget is low. Perhaps no one knows this better than Clive Barker, a man who has probably started to name his swimming pools after Hellraiser sequel subtitles and who, in 2006, got to add "Clive Barker's The Plague" to that list. 

Quick Plot: A plague (or fine: Clive Barker's THE Plague) has struck all children under the age of 10, putting them into a comatose state save for two daily seizures that keep their bodies from atrophying. All children born since have come out the same way, leading to governments trying to regulate individuals from even trying to procreate. Ten years later, society is understandably a mess (though not surprisingly, the private healthcare industry is in great shape).

It's also been a rough ten years for Tom Russell (James Van Der Beek), the former smalltown quarterback who ended up in prison after a bar fight turned fatal. Tom returns home to his brother David, armed with the most on-the-nose (and incredibly abridged) copy of Grapes of Wrath ever to be printed and a desire to make good. David could use the help, since his son Eric is one of the lost generation. 

Before Tom has a chance to make more Dust Bowl analogies, Eric --along with the rest of the now-19-year-olds-- awakens from his coma, quickly bashing his father's head in before Tom pushes the silent but super strong kid out a window. 

As you might expect, Eric was just the beginning. The world's best-rested teenagers are ready for action, with their main goal seeming to be the eradication of everyone over the age of 19. Tom quickly teams up with his nurse ex-wife Jean, her brother Sam, the police chief and his wife (the other big name, Dee Wallace), and a pair of just over-the-coma age twin teenagers who can occasionally blend in with their younger, more violent counterparts. 

What starts as a meditative Children of Men-ish speculative horror fiction quickly turns into a messy blend of zombie-ish sieges and religious discourse. Some brief googling leads me to believe The Plague lost a lot between script and final under-90 minute streaming watch. It's a shame, because the premise is clearly rife with possibility, and some of the details (the twins' confusion over where they belong, Tom's need for forgiveness, STEINBECK) are too specific to have been intended for the underdeveloped rush job they ultimately get. 

Director Hal Masonberg (who co-wrote with Teal Minton) doesn't have many credits, but he shows some promise here. Yes, there's a sheen of very cheap and fast filmmaking, but there are also some suspenseful payoffs and for the most part, a cast that knows what it's doing and gives their all, even when the Village of the Damned-ish storyline wanders into a completely different tone of supernatural spirituality. Overall, it's more than a bit a mess, but still: you can see kernels of something decent.

In case you haven't guessed, 39 years of watching horror movies has loosened my standards. 

High Points
When the opening credits were nothing but classical piano, I was worried that we were stuck with the kind of genre film that wasted its budget on a post-Dawson's Creek and was working through a public domain dump for its score. But you know what? The Plague's music, when it IS purely instrumental, is quite good at building the right mood

Low Points
It's always a bad sign when the most fascinating part of your film comes 5 minutes in via a news update about how the world has changed, then you realize the movie you're watching is never going to address that again and instead center all of its physical and speculative action in this one small personality-free town

Lessons Learned
Never trust a grieving mother alone with the zombified version of her daughter 

Moody teenagers have a bond no slightly more optimistic adult can dare break

Sigh. (Clive Barker's) The Plague is busting with promises it just didn't have the ability or resources to deliver on. It's certainly more interesting than most other films of its ilk and budget streaming on Amazon Prime, so you could do worse. Go in with modest expectations.

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