Splice (2010)

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

I wouldn’t be surprised if Splice flew right under your radar. I’m too lazy to check the box office, but I doubt anybody saw it. And really, you haven’t missed much. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley play extremely unlikable scientists, jointly filling the role of Dr. Frankenstein in this 21st century update of the story in which the monster is a man-made genetic mashup. It’s unsurprising that the user comments on the IMDb show a split between users who loved it and those who hated it–it’s that kind of movie.

It should be said–before anything else–that the marketing for Splice created a false impression of what this film was all about–at least for me. I was absolutely sure this was some sort of horror film, when in fact, it’s really some sort of scattered meditation on parenthood…or what happens when deranged people have children. I don’t know. Almost as if the filmmakers knew it wasn’t working very well, the final ten minutes are straight horror. And that doesn’t work either.

Ultimately, my biggest problem with this film is that Sarah Polley’s character, especially, was so thoroughly distasteful. I just kept waiting for the part where she would die. Unfortunately, she never does.

I was disappointed. I wanted a scary movie about an evil mutant, and maybe that’s my own problem, but Splice was only ever mildly interesting on its own merits. It didn’t help either that I found the scientific content so questionable–especially the surprise reveal (which wasn’t surprising at all) in the ending scene, which would seem to fly in the face of all logic.

Quarantine (2008)

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Now this is a scary movie. This was the other “hand held camera/filmed in real time” film of 2008. You probably heard about Cloverfield, and you probably didn’t hear, or forgot, about Quarantine. In my opinion, Quarantine is the better film (though unsurprisingly, the IMDb disagrees with me), possibly because what it attempts is more modest.

In short, Quarantine is a zombie film. The marketing sort of suggested this without ever admitting it. The bulk of the film takes place within the claustrophobic confines of an apartment complex that has been quarantined by the CDC. So the terror of it isn’t merely the result of developments inside the building, but also the lethal measures employed by law enforcement outside.

Does it add anything new to the zombie genre? Possibly not, but here’s why it works: solid acting.

Every performance in this film is spot on, in my opinion. The director aims for extreme verisimilitude and captures it in a way that Cloverfield simply couldn’t, even to the point that the film starts out in an extremely mundane way, with a television personality just interviewing the firemen at a station she’s profiling–and this probably lasts for about 15 minutes. The mundaneness of these early scenes only makes what’s to come even more jarring.

This movie seriously creeped me out.

Apparently, Quarantine is an extremely close remake of a Spanish film called Rec that was released a year earlier. Cue the chorus of snobby Internet critics who will trip over each other to tell you how much better the original always is. Granted, I haven’t seen Rec, and perhaps it is the better film of the two, but whenever Hollywood decides to remake a foreign genre film, the response from bloggers and other amateur critics is frustratingly predictable. It typically involves righteous indignation that Hollywood dared to even make the attempt, but occasionally, it also allows some of the more douchey reviewers to be supercilious about stupid Americans who don’t like reading subtitles (and is it really so weird, anyway, that you’d rather be watching the scary stuff going on in a horror film than reading the subtitles and missing the action?).

Strangely, I’ve read a few complaints about what I considered to be one of the best bits in Quaratine (I won’t spoil it, but it involves the camera man killing one of the zombies). The aftermath of that action, in particular, was a highlight for me for being well acted and realistic, but apparently, the scene is one of the few that wasn’t in Rec, so it’s also one of the few things about which people feel comfortable being critical.

I’ve also seen complaints about how frantic the lead actress goes in later scenes. I had absolutely no problem with that. If I were in that situation, I’d literally be shitting bricks.

Okay, enough of that. Let me comment upon this Entertainment Weekly list of underrated films.

Breakdown. I respect this film. In a way, this is one of the best thrillers I’ve ever seen. Also, it stars my boy Kurt Russell. That said, I haven’t seen it in 13 years.

Timecop. Total guilty pleasure, but at the same time, it’s really not too bad depending upon your expectations. I don’t know if it holds up as well as the author claims, but it’s enjoyable, and Van Damme isn’t terrible.

Breach. Haven’t seen it. I like Chris Cooper, though.

Prime. I’d totally forgotten about this one. Haven’t seen it.

Definitely, Maybe. Haven’t seen it. Doubt I’m really the target audience.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Sucked. Even putting aside how schizophrenic this movie felt, it just wasn’t very good. The characters were all unlikable, and it was a snoozer. Kubrick and Spielberg–two great tastes that don’t taste great together.

Frailty. Huh? Never heard of it.

Idiocracy. I’ve only caught moments of this on Comedy Central, but I’ve seen enough to be able to say that while this may have some light laughs, calling it an underrated gem is probably going about five steps too far.

Far and Away. Haven’t seen it.

Death to Smoochy. Sorry, it sucked.

Galaxy Quest. I’m not sure I’d say this is underrated, but it is a gem. Great cast, and it’s a damn fun film.

Tommy Boy. This is just a cult film, so I’m not certain it’s technically correct to suggest this might be underrated. It’s stupid, but it also brings the laughs and I’ve seen it a bunch of times, so I’m not going to disrespect it. Chris Farley was a funny guy.