Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Reeker(2005) Review by Eric R. Lowther

Reeker (2005)

Written & Directed by Dave Payne

Hey kids! It’s Eric R. Lowther, aka biguglyhairyscary, back again with you on the Witch’s… huh? Wait… where the fuck am I, again? Johnny’s what? Oh… well, okay then…

Hey kids! It’s Eric R. Lowther, aka biguglyhairyscary, coming to you from across the pond with my take on writer / director Dave Payne’s 2005 flix “Reeker”. Mr. Payne was actually pretty ballsy in slapping that title on his film, if you think about it. He’s almost begged reviewers to play on it relative to the movie’s quality. Now, while I have seen better takes on the “lost highway” concept I will say that this one wasn’t as much of a steaming pile as its title would suggest.


There’s a lonely, nearly-deserted stretch of desert highway out there, a desolate ribbon of road that’s been claiming lives at an alarming rate. As it happens, this stretch of perilous pavement stands between our five plucky college student heroes and the rave party of the year. There’s Nelson and Trip, the frat boys, Cookie, the bubble-headed party girl, Jack, a blind and smart as a whip “good guy” and Gretchen, the level-headed and slightly older-than-the-rest brunette with the sexy accent. Except for the frat brothers, most of the group really doesn’t know much about the rest other than passing acquaintance since their coming-together is more a result of ride sharing than anything else. It’s just a group of co-eds piling into an old car and heading off down a desert highway to get to a party. What could possibly go wrong in that scenario?

To the movie’s credit, the director and script keep a relatively good pace through the movie’s opening getting-to-know-you car ride, allowing the characters that don’t really know each other to feel the rest out. Cookie is the same happy-go-lucky flighty bird we pegged her for at first sight. Gretchen is a no-nonsense kinda chick while Nelson is kind of the “everyman” college guy just looking for some fun. Trip, the hard-party dude of the group, revels in toying with the blind Jack. It’s all pretty standard stuff, really. The group stops off at a roadside inn and diner for a little break, and while there we learn that the metric ton of drugs Trip’s brought for the party were stolen from his very pissed off and even more unstable drug dealer. His dealer knows where he’s going and is polite enough to call Trip and tell him that he’s coming for him and for his drugs.

Trip neglects to share this bit of information with the rest of his party, but once back in the car and on the road he does let it slip that he’s got enough drugs on-board to make even Courtney Love seem interesting. Gretchen’s not going to put up with that shit, though. Since he won’t throw out the drugs and she won’t have them in her car, she tries to leave Trip on the side of the road then relents when he can’t even get a cell signal to call for another ride. Most of the rest try to talk Gretchen out of abandoning Trip on the side of the road until Gretchen finally compromises and agrees to take Trip back to the diner so he can make other arrangements.

They make it as far as the diner, but before Gretchen can leave Trip alone in the dusty, completely empty parking lot her car dies. As amends for bringing his illegal pharmacy into her car, Trip agrees to help Gretchen with the problem while the rest go back into the diner. When they’d been there just a short while ago the diner had been busy with customers and employees. What they find this time though are meals, drinks and even cigarettes still burning in ashtrays but with no one around to eat, drink or smoke them. The place is completely deserted, and by the looks of things it happened just seconds before they arrived. Television and radios aren’t working right and just pick up vague bursts of conversation and static, and even the cell signal Trip had there the last time has left them. And while they’re lucky enough for Trip to be able to repair the broken fuel line he found on Gretchen’s car (he makes the repair with condoms. I’m still trying to figure that one out), the broken line also drained their fuel. Since the rest stop’s gas pumps aren’t working they’re pretty much stuck until some form of help arrives, though a garbled news report mentioning some sort of industrial accident in the area leaves them little hope of a quick rescue and dashes their hopes of making it to the rave.

Hey, kids! Fun fact; for all the attention the makers seemed to try and pay to this one, there are numerous and often quite funny and obvious continuity and equipment-in-frame errors. I’ll give you one; you can see the reflection of a boom mike in the window of Gretchen’s car when they return to the diner. It’s up to you to find the rest. Make a drinking game out of it and have fun with it. Anyway…

It’s just about here where we really start seeing odd flashes in relation to the characters and start seeing them react to the pungent, dead smell that seems to come and go. Jack, the blind guy, is acutely aware of the odd, slight sounds that seem to be all around them as well as the reek of rotting flesh due to his heightened senses. But even with this, Jack doesn’t seem too worried about their predicament. In fact, except for Trip who now won’t be able to make his appointment to give his insane and murderous drug dealer back his stuff, none of the rest act like this is any big deal. Perhaps it’s just the fluff spirit of youth or maybe it’s the director not wanting to spend a lot of time on what most normal people would be doing in this situation. I’m not really sure which, but either way their nonchalance in the face of the complete and nearly-instant disappearance of the diner’s patrons, the come-and-go smell and even Trip and Nelson’s discovery of a shed full of odd implements and dried road kill doesn’t really get a lot of conscious recognition. Finally, Trip starts into heavy paranoia after seeing a few images of rotting people just walking around that no one else seems to see. Coupled with his utter fear at knowing his dealer will come looking for him when he doesn’t show up at the party, Trip decides to go looking for help while the rest make the best of it and break out the supplies they’d brought for the party.

We split time between Trip’s road trip and the rest of the group doing exactly what young people shouldn’t be doing in a horror movie; drinking, drugs and sex. The movie kicks it up a notch in the “I see rotting people” department around the diner, but it’s Trip that really gets the brunt of it. He finds a small roadside rest area but quickly discovers his dealer has found it as well. The man is understandably pissed, but it becomes obvious to us that he’s not being psychotic just because Trip stole his drugs. After a few tense and admittedly not too badly done chase bits, Trip manages to get away from the rest area when he’s picked up by the sudden appearance of an older man in a Winnebago, Henry (played by genre veteran Michael Ironsides). Henry’s wife disappeared sometime that morning, but he can’t seem to remember where he last saw her or, for that matter, what he’s really been doing all day. Henry drives Trip back to the diner and elects to stay there for the night and continue his search in the morning, though he does refuse to give them any of his gas for Gretchen’s car since he needs it all to keep looking for his wife. Henry has obviously been affected in the brainpan by something or other, and we later learn through a tense moment that Trip and he have been seeing these dead and rotting people and smelling the reek all around them.

From here the movie really dives into its premise. There are a few inventive kills coupled with slasher-movie-character standard operating procedures while the movie tries to give us a few scenes of exposition and tension-building. Some of these scenes work and some of them don’t. Overall though, it’s obvious that that writer/director Payne put a lot more effort into tying his disjointed images and non-linear bits back into the main tapestry of the story than other directors with similar projects have done. He doesn’t always succeed, but he hits the mark close enough and often enough that you can forgive some of the more obvious, glaring errors. The climax rolls pretty smoothly, and though any of you that have a good number of these types of pictures under your belt will see the big twist coming, the movie still presents it well enough that it accomplishes its job a lot better than some other bigger budgets and names (yes, I’m looking at you, Shyamalan) have done.

On to the nuts and bolts of the thing; the movie is more or less technically proficient and the director obviously knows the basics of how to put a movie together. However, the effects here, especially the sudden shaky-cam and the rippled-haze effect telling us when the Reeker is around, did more harm than good I think. Being so slap-in-the-face with us so we’d know when the Reeker was about really ran counter to the more subtle tension he tried so hard to build in many other scenes. I think the direction was good, but I don’t think it was good enough to make the sudden shift between the tense-intentions and the boom-payoffs work well together. The camera and lighting people did some good work though. The night scenes are lit well enough to see what’s going on yet still keep the sense of dread that nightfall brings. The set design/location was quite good as well, so much that the desert oasis inn/diner/gas station almost becomes a character in its own right. The effects, especially the kills, were overall of fair quality with a few particularly inspired moments here and there. What really hurt in this department was in the presentation of the Reeker itself and in its poor-quality CGI. I think I’d have rather seen more stripped-down physical effects to stretch that budget than to see poor CGI yank me out of the story.

So, is it any good? For those of you in the U.K. who aren’t familiar with my reviews (or my blog at… Come on, according to my stats the Danes visit me more than you guys do…), I don’t give a number, star or other quantifying rank to films. I think going that route isn’t fair to a lot of films that get lumped together and makes them be judged alongside other projects that they really shouldn’t be held to. So with that in mind, I will tell you that the whole thing has a sort of 80’s slasher feel to it. I don’t know if that’s what Payne was going for but I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, either. If you’re a slasher genre fan or someone that likes a few twists with their indie horror then you’ll probably find this one at least passable, though I should tell you the director was going for a much more slick and vivid presentation here than a lot of other indie horror guys go for. For the most part you’re not going to find a lot of deep meaning here until the director wants you to, and this kind of force-feeding of a twist or an “a-ha!” moment may turn some of you off right when the story needs you to be onboard with it the most. The writing isn’t bad, the acting is anywhere from passable to good from most of the cast and the story and twists are fairly easy to digest as long as you don’t pick them apart too hard and take them for the entertainment they were meant to be. If you’re interested, you can get it from Amazon or many of your other on-line sources for anywhere from $4-$10 (U.S.), though I’m sure you’ll want to check for Region compatibility before buying.

Well, that’s enough out of me. I’d like to thank Johnny for letting me pop in and chat with you. Make sure you’re checking out his podcast for some real movie reviews, news and other fun stuff from his cast of characters. Oh, and while I’m here, make sure you drop by and see me and so many other fine, fine people over at The Witchs hat blog where you can catch more of my and others’ reviews and articles. And if you like that, you’ll love The Witch’s Hat family of podcasts featuring Root Rot, Kreepy Kyle, the world-renowned Misfit Boy and many more, including yours truly. So, until next time this has been biguglyhairyscary saying, see ya, Kids.

Many thanks to Eric and dont forget to check out and follow his awesom blog-

Jonny t.

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