We complain constantly on this site about being stuck in Louisville, Kentucky, away from the hubbub of Hollywood, but sometimes an event swoops into our hometown that makes us shut the hell up.
Such is the case with the first annual Flyover Film Festival held this past weekend at the Kentucky Center for the Arts in downtown Louisville. The fest put together a truly impressive lineup of independent cinema complete with parties, events, celebrities, and filmmaker Q&As, all in a laid-back, classy atmosphere. What can I say? Sometimes even us southerners luck out on the film front.
Unfortunately prior engagements dictated that I choose my films carefully. I eventually settled on a western put together by the folks over at Lionsgate. the setup sounded terribly recycled to me…a kidnapped family needs rescuing, and a search party is dispatched. It looked like a straightforward The Searchers remake…except for one thing: there are bloodthirsty, diabolical digging monsters involved.
The search party is composed of a ragtag group of settlers led by William Mapother’s Parcher–who brings along the son of the woman he is courting in an attempt to turn the young boy into a man. There’s also Fergus Coffey, a ranch hand played by Karl Geary trying to rescue his betrothed.
Together with a military party led by Doug Hutchison (The Green Mile’s Percy Wetmore himself), the group goes off to find the Indian tribe responsible for the atrocities back home.
By this point, you’ve probably figured out that it ain’t Indians these guys need to be afraid of.
Knowing that this film was a direct to video release, coupled with its subject matter, made me believe I might be in for some shock schlock horror of the Bruce Campbell variety. Imagine my surprise, then, to be confronted with a film that is first and foremost a western, filled with traditional archetypes, careful character work and a plot that is much more interesting and idea-driven than the film’s “demon creature” elements would suggest.
But don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of monster goodness. Not only that, but these creatures are much more interesting and sinister than your traditional hulking, slimy beasts in the night. Their design, both physical and conceptual, is simultaneously compelling and eerie. They have a chilling system for killing and feeding on prey that feels honest and scientific while also being scary as hell.
More than that, though, the movie is interested in themes of human suffering and what makes a “monster.” Hutchison’s Henry Victor is just as sinister as the creatures behind the scenes–moreso, in fact, because of his callous, pigheaded ways and his unswerving devotion to the status quo.
The movie does have its problems. It drags in the middle and its conclusion is less than rousing, but I can understand each and every choice that went into the film. Director T.J. Petty was obviously more interested in exploring something a little offbeat and ideological than he was in giving audiences a fright fest, and this will probably leave a lot of horror fans cold.
Me, though, I welcomed the film as a surprising breath of fresh air. It would have been so easy to treat this material as a total joke, but the filmmakers take the story seriously enough to make you actually give a shit about a few of the characters, and that makes all the difference.
After the screening, Flyover hosted a Q&A with Petty and actor William Mapother (that’s right, “Ethan from Lost” himself). One of the topics of discussion was the changing film world and how difficult it is for smaller films to get a theatrical release. Apparently this movie was never intended for a “small screen only” release. It’s $6 million budget shines on the big screen, and it was quite obviously that the director was more than a little disappointed that his indie horror flick was being relegated to a quiet DVD release.
I’m right there with him. This movie is better than most teen slasher films hitting theaters, and it deserves a peek–especially for those who enjoy smart horror that’s trying to do something a little different.