One of my faithful readers [and the winner of my anniversary contest!] recommended this movie after I put up my Killer Homos home film fest. He told me just to watch it, and specifically, NOT to read anything about it, not even the video box. So I did, and I’m glad I did.
So let’s talk. This is a really interesting movie that will keep your brain gently teased from beginning to end. It is a very smart, tight and well-written horror thriller that delves deeply into the worst of human nature and finds something interesting to say about it, instead of just rubbing your face in it. It is tense and scary while at the same time being interesting and psychological. You should watch it. I would go watch it now, knowing nothing, but if you want a little more I’ll tell you the basic setup, then alert you when you’re really getting into classified information.
We open with a very interesting and hypnotic spinning pattern, while nice music by E.C. Woodley plays. We pull out and see that this is a brain scan. Intercut with this is a parole review of a guy in a mental hospital, presided over by the blonde Samantha. The guy has been locked up for 14 years because he sexually abused a boy and smashed his face in with a brick. Samantha plays a bunch of manipulative word games with him that are worthy of Karl Rove, coolly toying with him while summarily denying him parole. She is a real… unpleasant woman in this scene. After she curtly declares the review over, the guy says “so that’s it?” and she casually says “You can request a review in a year.”
Interestingly intercut with all this is the brain scan, showing a tumor that was stable for quite a few years but suddenly started growing at a rapid pace. We don’t know whether this is the prisoner’s tumor or Samatha’s… and this is intentional, although we soon find out that the brain scan is of Samantha.
She calls her husband and asks him to go away for the weekend, but he says he has to go away and write [a novel, I think?] and is going to take his lovely assistant, Samantha’s younger sister. It’s not too hard to figure out that they’re having an affair. During this phone conversation, played out as though the guy is actually in the room, we watch Samantha take some lip gloss out of a small case fashioned to look like a briefcase. Wow, we think, woman really makes a big deal out of that lip gloss, and anxiously applies it as though it were a kind of anti-anxiety medicine, and I thought: Valium Lip Gloss. WHAT an idea.
Anyway, so the hubby refuses to go away with her, so she decides to go by herself. After a few stops on the way [which we’ll come back to] she arrives at the cabin. The first thing she hears is “Oh Jesus! Fuck!” and we can tell that she walked in on her husband and her sister doing the do. And they’re all out there alone, in this remote cabin in the dead of winter, where all sorts of bad things have the potential to happen.
Okay, scamper away, little bunnies, and go watch the movie. You really will thank me for not knowing more.
SPOILERS > > >
On the way to the cabin Samantha stops her car and has a breakdown. Only she stops it dead in the middle of the road. And she doesn’t move it when traffic comes up behind her, she just stares at them. But we’ve already had the scene of her being a massive vixen to the prisoner, so we already have all sorts of ambivalent feelings about her. Then she goes into a diner, where the waitress recommends the veal. While she’s talking, Sam spaces out, hearing all the little tapping coins and scraping utensils, until she suddenly comes back to the waitress, just as she’s describing how the calves from a certain farm are born without heads, but produce “the best damn veal I ever tasted.” So you’re like; What? And you realize that not only is Sam spacing out, she’s hallucinating: this waitress is not really telling her about headless calves. This also makes sense of why she wouldn’t move when stopped in the middle of the road. She’s slowly losing her mind. Oh by the way, she also has a freaky rash on her hip.
Anyway, so she keeps telling her husband David that she has something to tell her, and he keeps blowing her off. Then her sister Melody comes in, who seems much younger and much more immature than her, and all possibility of talking seriously is over. So Sam just blurts out at some point that her tumor is growing, bitches at Melody not to cry like an idiot, and locks herself in the bathroom. She takes out her valium lipstick and chills for a while. When she comes out they tell her she was in there for a half an hour.
Suddenly there’s a knock at the door! This kid who claims to be from the house down the road, whose friends didn’t show up, and just wants to get warm. The other are skeptical, but Sam invites him in. He’s hanging out and chatting, pets the dog, and then Boom! Blows the dog’s head off! That surprises his hosts, to say the least. Then he lets in Harlan, the prisoner from the beginning of the movie, who has apparently escaped.
The two of them torture the trio for a while, but with mental games and intimidation rather than Devil’s Rejects, make-you-wear-your-boyfriend’s-face kind of torture. They make them play a sadistic game of truth or dare, where they can either bare their soul or… and here Harlan threateningly brandishes a pair of pliers. David and Melody are forced to go into their attraction, and Sam begins to acknowledge her feelings about their affair-—she’s pissed. And curiously, Harlan and Sam end up kind of on the same side—he’s bringing out the issues with David and Melody that Sam has been bottling up.
But there’s more. The reason Sam won’t let Harlan out of her hospital is that he has the same kind of tumor she does, and she is injecting him with an experimental drug, essentially using him as a guinea pig for herself. That’s what the Valium Lip Gloss is: it’s actually her hypodermic needle, which is what her rash is: it’s her injection site.
There’s other stuff, but the real shocker at the end is that Harlan never visited them. Sam injected herself and killed herself in the bathroom soon after arriving at the cabin, and this has all been her vision, in which she psychologically expresses her anger at her husband and sister and gets her revenge. The end.
The thing this reminds me most of is the horrible Identity. This is what the gimmick of Identity would be like if it actually worked. In Identity [spoilers coming if you’ve never seen it, but really, don’t bother] there is a killer stalking a bunch of people stranded at a motel. Only it turns out that the people are actually the multiple personalities of this psycho, and he is mentally killing them off. This alienated in two ways: 1) if none of these people exist, why should I care about them? And 2) since we don’t get to know the mental patient in whose mind all this is happening, why should we care about his personal psychological drama? In this movie we are involved with the person’s mind in which all this is happening, and so it all has a resonance, and is involving in trying to figure out what’s going on and what it all really means.
It also hangs fairly well together once it’s done. All the strange things we noticed earlier, like the confusion between whether it’s Samantha or Harlan who has the tumor [they both do], and why Samantha was catatonic in the middle of the road. There’s also a lot interesting in why she her unconscious would see this convicted child molester as the powerful figure she needs to force her to confront her own anger. The sexuality here is handled realistically, and Harlan’s psychology and crime is handled in a nonexploitative or cheap-thrill-seeking manner.
That’s it. Definitely an interesting and involving one when you’re ready to have your brain messed with in satisfying ways.