NYAFF 2010: CHAW Review

[Our thanks to Joshua Chaplinsky for the following review. Rant, disc issues and all.]



Rant alert: 

I know piracy is a real problem, but I'm rapidly losing patience with the giant, garish watermarks being slapped on screeners these days. Especially on films with subtitles. It makes it feel like the entire screen is overcrowded with text, fighting for your attention, obfuscating the action. It is a huge distraction and a detriment to the overall viewing experience. It turns watching a decent movie into a real chore. Take that for what you will, in regards to what follows.  

End rant. 

OK, on to the review.  

Is it a coincidence that I happened to watch Chaw on June 20th, 35 years to the day after the release of Jaws? Let me put it this way- you can't spell "Chaw" without "aw," and if you put a J on it, you're only one letter away from "Jaws," so yeah, probably a coincidence. In fact, i didn't even make the connection until local law enforcement decided it would be bad for the economy to shut down the weekend farming operation, causing me to look up weekend farming on the internet (it's exactly what it sounds like,) which is when I was made aware of the anniversary.  

Other than that, sharks were the furthest thing from my mind. Chaw is more the Korean answer to Razorback, a comparison I make with confidence, despite never having seen the film. For a simple B movie, Chaw has a multitude of characters, and at times I felt like I was watching the Magnolia of killer pig films. Despite this, the plot is simple enough. The film's former hunter turned grizzled sage explains it best- "The mountains were destroyed by golf courses and weekend farming. Poachers killed off all the animals, so the hungry beasts dug up graves and developed a taste for human organs." Quite a delicious summary, don't you think? 

Like a dismembered body that needs to be reassembled, Chaw is jigsaw puzzle of genre. It is part horror, part comedy, part action film and part character study. You wouldn't  think all the limbs belong to the same body, but they do. At times the film feels stretched a little thin, resulting in the cinematic equivalent of "Chicken Leg Syndrome." It stumbles around, top-heavy, when a stronger foundation of comedy and horror would have provided more stability.  

Another issue, which stems from this, is the run-time. At just over two hours, this is the longest killer pig movie I've ever sat through. We don't even see the damn thing until the halfway point. I don't want to be the guy complaining about character development, but Chaw has a lot of setup for a B grade genre flick. Pork is supposed to be lean, but there is definitely some fat to be trimmed here. That quirky neighbor who beats her son? Other than providing a few laughs, she serves very little purpose.  

Unless, of course, she had some super last-minute function. My screener glitched and froze on me at the hour fifty-five mark, so if anything important happened thereafter, I missed it. Try as I might, I couldn't get the disc to play past that point. So if the key to the entire movie exists in those last few minutes and I am totally misreading it, dear readers, I apologize. 

But enough about plot and character, you guys want to hear about the pig, right? Does he wreak havoc? Does he bring home the proverbial bacon? Honestly... not really. He looks like a Muppet CGI Pumba jacked up on steroids. This would add to the camp factor, if the film had fully committed to being a comedy, but it didn't and it doesn't. Cheap CGI seems like an easy out these days, and makes me long for a time when practical effects roamed the land. I would have preferred the tactile presence of an animatronic, no matter how silly looking. 

I'm sure there's an audience out there for Chaw's slapdash mash-up of genre, but brother, it ain't me. It's probably more fun in a theatre full of people than at home with the word "SAMPLE" permanently burned into the screen, but it didn't bring enough laughs or gore for my tastes. I appreciate a new take on an old idea, but in the end Chaw only succeeded in making me hungry for Korean barbecue.  

Chaw screens Monday, June 28th and Thursday, July 1st at Walter Reade Theater. Click here to buy tickets! 

Joshua Chaplinsky
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