Yes, Fantastic Fest ended almost two weeks ago (has it been that long already?), but just because the fest is over doesn't mean the HorrorSquad coverage has to end.
Salvage, Directed by Lawrence Gough, 2009
A shipping container has shown up on the shore of a small, isolated village on the UK coastline. Said village is under quarantine, which is a bit of a problem for Beth, a single mother who spends too much time at work and not enough time with her estranged daughter who got dropped off at her doorstep right before the quarantine was underway. Making matters worse, when a commando unit shows up to enforce the quarantine, it becomes clear that its not a virus that has the UK government so freaked, rather it's some kind of cognizant, escaped mutant.
Lawrence Gough's film has a decent premise and a less-than-stock dynamic between its characters, but Salvage is ultimately a rather generic horror movie hurt most by a monster at its core that is really not all that monstrous thanks to flat design and uninspired camera work to showcase it. Great performance by lead actress Neve McIntosh, but her gutsiness isn't enough to save the film from the clutches of mediocrity.
Under the Mountain, Directed by Jonathan King, 2009
I'm not in the best position to weigh in on Black Sheep director Jonathan King's newest film, Under the Mountain. I didn't grow up in New Zealand, so I have absolutely no relationship with the titular source material for his film about a brother and sister who must use their psychic twinness to overthrow a race of aliens that have secretly been harboring a second race of aliens under the series of volcanoes that make up Auckland, NZ. However, I did, against my best efforts, grow up, which is a problem because Jonathan King's film is a dark fantasy film best viewed by teenagers and readers of young-adult fiction.
While I can see and appreciate that someone younger than I, and particularly someone who grew up in NZ with the incredibly popular book upon which King's film is based, loving the film, I merely enjoyed it for what it is: the best adaptation of a Goosebumps story written by H. P. Lovecraft. I loved the creature effects by WETA and I always love seeing Sam Neil on screen, but I also couldn't help but feel distance swelling between myself and the film every time the word "twinness" was used.
I would have absolutely loved Under the Mountain if I was 12, but as an adult viewer with no particular nostalgia for the source material, I just wasn't that into it.
Morphine, directed by Aleksey Balabanov, 2008
Morphine may have been one of the best films to play at Fantastic Fest, but it got overlooked because it's not a horror film. Sure, it depicts the horrors of a young, small-town doctor's slide to morphine addiction at the beginning of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, but it is strictly a period piece drama. And as you'd expect from a period piece drama set in that time and place, Aleksey Balabanov's film takes its sweet, pre-industrialized time to unfold.
As with the excellent film Van Diemen's Land, if you're not in the mood for a slowly paced unraveling of the human condition, then something like Morphine is just going to bore instead of captivate. But for those in the mood for a slower, depressing drama, Morphine is an expertly made film that features meticulous production design and haunting performances of all around haunting material.