Fantasia Festival Report: Reeker
Once again here is Philippe Gohier reporting in from Montreal's Fantasia Festival ...
A stench as villain? The vile, putrid smell of death as fright-inducing bad guy? The premise of Reeker sounded, at best, intriguing. But surprisingly, director David Payne makes it work.
Despite its odd premise, Reeker is actually an exercise in horror film conventions. The broken down car in a dusty desert town is there. So are the slow, spooky pan shots across a freshly abandoned diner. There's even some romance thrown in for good measure.
What separates Reeker from its obvious influences is the self-awareness Payne infuses it with.
Where Payne could easily have been manhandled by the clever script into making M. Night Shyamalan's next movie for him, he instead delivers a film that at times parodies, at times reveres, the classics that came before it.
If it weren't for this self-awareness, precious little of Reeker would be of any interest. Its cast of characters covers next to nothing outside the spectrum of teen-slasher flicks: Gretchen as sophisticated, fearless leader; Cookie as sexy flake; Nelson as dim pretty-boy; Trip as spoiled party-boy; and Jack as stoic straightman. Yawn, right? Well, not really. Not at all, in fact.
The intense opening sequence truly sets the tone right from the start; a casual family drive along a desert road ends when someone's head gets right mangled. Cue the opening credits…
That the five characters' wanderings around an abandoned diner maintains such a high level of interest is a testament to Payne's talent. Except for Trip - whose character becomes downright insufferable when he leads the blind Jack into the women's bathroom at the diner- the generic nature of the characters makes them increasingly endearing. Payne manages to extract vulnerability from each of them: Gretchen as frustrated lover, Cookie as clueless and desperate, Nelson as goofy cheeseball. And David's blindness is especially effective in conveying his reliance on others, though the obvious gags about it do become somewhat tiring.
The only other taxing element of Reeker are the visual effects used to convey the monster's presence. The ‘stink lines' that fill up the room just as someone is about to get mauled are, well, just not frightening at all. They look harmlessly cartoonish.
Nevertheless, Reeker has plenty of legitimately scary moments to make up for it. Other than the stink lines, the gory special effects are perfect in re-creating the midnight movie atmosphere, as victims fall prey to a monster with a penchant for cutting out large chunks of their body. The scene in which Trip finds an otherwise unfazed half-trucker in a dumpster perfectly illustrates Payne's mastery of both horror and humour, as well as showing off the talent in the special effects department.
And I haven't even spoken about the ending. It is certainly fresh enough to become a convention in suspense films, and reverential in a way that makes one wish that the screenwriters who've obviously influenced Payne had been half as inspired.
Reviewed by Philippe Gohier.