Thursday, October 1, 2009

DARK COUNTRY - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW




DARK COUNTRY – A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW

DARK COUNTRY is a retro-vibe horror film that feels like an R-Rated episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. Originally slated to be a 3-D film, it has gone straight to DVD without a mention of this original intention. There is a minimal cast. The bulk of the film is shot during a nighttime desert drive outside of Las Vegas while newlyweds Dick (Thomas Jane) and Gina (Lauren German) try to figure out what exactly is happening to them.

The driving time is where a most of the plot develops. The screenplay by Tab Murphy (GORILLAS IN THE MIST, BROTHER BEAR) is so firmly rooted in dialogue, relationships, and lack of trust that this film could be re-enacted rather easily on a stage. The dialogue conveys the plot. Director and star Thomas Jane, who is looking more and more like HIGHLANDER’s Christopher Lambert, holds it all down like a champ. The problem? DARK COUNTRY is a metaphysical thriller the content of which could really have been presented in thirty minutes flat. What Jane fills the extra hour of film with is nonstop beauty.

Dick and Gina are driving across the desert at night to escape the daytime heat and start a new life. The shot of the horizon when the DARK COUNTRY title appears is a triumph of cinematography. The dark is beautiful and alive, and Jane makes sure we know it. The moths that splat the windshield and the twin plumes of headlight feel sinister. The usage of greenscreen for various driving shots smack of the Marion Crane sequences in Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. The couple’s classic Dodge (which looks like a Polara, but I am open for correction) secures the retro feeling that SIN CITY had with its use of cars. If there wasn’t a cellphone in this film, it would be lodged somewhere between the mid-fifties and the late sixties.

The plot is rather simple, but the way it unfolds makes it seem much more complex than it really is. Dick and Gina have gotten married in Vegas after a one-night stand. They don’t know each other, and their lack of trust for each other fuels the paranoia that comes in the second act. When they pick up a wounded traveler on the road, things get really hairy. Does this traveler know Dick, or is he merely using his name disparagingly (phallus)? Does he know something about Gina’s past?

There is a crypto-psychedelic flavor to it all that is confirmed when one character says “No turn unstoned.” Drug use isn’t at play in this film, but the awkward footing the viewer is given leads one to wonder. Things aren’t what they seem in the desert, and the deeper the plot gets, the further off of sanity’s map one will fall. What the plot cruises toward in road-jitter form is the truth. Sadly, the final crescendo is a sputter. This film does retro right down to its TWILIGHT ZONE ending.

I really can’t tell more than that without really spoiling it. What DARK COUNTRY lacks in plot, it more than makes up for in mood and setting. There is a dark, comic-bookish feel to this film that makes it feel like a graphic novel brought to life. It is worth your time to poke around at http://www.rawstudios.com/darkcountry/ to see the storyboarding and concept art. It makes complete sense that this film is dedicated to the memory of BETTIE PAGE, ROCKETEER, MR. MONSTER artist Dave Stevens. DARK COUNTRY is a visual journey into that realm of horror that used to keep your parents awake at night but probably won’t have that same effect on you.

-Mediasaurus Rex

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